Virtually everyone has problems with procrastination at some point in their life. For many people it is relatively easily overcome. For others it has a permanently crippling effect on their lives. Whatever their talents and however big their dreams, they are unable to express them fully because they keep putting the necessary action off. So their dreams and visions remain dreams and visions and nothing more for year after year.
If you are one of those seriously affected by procrastination, the usual band-aid approaches such as concentrating on the first step will not be sufficient to prevent the feeling that, if you carry on the way you are, written on your tombstone will be the epitaph “Could have done better”. So in this article I want to look at some of the deeper reasons why people procrastinate.
Procrastination is usually seen in people who for one reason or another feel unsatisfied with their work. It comes worst in two types of people - those who feel overwhelmed and those who don’t have enough to do. Frequently they are the same person in different circumstances. They need the pressure of deadlines and the consequences of missing them to get them moving at all.
If this describes you, then you are showing the symptoms of being out of the flow. To be in the flow of work you need to feel challenged but not overwhelmed. If you are overwhelmed you lose the sense of flow, and the exactly the same applies if you are not challenged enough. The result in both cases is dissatisfaction, the feeling that you are not achieving anything. “Busyness” and “goofing off” are two sides of the same coin.
The real solution to procrastination therefore is to get back into the flow. You need to identify the work that uses your talents and your skills It should present you with fresh challenges that stretch your ability but don’t go over your head. A good question to ask yourself is whether, in the context of your organisation, you are doing work that only you can do. If anyone could do your work then you are unlikely to be being stretched or challenged in any way at all. If you find you are not using your skills or that you are overwhelmed with trivial work, you have fallen into the trap of being busy rather than productive. In that case procrastination is almost inevitable.
Another closely related cure for procrastination is to be on top of your work. Even work you don’t particularly like becomes much less resistance-inducing if you are on top of it. Not many of us like washing dishes, but think of the difference between doing the washing up immediately after every meal so that it is out of the way, and leaving it for a week so that you have the constant threat of it hanging over your head!
To achieve this, you need to fight backlogs like the plague. Never allow yourself to run up against deadlines. Always use all the time available to do something. For example if you are given two weeks to write a report, then use the whole two weeks. Don’t leave it till the evening of the night before the deadline!
Letting work pile up into a backlog drains everything you do. Clearing a backlog should always be the first priority. Nothing is more important. If it proves impossible to clear a backlog, then you need to review your commitments. If you have so much on that you are constantly behind on your work then you will always be under stress.
If you take this kind of holistic approach to procrastination, you are much more likely to find that it drops away of its own accord, rather than your having to fight it every inch of the way. Maybe your tombstone will read “Achieved everything he/she set out to do”