Why we procrastinate and 8 strategies to overcome it

It doesn’t matter who you are. We’ve all said that phrase “I’ll do it tomorrow”. For whatever reason, it’s something we all struggle with. When we find a task unpleasant, we seem to magically find every possible distraction known to man to keep that task as something we’ll do in the future.

Procrastination is an issue that life coaches deal with in spades. It is probably the most common and universal issues that all people struggle with. Even the most proactive and responsible of people will find themselves struggling from time to time when they find themselves faced with a task that they really don’t seem to want to do.

In my experience, one of the bigger issues with procrastination is that we tend to just take it at face value. We try to justify procrastination by claiming that our best work happens under stress and in a time crunch, or we just accept that we procrastinate and say it’s the product of being lazy.

The fact is that there is a lot of juicy stuff going on when you procrastinate. Have you ever taken the time and asked what causes procrastination to happen? In my experience, procrastination happens when you have a motivation and an inhibition directly opposing each other.

So, for example, you’re in a class where you have a very big paper due that’s worth a lot of your grade. You have a motivation to complete the paper because you want to get a decent grade and be reasonably successful in your class, but the paper is large and complicated.

You find the paper confusing and you are not sure where to begin. The result is a feeling of anxiety as you are unsure how you will complete this paper and the whole project seems overwhelming. This stress then acts as an inhibition, because as long as you aren’t dealing with the paper you aren’t facing that worry of how you will complete the paper.

The interesting part is that you will only procrastinate if you have both a motivation and an inhibition. If you were only motivated, then you’d just finish the paper. If you were only inhibited, then you wouldn’t do the paper as you have no reason to do it (for example, you probably don’t write papers for fun). In both cases you’d be free of any procrastination, because you wouldn’t have various parts of yourself playing tug-o-war over what you should be doing right now.

So, for those who are wondering about how you deal with procrastination. The the physical answer to that is pretty straightforward. You need to find a way to make your motivations heavily outweigh your inhibitions. or vice-versa. Admittedly accomplishing such a task can be very difficult at times, but here are 8 strategies that can help you.

Align yourself with your motivations

When you procrastinate, it’s because you feel like you “should” do something. One way to resolve this is to turn that “should” into a “want”. To do this, think about why is it you want to do the thing you are procrastinating on. For example, if it’s a school project, think about why you want to do well in school. If you were incredibly successful at school, how would you feel? Why do you want to do this project? Why is it important to you? When I start to procrastinate on part of my coaching business, I think about my dreams to become a big voice in society and create a large positive change in the world and what it would be like to have my business grow beyond my wildest dreams.

Address your inhibitions

As I said earlier, one major mistake people make is that they just take procrastination at face value. Don’t do this. Instead, think about why you are procrastinating. What’s the inhibition that’s making you avoid your work. Is the project pressing on a major fear or insecurity? Is it just a big project that feels overwhelming? How is procrastinating benefitting you? What the reasons you’d want to procrastinate?

This method can be slower than the others, but if you can successfully find a major cause of procrastinating and change it, you can often create a very permanent solution to a chronic issue.

Create additional motivation (rewards)

This is a classic method to overcome procrastination. Create a reward system for the task you are procrastinating on. How you do this is very dependent on the person, but the gist is you create goals, that when completed you get a reward. This can be anything from candy to going out to the movies with a friend.

Create accountability

If there are clear and reasonable consequences for procrastinating, you’re more likely to be motivated and on top of things. An easy way to do this is to have an accountability partner. Ask a friend to check on your progress regularly, and tell them to harass you if you are not working. Better yet, combine this with the rewards strategy, and leave them in charge of giving you your rewards. Knowing that, if you work, you get to do something fun with a friend can be a solid motivator.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals

A common cause of procrastination is the feeling of being overwhelmed. If your work is piling up, it can be very tempting to start websurfing instead of working. The best way to combat that feeling is S.M.A.R.T. Goals. Try to breakdown everything you need to do into bit size pieces and only focus on the piece in front of you. This can make tasks a lot less intimidating and manageable.

Create structure

One of the big causes of procrastination is the feeling that you can always do something later. Structure is a very effective tool to work against that. Good structure usually incorporates the S.M.A.R.T. Goals, accountability, and rewards discussed in the three prior strategies. The idea with structure is that it creates a solid time and place that you will be doing your work with clear consequences and rewards.

Often it can be very tempting to not use structure. Common sense tells us we shouldn’t have to make a big complicated schedule and plan just to get something done, but if that were the case, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article.

One great form of structure I can recommend is a website called highscorehouse.com. When I first started writing for my coaching business I really struggled to write regularly. I wound up trying this website because my girlfriend was doing it and I wanted to support her trying to set personal goals for herself.

Initially I felt rather silly and dumb using the website, but in the end, it was actually incredibly helpful. I set myself basic rewards like getting to go out and eat once a week if I kept up with my writing, and if I stayed on course long enough, the opportunity to go on a camping trip with my girlfriend. I actually wound up not using the website after about a month or two, because I found I was getting so I could actually keep up with my work on my own, but the website really helped me jump start some better habits.

Let go

In rare cases, the answer to procrastination may actually be to let go. Sometimes you are doing a project for completely the wrong reasons and your procrastination is actually a sign you are barking up the wrong tree.

A great example of this was when I had a client who really wanted to start a personal business, but kept finding themselves procrastinating when they tried to work on it. The answer we eventually came to was that they actually didn’t want to have a business.

Their only reason to have a business was that they wanted to be more exciting, because in their belief system they believed that if they weren’t exciting people would not like them. When we tackled that belief about being exciting, it became very apparent that creating a business was actually a very unpleasant task and not something they actually cared about.

Be sure to take some time and ask yourself why you care about what you are doing. Make sure it’s something you legitimately care about and not that you are doing an activity to address some personal issue that may be dealt with in a better way.

Create a visible transition

This kind of feeds into the strategy of creating structure. One way to address procrastination is to make a visible transition from being a lump to dealing with your work. This can be done in a myriad of ways. One of the easiest is not do your work where you play. Instead, go to a coffee shop, library, etc. and do your work in a different environment. You can also choose to do things like listen to specific music, or even wear a special hat when you decide to work. The more you create a visible shift between your play time and work time, the easier it can be to commit yourself to the idea that you can’t goof around because going to get things done now.

So, that’s the insight I’ve got for now. If you have your own unique strategies for dealing with procrastination, I’d love to hear them. Everybody has their own way of navigating life and it’s always cool to hear how people handle things in their own way.

Images provided by Carl Black, Bman2011, James Jordan, and ffaalmuni

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