Procrastinating has a bad reputation. You are told from an early age not to put off doing your work. That if you are procrastinating, you are failing.
In this Harvard Business review article: author Alice Boyes, PhD talks about three things that cause procrastination: “the absence of good habits and systems (poor discipline), intolerance for particular emotions (like anxiety or boredom), and our own flawed thinking patterns.”
Ouch – when I read that, I thought, wow, look at all the things that are wrong with me! Then I beat myself up and then started to think about ways I needed to fix myself. If I procrastinate I must be broken!
It’s a common response when someone “tries to get over procrastination”. They beat themselves up, think about what’s wrong with them, and then go about trying to fix themselves.
And when we focus our attention on how we are bad and try to fix ourselves, we don’t really feel very good or confident, and we …. you guessed it…. procrastinate more.
Almost everyone procrastinates on something
This New York Times article says that 80% of students are plagued by procrastination and that 20% of adults claim to be chronic procrastinators.
So, before you try to fix yourself – read this.
There is evidence that the entire population of the world is procrastinating on something.
Maybe it’s cleaning the house, doing the laundry, getting the oil changed in the car, responding to an email, scheduling a specific meeting, making a doctor’s appointment, or doing a work project. (by the way – these are things I am personally procrastinating on right now)
If the entire population is doing it, that means you are normal, not broken, and therefore not a failure.
The key to feeling better about procrastination is to accept that it will happen and that you will probably never stop doing it.
So now what?
Well, does your procrastination bother you? Then the best thing to do is to get curious about it. Become a detective, and use your procrastination as a clue to identify what’s important to you.
Ask yourself – what are you putting off?
Then ask – “Is that important to me?” And then, “Why am I putting it off?”
- If it isn’t actually important to you? Okay, then decide not to do it and move on! Now you’re not procrastinating, and you are setting limits.
- Is it because you aren’t sure how to get started? Maybe you can think of someone to talk to about it who can help you.
- Is it because you don’t enjoy it? That happens to everyone. If you find yourself worrying about it, then ask yourself: What creates less pain overall? Worrying about the task all day? Or doing the annoying task?
- Is it because you don’t want to do it yet? That’s fine. You can intentionally decide to keep putting it off.
You can decide to keep procrastinating on something. It’s okay!
Listen, if you try to get over procrastinating by beating yourself up for doing it, the procrastination is going to get worse. But if you get curious about it instead, try to understand why you’re doing it, and then decide if that’s okay with you or not, then you’re far more likely to make progress on the things that are important to you.
So embrace procrastination, my friends. We all do it, and it can be a great tool for self-reflection.
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Note, the first HBR article I mentioned goes on to offer good advice on how to minimize procrastination, so I do recommend giving it a read if you can. Just learn to accept it as a normal part of life first.
- “Schedule your deep work consistently.“
- “Create a system for starting new tasks.“
- “Disentangle your feelings.“
- “Use self-compassion to overcome strong negative memories.“
- “Learn to accept friction-filled work.“
- “Limit yourself to short work periods.“