We all procrastinate from time to time. Maybe you’re even doing it right now. However, if I were procrastinating I think I’d rather be reading something more interesting than an article about delaying the inevitable.
Why Do We Procrastinate?
Procrastination temporarily relieves stress but then tends to increase the pressures of stress at a later point. For a short while, we get to put off the task or situation at hand. But sooner or later, there will come a time when we need to face the work that’s still looming on our to-do list.
The temporary feeling of triumph turns to panic. Then panic becomes a rush to figure out ways to handle the situation. What was a temporary relief now becomes a stressful situation.
I’d like to suggest that there are people out there who don’t procrastinate, but I honestly find that hard to believe. I think we all fall prey to the seduction of procrastination at one point or another. I’m sure that some of us do it more often than others, but I don’t feel that any of us are truly immune.
How Does Procrastination Affect Us
Procrastination temporarily decreases and then later increases stress within our body. It’s no secret that stress is unhealthy. If you procrastinate only once in a while, you experience repetitive exposure to short-term stress. However, if you procrastinate regularly, the effects are much more akin exposing yourself to long-term stress.
Our bodies are built to deal with stress. It’s all part of our natural flight-or-fight response. Our bodies are NOT, however, made to deal with long-term stress.
When we are stressed – feeling anxious, nervous, fearful, etc – our nervous system signals our endocrine system to release an increased amount of adrenaline and cortisol to help us respond to the stress.
The adrenaline increases blood pressure and heart rate to increase the amount of available oxygen and other supplies throughout our muscular system necessary for enhanced energy. (Aka, preparing for a quick get-away or a fight).
Cortisol increases glucose (aka. sugar) in the bloodstream which in turn increases the availability of substances needed to repair tissues (incase you get hurt in your flight or fight). Cortisol also restricts otherwise non-essential functions that might be a hindrance or harmful in a flight-or-fight situation including your immune system, digestive system, reproductive system, and other functions.
Meanwhile, your nervous system is also sending signals throughout your body that impact your brain and your emotions, and your motivation. This often hinders our ability to make sound decisions. Have you ever noticed that it’s harder to not snap at people when you’re stressed? The extra dose of hormones running rampant through your body is tough to control. No matter how you look at it, stress causes a domino effect throughout our body.
Long-term stress or experiencing frequent incidents of short-term stress have both been linked to several diseases – either causing them or making them worse. According to WebMD.com some examples include:
- Heart Disease
- Accelerated Aging
- And many more.
For more information visit WebMD.com
The resources that your body needs to fend off disease are diverted to handling your stress. Short-term stress is not likely to impact health as much as stress that is constant or nearly constant.
So Where Does Procrastination Fit In With All of This?
When we develop a habit of procrastination, it often turns into something we do with the majority of our tasks, if not all of them. When doing so, we tend to go through life more stressed and therefore increase our chances of developing stress-related disorders.
Procrastination at Home
Whether we realize it or not, our procrastination habits often impact others around us. For example, I often procrastinate on all the permission slips and forms that are required for kids at their schools – I despise doing them! By delaying, however, I miss out on participating in fundraisers which then disappoint my kids who needed just ONE more sale to get the prize they wanted. Or I don’t fill out the permission slip and they ask me for it one more time the morning it’s due, right before they are supposed to be headed out to get to the bus (an already stressful moment of the morning.) I might get frustrated for the last-minute request, knowing full well that it was my fault for procrastinating. My stressed response frustrates my child and then he/she leaves the house in a not-so-ideal state of mind. Procrastination rarely ends peacefully.
Procrastination at Work
The same issues apply at work. If you are responsible for a certain aspect of a project and miss the deadline, it may cause others on the team to miss their deadlines. Or in my case when I was on the receiving end of other people’s missed deadlines, it meant working late because I wasn’t ALLOWED to miss my deadlines. That’s what happens when you work for a company that does a lot of stuff in print and has to schedule print dates months in advance. Those dates can’t budge.
It doesn’t feel good to be the bottleneck. This puts you in an awkward position that, if done often enough, could also lead you to stress over whether or not you’re going to lose your job.
Procrastination in Finances
Procrastination causes significant financial pain to many people every year. Do you wait until the last minute to file your taxes? Do you wind up not having enough time to gather all of the information you’d need for the best deduction amount and therefore end up paying more than you might have? Or worse yet, do you procrastinate on taxes only to discover that you owe money and haven’t set aside enough to cover them? I despise that situation more than anything.
How to Stop Procrastinating
There are no simple solutions to breaking a habit of procrastination. It takes effort to break any bad habit. But, here are some things you can do to start breaking the cycle.
1. Don’t Get Stressed Over the Fact that You Procrastinated
Judging ourselves and being upset with ourselves only adds to your stress level. Focusing on the fact that we procrastinated actually only causes us to procrastinate longer. So accept where you are and focus on the task at hand – the thing you need to get done.
