Why do we Procrastinate?
If you’re like me (and the majority of the population for that matter) you put off doing certain important tasks and really struggle to overcome procrastination. Instead you opt for others with more appeal. This shouldn’t be confused with laziness and used to label your identity. You see, lazy people don’t do much of anything. You on the other hand are simply choosing another activity instead of the one you know deep down you should be tackling.
Maybe the task at hand is boring or maybe you doubt your ability so you feel anxious and reluctant to start. The fear of failure and embarrassment is a massive motivator. It directs you towards ‘safer’ options and to keep you within your comfort zone. That’s what our brains do – they try to keep us safe and away from danger – real or imagined.
That’s all fine if these instances are isolated and the tasks get done in a reasonable timeframe. However chronic procrastination can have a serious impact on your career and personal life. It can even lead to depression, if not acknowledged and left to fester unaddressed.
The 70% Rule
I know from my own experience that I often tell myself I need all the answers. I need that extra little bit of crucial information before I take the first steps with something I know I should’ve started a long time ago.
When I get that piece of information or answer then, of course, there’s another piece missing from the puzzle and standing in the way of progress. And on it goes…!
However, if I’m honest with myself it’s just another excuse to delay the start.
This is where we can apply the 70% Rule to get us over this obstacle. It’s believed that the optimal confidence level for decision making is 70%.
If you wait for 90% or more you’re too slow and will have probably missed the opportunity. In a nutshell, the philosophy behind this is that you just get started. Then adjust later based on new information that comes to light. By this stage your action has momentum, you’ve overcome that procrastination and you continue moving forward.
Temptation Bundling is a useful hack that James Clear dives into in his New York Times best selling book ‘Atomic Habits’ . This method is used to counteract putting off doing what we need to do. This involves linking pleasurable activities with ones we’re not so eager to do despite knowing they have to be done.
Follow these simple steps to get yourself started;
- Make a list consisting of 2 columns
- In the first column list the things you enjoy doing and the temptations you would like to indulge in
- In the second list the tasks you now you should be doing but usually put off
- Link as many of the items from one column to the other to identify where you could combine the activities
Examples could be;
- Listening to your favourite podcasts or audiobooks whilst at the gym (assuming you’re a reluctant gym visitor)
- Placing your exercise machine in front of the TV when your favourite show is on
- Playing your favourite music loud and dancing when doing the housework (Freddie Mercury costumes optional!)
If you can successfully maintain this bundling you’ll reap the benefits. By combining short term rewards with longer term benefits and sustained progress, it’s a win-win scenario.
Other Practical Ways to Overcome Procrastination
The 70% Rule and Temptation Bundling are common proven ways to combat procrastination. However there are several other strategies and mindsets you can explore and adopt as listed below;
- Prioritise Important over Urgent – important tasks are rarely urgent. Plus they’re usually linked with long term wellbeing (eg exercise, meditation, learning new skills, developing existing skills)
- Jump in and start and you gain momentum – accept imperfection. Let go of expectation. There’ll never be a perfect time or a perfect piece of work (not from me anyway!)
- Focus on 1 thing at a time and commit to it for a set time
- Set a timer for the work but also a timer for your breaks. I recommend 25 min working periods with 5 min breaks. Note the breaks should be for coffee, fresh air or a quick walk to stretch the legs not a browse through social media distractions
- Make temptations more inconvenient (eg phone access)
- Remove as many obstacles as possible (eg gym clothes laid out the night before)
- Promise yourself a reward
- Try to picture a positive outcome when the task has been completed
- Rephrase your internal dialogue – change your ‘Must-Do-List’ to a ‘Get-To-Do-List’. You’ll notice how this simple change makes the tasks less of a ‘punishment’
- Pat yourself on the back, forgive yourself for past failings and remember you’re human
The Key Message
Hopefully this post has given you some useful tools to bring to your daily routines or to help with moving forward with that thing you’ve been wanting to do for years.
The key message to remember is not to get disheartened and punish yourself if you fall. We’re wired to think short term rather than long term as a result of our human evolution. However we can rewire our brains and sway the balance towards long term benefits.
Courage is the ultimate cure to overcome procrastination. We all fear failure but if we constantly put off taking those first steps out of our comfort zone we’re guaranteed to fail.
Be brave, take a deep breath and move forward………
For more tips on being more effective with your time, check out my post entitled ‘How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed’