Procrastination’s one of the many things that everyone (yes, literally everyone) does at some point, but which pretty much nobody will admit to. For some, it is a way of life.
I have a cool little framework in my book The Productivity Zone that shows procrastination and perfectionism on either side of a bell curve shape. Both procrastination and perfectionism are distractions and they create an energy of stress that takes away from our focus and attention that make us more productive.
I am a recovering perfectionist. What I found is there is a crazy relationship between procrastination and perfectionism where after some time it is too tiring to hold myself or others to those high standards and from fear of failure or whatever the reason, the pendulum swings completely the other way and lead to procrastination. Tony Robbins calls this swing a crazy eight. It swings from one side to the other when the energy shifts and it is the law of nature that you will get bored with one and then swing to the other side.
For me, the things I hate doing get pushed off like bookkeeping, taxes, and other administration. I also delay when I am not quite sure how to do it so better I start something else that I do know how and what to do. There are certain things I know I need to do for my business even but I just avoid and procrastinate because.. well, just because. Obviously, I associate pain in some way to the activity and we have driven 100 times more away from pain than towards pleasure. Get out of pain is more powerful and drives our decisions or lack of decisions. Can you relate? This is human nature.
There’s no shame in procrastination. It is a fact of life. Of course, some of us do struggle with it more than others and for some, it can become a major issue to holding them back from the very things they want. Many times procrastination doesn’t seem logical- but who said we were logical? We are emotional -illogical creatures.
The big questions we find ourselves asking two major questions: “why do I procrastinate?” and “how can I stop procrastinating?” I get asked these questions a lot. Because so many people feel stuck.
But even as we ask these questions, we likely know that there’s no easy answer to either of them. We each have different circumstances and different emotional drivers, it’s never straightforward. I will do my best to shed some light on how to best go about answering the questions: “why do I procrastinate?” and “how can I stop procrastinating?” for you.
Still, the how and the why do have answers – usually closely interconnected ones – and we’d like to do our part to help our fellow procrastinators identify them. We can only give you a general overview of the most common causes and preventions, of course; but we reckon that ought to be enough for you to narrow down the ones appropriate to your particular case.
First, there’s the issue of perfection. Many of us get so tied up in the minute details of every one of our tasks – of making sure we get absolutely everything right, of being unable to move on until we’ve gone over and redone every tiny aspect of the task – that we end up getting nothing substantial done.
It’s almost impossible to completely overcome a perfectionistic streak, of course; but what one can do is try to channel that drive for perfectionism into the completion of the task. Let the Pareto Principle or 80/20 rule be your guide. That is what I do. I find the best way to do that is to identify the 80% point of completion and then work towards that. That 80% point will be my good enough goal so that I don’t get caught up in perfecting it. All that focus on perfection takes a massive amount of energy at the last 20%, it takes way too much time and now you may be effective when you complete but you were not efficient.
Consider how satisfying it will be to turn in your work well before the deadline – and how much more you could achieve by being more efficient.
And then there’s the matter of low energy. When your body’s low on fuel, or sleep even the most engaging or urgent task can be pretty easy to fall behind on. It’s like working in slow motion.
If you find yourself frequently hindered by low energy levels during your work, it might be best to reconsider certain aspects of your lifestyle. How much sleep are you getting? Are the hours regular? Do you go to bed at the same time every night? How’s your diet? How much water are you drinking? How much exercise are you getting? All these things can have severe impacts on your health and vitality; perhaps consider consulting your doctor, or a lifestyle coach, about the best ways to optimize your energy
Overwhelm is Not Overloaded
Sometimes, we get confused with overwhelm and overload. It is possible that the amount of work is not impossible but because of our mental state, it feels that way. Here is an example. Sometimes, a task can seem so BIG or so complex that it is overwhelming. It is heavy just thinking about what needs to be done let alone doing it. It creates stress the moment you sit down; and sometimes, the stress of not getting it done can feel preferable to the stress of having to deal with the task. I have been there too!
In those cases, the best approach is a pretty simple one: take the task apart and simplify it. Most times we make it more complex than it needs to be. Take a step back and examine it long enough to break it down into manageable segments, tackling them one by one in separate bursts, with breaks in between. It’s a simple enough process that, used right, can turn a task from intimidating and overwhelming to do before you know it. It is so much easy just to focus on what’s next.
Don’t Let Excuses Get in Your Way
Excuses make us the victim and take away our ability to find solutions. They are in their very nature a way to defer responsibility.
Beware of the “yeah, but”. This is the famous phrase I hear from so many to avoid taking action. “Yea, but my situation is different.”, “Yea that may work for others but not for me”, Yea I have tried that before but it didn’t work”. “Yeah, but” is our way out, a way for us to dodge responsibility. I have to laugh at myself when I hear it come out of my mouth. I know some good excuse is coming. It isn’t going to be easy but it will be worth it. Overcoming our challenges makes us feel strong, confident, and powerful. The reason is that we take our power back from our victim self and the excuses we make and fight it with reasons why that isn’t really true and be more committed to your results than your excuse. That has always helped me to get past the excuse and take action and get results. Getting started and recognizing the problem is the hardest part – it gets easier once you create a series of steps and then just keep going.
Now we know 4 reasons why we procrastinate and what you can do about it. The most important thing is not to be too hard on yourself and recognize the progress you are making versus putting too much emphasis on the gap from where you are now to where you want to be. Progress creates momentum and before you know it, you will have great strategies to overcome procrastination and perfectionism and will be teaching others.