2. Set Time Goals
The biggest reason we all procrastinate is that we feel overwhelmed about even getting started. Maybe it’s a big project, or perhaps we simply don’t ENJOY the task at hand.
Set a timer for 10-15 minutes. Tell yourself you will work on the task for 10-15 minutes (whichever you choose). Chances are you will work longer. But when you’re ready for a break, take a 2 min break and then set another 10-15 minute time goal.
3. Avoid Distractions
Try to stay as focused as possible in that timeframe. Turn off your phone or put it on silent. Move it out of view, flip it over. Do whatever you can to get it out of sight and no matter what, DO NOT TOUCH IT! The text, the phone call, the email – they all can wait 10-15 minutes. Close your email too. Emails are a HUGE distraction as well. Clear your desk of other visual distractions.
If you have a hard time focusing, try non-distracting music. I prefer upbeat piano, strings, or classical music without lyrics. Earbuds or headphones are best so that you can tune out anyone that might be around you.
When I do this, I call it “getting into the zone.” I go heads down and may not come up for air for a few hours. The satisfaction of being so productive for that length of time is amazing and a bit addictive. You’ll likely want to do it again.
3. Break Down Projects Into Smaller Tasks
I’ve mentioned this several times in other articles. It’s a great skill to learn. If you have a presentation that needs to be created, don’t think of the whole project. Break it down. Plan to outline what will be in the presentation as one task. For another task, plan on gathering the images that might be needed for it. Then plan to fill in the details. Before you know it, you’ll have a finished presentation on your hands.
Break things down so that they aren’t overwhelming. You don’t HAVE to sit down and complete a task from start to finish. Our minds seem to forget that.
4. Work on the Hardest Tasks During Your Best Time of Day
Figure out the time of day that is your most efficient, most alert, and when you’re brain seems to be at it’s best. For some, this may be first thing in the morning. For me, it is about 1.5 to 2 hours after starting my day as well as a few hours later at night.
In the morning I do simply tasks like responding to emails, checking on the performance of campaigns, maybe queue up a social media post, etc during the first part of my day. These are often things that would otherwise be distracting to me when I need to focus. My brain tends to need time to shift into major “doing mode” so the simple tasks are perfect. Then, by 9:30 or 10:00am, I’m ready to start cranking away on some of my more challenging tasks.
I can usually manage some pretty intense work for a couple of hours. Then I break to get some food (which I often eat at my desk while I catch up on emails). Then from 1 – 2pm I usually work on less difficult tasks on my list. Lunch tends to cause a bit of a brain fog for me, but the mental break seems to be helpful anyway. By 3pm I’m ready to tackle some bigger things again. This typically lasts until I break for the day to be with my family.
Once dinner is over, the kitchen is clean, and the kids are all tucked in bed, I can hop back on my laptop for about 3-4 hours of solid work. I love the evenings for working because I can ignore emails and there are fewer interruptions. I don’t work every night, but I’m very productive when I do.
No matter when it is, think about your day and determine what your perfect time is for getting the more taxing or difficult tasks done. Then plan your day around that time or those times.
5. Make a List and Prioritize
This one might seem like a no-brainer to some or it might seem like something you can easily gloss over. But I promise you it’s worth it. Even if you don’t like lists, we can reduce the overwhelm that we might be feeling simply by listing things out.
Make a list or better yet, pull out a calendar and put projects on your calendar with the times during each day that you’re going to allot for them. I prefer paper calendars and notebooks for this type of thing because I can SEE my schedule and goals for the day or week without having to open up another screen. It also gives me an easy place to make notes of ideas or resources I might come across throughout my day.
6. Don’t Focus on Perfection
This one is hard for me, but I’ve gotten a lot better at it over the last couple of years. Forget getting it perfect and just focus on getting the task done.
One of my business coaches is always saying “Take massive imperfect action.” What she means is that while we’re spending hours, or days or months trying to perfect something, we’re not making any money. You’re MUCH better off to just get something out there so that you can be making money WHILE you perfect it.
The risk you run of disappointing someone with a little typo here or a minor mistake over there is negligible compared to all of the possible clients you’re missing out on by not having anything to show for all your hard work. Don’t wait for perfection. Just get it done.
7. Reward Yourself
Don’t forget to reward yourself for a job well done! Did you make realistic deadlines and goals for the week? Did you manage to keep up with all of your tasks for even a set percentage of them?
Allow yourself to be proud of what you have accomplished. It’s HARD to keep going day in and day out. Realize that what you accomplished is worth celebrating and it’s good to be proud of your accomplishments. Other people won’t always congratulate us on your little wins, so make sure you take the time to do it.
When you take note of your wins (big and small) on a regular basis, you will naturally feel greater levels of happiness in life. Yup. It is that simple. Take pride in yourself and the things you accomplish, no matter how small they may seem. Every bit counts.
If you have other suggestions or method you use for overcoming procrastination, I’d love to hear about them. Please comment below or drop me a line using the Contact form.