Putting an end to Procrastination

Faced by 3 reports that have now become urgent and a number of e-mails that need a response, I have come to the conclusion that I am a skilled procrastinator. I have also realised that anxiety and procrastination are a package deal. We may have something in common if you find yourself postponing many tasks that you want to accomplish, and yet for some reason you just keep suspending action. This procrastination business is a mighty tiresome facet of life. If you’ve got a bad case, hardly a day goes by that you don’t say, ‘I know I should be doing it, but I’ll get around to it later’.

The hard truth: Your ‘putting it off’ behaviour is difficult to blame on outside forces. It’s all yours – both the putting off and discomfort you endure as a result of it.

Hoping, Wishing and Maybe

Three neurotic phrases of the procrastinator make up the support system for maintaining putting-it-off behaviour:

‘I hope things will work out.’

‘I wish things were better.’

‘Maybe it’ll be okay.’

As long as we say maybe, or hope, or wish, we can use these as a rationale for not doing anything now. These are convenient escape clauses from rolling up our sleeves and taking on the tasks that we’ve decided are important enough to be on our list of life activities.

How Procrastination Works

Donald Marquis called procrastination ‘the art of keeping up with yesterday.’ To this we can add, ‘and avoiding today.’

This is how the procrastination system works:

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This convenient reasoning can be used when you are faced with having to do something which is unpleasant or difficult.

Typical Procrastinating Behaviour

Here are some areas where procrastination is a much easier choice than taking action:

  • Staying in a job in which you find yourself stuck and unable to grow.
  • Hanging onto a relationship that has gone sour, hoping it will get better.
  • Not tackling addictions such as alcoholism, drugs, pills or smoking. Saying ‘I’ll quit when I’m ready,’ but knowing that you are putting it off because you doubt that you can quit.
  • Deciding to start your diet tomorrow or next week.
  • Using sleep or tiredness as a reason for putting it off. Have you ever noticed how tired you get when you are close to actually doing something uncomfortable or difficult.
  • Getting sick when you are faced with a troublesome task. How could you possibly do it now, when you feel so terrible?
  • Being a critic and using your criticism of others to camouflage your own refusal to do.
  • Being bored at any time in your life. This is a way of putting off something and using the boring event as a reason for not doing something more exciting.

Reasons for Continuing to Put It Off

  • Putting it off allows you to escape from unpleasant activities. There may be things you’re afraid to do or things part of you want to do and part of you doesn’t. Remember, nothing is black or white.
  • You can feel comfortable with your procrastination system. Lying to yourself keeps you from having to admit that you are not a ‘doer’ in this particular present moment.
  • You can stay exactly as you are forever, as long as you keep putting it off. You eliminate change and the risks that go with it.
  • By being bored you have someone or something else to blame for your unhappy state, so you can shift responsibility away from yourself and onto the boring activity.
  • You can avoid ever having to fail by avoiding all activities that involve some risk. In this way you have to come face-to-face with your self-doubt.
  • By putting it off, you might be able to get someone else to do it for you.

Now that we have some insight into why we procrastinate, we can begin to do something about eliminating this self-destructive behaviour.

Techniques for Getting Rid of Postponing Behaviour

  1. Make a decision to live five minutes at a time. Instead of thinking of tasks in long-range terms, think about now and try to use up a five-minute period doing what you want, refusing to put off anything that would satisfy you.
  2. Sit down and start on something that you’ve been postponing. Begin an e-mail or a report. You’ll find that much of your putting it off is unnecessary since you’ll very likely find the job enjoyable, once you give up the procrastination. Simply beginning will help you to eliminate anxiety about the whole project.
  3. Look hard at your life. Are you doing what you’d choose to be doing if you knew you had six months to live? If not, you’ve better begin doing it because relatively speaking that’s all you have. Your total lifetime is a mere speck. Delaying anything makes no sense.
  4. Be courageous about undertaking an activity that you’ve been avoiding. One act of courage can eliminate all that fear. Stop telling yourself that you must perform well. Remind yourself that doing is far more important.
  5. Eliminate the words ‘hope’, ‘wish’ and ‘maybe’ from your vocabulary. If you see these words creeping in, substitute them with new sentences. Change:
  • ‘I hope things will work out’ to ‘I will make it happen.’
  • ‘I wish things were better’ to ‘I am going to do the following things to ensure that I feel better’.
  • ‘Maybe it will be okay’ to ‘ I will make it okay’.
  1. Keep a journal of your own complaining or critical behaviour. By writing these actions down, you’ll accomplish two things. You’ll see how your critical behaviour surfaces in your life – the frequency, patterns, events and people related to you being a critic. You’ll stop yourself from criticising because it will be such a pain to have to write in the journal.

Remember you can do anything that you set your mind to accomplish. You are strong, capable and not the least bit brittle. But by putting things off for a future moment, you are giving into escapism, self-doubt, and most significantly, self-delusion.  Your putting-it-off zone is a movement away from being strong in your now.

Rather than using up your present moments with all kinds immobilizing anxiety over what you are putting off, take charge of your procrastination behaviour and live now. Be a doer, not a wisher, hoper or critic.

On that note, I better stop procrastinating and  get ‘doing’ on my reports and e-mails now.

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