Why we don’t do what we say we will do

Procrastination – that little voice in your head that tells you to do it later, or to re-schedule, or to cancel plans. What often seems like a harmless decision to put something aside or deal with it later could be holding you back from achieving you want to achieve now and into the future.

It’s the reason you are late, the reason you aren’t prepared, the reason you are tired and the reason you make excuses. And I can only be honest about this because the ability to procrastinate exists within every single one of us, and we are all guilty of it.

Does this sound familiar?

Regardless of how many times we actually do procrastinate, I ask you to try and think of a time where making that decision to put something off or changing plans or being late has actually turned out to be of value in the long term? Are the consequences that eventuate really worth it?

How much does it upset you to take the time to set up a meeting with someone only to have them cancel or re-schedule at the last minute? Well imagine how your manager or other members of our team feel when you don’t put in that effort for them.

The definition of procrastination is simple – To put off doing something, especially out of habitual carelessness or laziness.’

There are different forms of procrastination, and an article that I found in Psychology Today describes three basic types of procrastinators below:

  • Arousal types, or thrill-seekers, who wait to the last minute for the euphoric rush.
  • Avoiders, who may be avoiding fear of failure or even fear of success, but in either case are very concerned with what others think of them; they would rather have others think they lack effort than ability.
  • Decisional procrastinators, who cannot make a decision. Not making a decision absolves procrastinators of responsibility for the outcome of events.

I find that I can be guilty of the first two categories. I do get an adrenalin rush from last minute assignments and I am concerned with what others think of me, resulting in having a fear of appearing foolish or as a failure. This can result in me taking extra time then necessary to review my task or assignment because I want it to appear ‘perfect’ which is often a ridiculous objective.

If procrastination often occurs within our minds, how can we talk ourselves into completing the task or doing what we say we will do as opposed to talking ourselves out of it? While we are creatures of habit, procrastination is something you create over time and is not something you are born with, so the ability to change is not impossible.

I found a very interesting article on WikiHow that provides steps on how to improve your procrastination using self-talk. I tried to review it to see what applied most to my procrastinating faux pas and I chose the following:

1) Focus on starting, rather than finishing – Forget for a minute about the finish line, just concentrate on giving your first step. Bring your focus from the future to what can be done right now. Starting — all by itself — is usually sufficient to build enough momentum to keep the ball rolling.

2) Don’t place too much pressure on yourself – Perfectionism fuels procrastination. Overcome this mental block by simply giving yourself permission to be human. Allow yourself to be imperfect with the next small task. You can always refine your work later.

3) Stop thinking about the way things ‘should’ be – You focus not on what is, but on what could have been. Misused ‘shoulds’ can elicit feelings of failure, depression and regret. The solution is not to focus on how you feel now, but on how good you will feel after you begin to take action.

4) Break a long project down into short tasks – Dwelling on the size and difficulty of a looming task will overwhelm us, and thus promote procrastination. The trick is — with each step along the way — to focus solely on the next, achievable chunk of work. Ignore the big picture for a while and just tackle that next small task. Make sure you can easily visualise the outcome of your small task. Don’t write a book; write a page.

By just starting the task I tend to find that the task is actually a lot less daunting than what I originally created in my mind. Not only that, but by actually getting started, I finish faster, resulting in better results for me, my team and my organisation. Just by getting started you can be recognised for having a more proactive approach to handling tasks. How are we expected to advance if you spend most of the time procrastinating?

And last but not least, try and make taking on a difficult task enjoyable and fun. If your attitude is dread or lack of enthusiasm, most likely the result will be just what you have expected. Keep a positive mind to achieve positive results.

How do you overcome procrastination? What keeps you motivated?