“Procrastination makes easy things hard, hard things harder.” ~ Mason Cooley
“Procrastination is one of the most common and deadliest of diseases and its toll on success and happiness is heavy.” ~ Wayne Gretzky
This month we are going to talk about the issue of procrastination. Let me start by saying what you’ve been taught about procrastination may not be totally correct. Procrastination has always been considered a time management issue when in fact it has a very important emotional factor.
So, if you’ve spent years trying to manage your time more efficiently by using the latest planner or system, then this is good news for you. Consider yourself officially off that hamster wheel! Instead, let’s examine why procrastination shows up in your life.
Studies show you procrastinate in order to feel better now. When a task presents discomfort at the outset, you shy away from it by turning your attention to something that feels better in the moment.
Somehow you convince yourself that Facebook seems like a better use of your time. After all, it’ll only take a second to update your status and see what’s going on with your friends. You avoid the unpleasant feeling by focusing on something you like to cheer you up and distract.
Ironically, this short-term fix has greater long-term detrimental effects. There is only the now – later is an illusion. When you choose to not do something you need to do in this moment you place it in a future now, only you’ve made it emotionally heavier because you’ve added the weight of self judgement to the task.
Procrastination increases your stress level, lowers your self-esteem, and decreases the quality of your finished product. There is no upside to procrastination, yet we all do it. Why? Because we have been looking in the wrong place for the solution.
If you are determined to cut procrastination out of your life stop managing your time and start acknowledging your feelings. By turning your attention to your feelings you are getting to the root of the problem.
How can you put this into practice in your daily life? Well, here are 4 steps to overcome overwhelm and procrastination:
- Face your feelings.
The reason you are driven to procrastinate is because you have some emotional discomfort around a task. You know this to be true because procrastination feels differently than just rescheduling. You recognize the heaviness that accompanies procrastination, because it is weighted down with self judgement of some sort.
So, feel the uncomfortable feeling that is associated with the task you so desperately want to avoid. Does it seem overwhelming? Do you have some negative emotion attached to it? Those emotions are the reasons you feel driven to procrastinate. Feel them as deeply as you can.
Bring whatever emotions you are experiencing to the forefront. Feel them as deeply as possible. How can you face those unpleasant feelings so you don’t have to distract yourself?
First, notice where you are in the room; feel your feet touching the ground, notice where the top of your head is, and feel your fingertips. These steps will bring you back into your body and ground you.
Then acknowledge what you are feeling. If you need to take a quiet moment to ask what you are feeling, do that. Sometimes we feel discomfort but don’t stay with it long enough to really identify it. Say what you feel out loud. By stating out loud what you are feeling you are shining light on a dark spot, thus brightening it up so it is less scary.
- Break up your task into micro chunks.
Now that you’ve faced your feelings and dissipated them a bit you can shift your attention from how you feel to what needs to be done.
Take the task at hand and break it up into micro chunks. What are the individual steps that need to happen to complete this task? Write out everything. Do you need to call someone as part of it? Do you need to do a series of small actions to complete it?
The important thing is to break up the big task into smaller, bite sized actions. This will open up your willingness to start taking action.
- Take one micro chunk at a time.
By beginning a task, no matter how small the step, you give your uncomfortable feelings the room to float away because the feeling is anchored to the thought of facing the task, not completing it.
Remind yourself that even though you are uncomfortable, this feeling will subside. Your urge to distract is just a knee-jerk reaction that will make you feel even worse in the long run.
If there is a task on your list that takes less than two minutes then do it right now. There is no excuse for not doing it. Unless your house is literally on fire, you can spare two minutes to complete a micro chunk.
- After finishing one micro chunk take a moment to celebrate.
Can we ever celebrate too much? I think not.
Pat yourself on the back for being willing to face your discomfort. That in of itself is an accomplishment. Then on top of that you took a micro chunk and completed it. That too is reason to congratulate yourself. These small celebrations are important steps in the process.
Since this is April I will use the dreaded process of doing your taxes as an example.
Perhaps you are avoiding doing your taxes because you feel overwhelmed by the task. Or you feel afraid that you will owe the IRA a big payment and you don’t have the money. Whatever the feelings are, sit with them for a moment. Call them forward and state them out loud. Act as if you are placing them on a screen in front of you and calling them by name. By placing them in front of you and acknowledging them you are creating some space between yourself and the feeling. This space opens up your ability to do one small micro chunk.
Look at your list and choose some things that take less than two minutes to accomplish. Calling your accountant for an appointment takes less than two minutes. Getting out the box of receipts takes less than two minutes. Clearing a space to work in takes less than two minutes. Finding a calculator takes less than two minutes. Remember to celebrate after each one. You are replacing any lingering negative emotions with positive ones, reinforcing your willingness to keep going.
Once you’ve done all the really small tasks take on a larger one. Do the next larger step needed to move forward. If it’s organizing your receipts, do that. If it’s going through your bank and credit card statements, do that. You will find that you are in a much more proactive mood once you’ve completed the two-minute tasks. They are like priming the pump – after they are done the next steps are easier.
Before you know it, you’ve taken the next step, and the next, and the next until you’ve completed the task.
Remember, procrastination is a sign you’re feeling stressed out by a negative emotion. When you feel an urge to avoid a task, go back to these 4-steps to center yourself and move forward. You can do it – I believe in you!