“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 prune back our to-do lists by addressing the issue of procrastination. Let me start by saying everything you’ve been taught about procrastination has been proven to be incorrect. Procrastination has always been considered a time management issue when in fact it’s purely emotional.
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 what’s really causing procrastination to sprout 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. Ironically, this short-term fix has greater long-term detrimental effects.
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 lop 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 put off procrastination:
- Take a deep breath.
There are lots of breathing techniques that reduce stress but here’s a quick one. When you begin to get stressed, relax and let go. Lift your shoulders, let them drop, and take a big breath. This will bring you back to the present moment. Then recognize your urge to put off the task ahead because you feel some discomfort around it. Does it seem overwhelming? Do you have some negative emotion attached to it?
For example, you know you needed to do your taxes last month but filed for an extension because last year you tried to start a business and it just never got off the ground. You are embarrassed and uncomfortable when you think about seeing all the money you spent on that venture, so 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.
- Focus on right now.
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. Say, “I’m embarrassed about my business failure and now I don’t want to look at my expenses.” Or, “I’m overwhelmed by my mound of receipts and bills so I don’t want to face the task of doing my taxes.” By stating our loud what you are feeling you are shining light on a dark spot, thus brightening it up so it is less scary.
- Take one baby step at a time.
Break down the first thing you can do to get started into a small baby step. Feelings are like clouds, they drift in and out. By beginning a task, no matter how small the step, you give your uncomfortable feeling 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 your receipts overwhelm you, then begin by organizing them into piles. That way you are beginning the task without having to get emotionally involved in the actual numbers. If you’re overwhelmed about cleaning your house, then just clean one small room.
- After finishing one micro task take a moment, breath deeply, and appreciate the completeness.
For example, when you’ve sorted your receipts in into piles, take a breath, and say to yourself, “Wow – it feels great to have all these receipts organized!” or maybe, “Wow if feels great to have my hall bathroom clean and ready for guests.” This reinforces your willingness to keep going. Plus it ups your enthusiasm for the tasks because you are feeling good about them instead of wanting to avoid them.
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. Trying less and feeling more is the way to eliminate procrastination from crowding out good feelings from blooming in your life’s garden.
Abundant Blessings from your Master Gardener,
Top Photo Credit: ivy cycle by Erich Ferdinand