A few weeks ago, I was listening to my health coaching client, Brian (not his real name), explain the reasons why he had put off accomplishing several of his weekly health and wellness goals. His reasons all made perfectly good sense. He had some last-minute client needs pop up. He hadn’t slept well for a few nights and was feeling less productive than usual. He didn’t know what he wanted to say in one of his communications to a client. You get the picture. Anyway, after we had a chance to discuss this further, we came to a mutual realization: Brian’s tendency towards procrastination was habitual, and it was time for us to address it head on.
This interaction, which among coaches is called “a generative moment,” or more popularly an “aha” moment, led me to think about how procrastination gets in the way of many of the goals we set for ourselves.
Thus, this month’s blog was born!!
Get Out of Your Own Way
While there are lots of formal definitions of procrastination, we all know it when we see it. We put off doing something that we know is important to us, and before we know it, we’re feeling stressed, guilty, or ashamed. We just can’t get out of our own way. So why do we procrastinate, and what can we do about it?
Recent psychological research suggests that procrastination is linked to difficulty managing stress. Specifically, it seems that when we view a task in an unpleasant manner (“It will be tough, boring, painful...”), we are more likely to put it off. While procrastinators may be trying to avoid stress, ironically procrastination not only leads to increased stress, but also to sleep problems and poorer performance—as it did with my client, Brian. What’s more, procrastination can also hinder our self-esteem with the guilt, shame, or self-critical thoughts that can result from putting off tasks. And this can just become a vicious cycle.
Tips for Procrastinators
Break it down. When your task seems overwhelming, it’s easy to procrastinate. So break it down into its component parts. For example, if your goal is to meditate 15-minutes a day, just start with two minutes, and work your way up once you become aware of the benefits you’re experiencing. I think implementing this one tip alone would go a long way in addressing anyone’s tendency to procrastinate.
Focus on the “why. What are the benefits of completing the task? For example, if you’ve been putting off going to the gym, focus on how exercising will help you have more energy, strengthen your cardiovascular system, gain muscle, serve as a great role model for your children, and boost your self-esteem. Keep your eye on the prize.
Get a partner. Find a friend or colleague who will help hold you accountable for specific goals along the way, or better yet, who will join in with you, such as attending a yoga class or going to the gym with you.
Get out your calendar, and be specific. A project tends to get completed not “when you have time,” but rather when you schedule it. Block out the time to accomplish your goal.
Do away with excuses. Just stop. Be honest with yourself. While it might be nice to “be in the mood” to accomplish your task, sometimes you just have to do it!
Optimize your environment. For example, beware of technology that keeps pinging, social media that leads you off track, and interruptive phone calls. During your scheduled block of time, simply avoid engaging.
Forgive yourself. Stop beating yourself up about the past. Research shows that forgiving yourself for past procrastination will help you stop putting off working on a task.
Stop being such a perfectionist. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. Perfectionists tend to wait until everything is in perfect order to proceed. Or for the perfect time. This all-or-nothing mentality can hold you back significantly.