READ TIME: 6 MINUTES
It’s no coincidence that one of my biggest struggles, and one of the top questions to hit my inbox is often worded like this:
“How do I stop procrastinating?” I know there are things that I NEED to be doing, but I put them off anyway and it makes me feel like crap.”
I hear ya. And you’re not alone.
In fact, putting things off has become such a worldwide issue that a team of scientists from across the globe has spent the last 20 years sharing their research at Procrastination Research Conferences. Seriously. It’s a thing. I kinda want to go now.
At the most recent PRC in Chicago, it was reported one out of five people are “chronic procrastinators.” This is a near constant cycle of putting something off, missing out on your goals, and feeling bad about it. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. According to Julie Elen Haferkamp, a German psychologist, if you procrastinate “almost every day, at least half of the time you have work tasks” you might fall into this category.
The good news is that one out of five people, is only one out of five people – 20%. Chances are, you fall in that 80% of folks who procrastinates sometimes, and not to the utter detriment of your health, career and relationships. Take a quick sigh of relief if ya need to.
WHY WE PROCRASTINATE
Some of the most common reasons we procrastinate include:
The thing we need to do is boring
Scheduling dentist’s appointments. Cleaning out the gutters. Organizing your closet. Your kid cleaning their room. You cleaning your room. Folding the laundry. The list of boring things we need to do in order to exist as good humans is a mile long.
When stuff we need to do isn’t interesting, it’s easier – in the moment – to just not do it. Putting the boring stuff on autopilot via automation and routines can help.
Fear or intimidation
We don’t take steps forward because we’re afraid of what might happen, bad or good. I’ve talked with so many women who are afraid to build their side-gig to the level of leaving their 9-5 because it’s uncharted territory. It’s scary, even though it could be awesome.
Intimidation is why my kitchen renovations aren’t finished yet. And why I haven’t picked window treatments or fabric for reupholstering our sofa. Picking paint was easy, but I’m completely intimidated by this new set of choices. Yeah, it’s hard to push through, and so much easier to just put it off and deal with it later. But yesterday, I made myself sit down and put together a plan with deadlines for getting it done, and I feel a little more confident about moving forward with a plan.
We don’t have a set timeline
“Someday” is not a day of the week. And when there are open-ended things that we need or even want to do, the lack of a plan or deadline could keep them from happening indefinitely.
Have you ever heard yourself or someone you love say something like this…
“I’ve always wanted to learn calligraphy.”
“I’d love to go to Europe.”
“I really want to lose 20 pounds.”
“I’d love to run a half marathon.”
“I dream of owning my own business.”
“I need to grow my client list.”
… and yet you – or they – never actually take the steps forward to make those things a reality. A quote credited to a number of people goes something like “A dream without a plan is just a wish,” or “A goal without a plan is just a dream.” Regardless of who said it or what they actually said, you get what I’m saying.
If you want to do something, figure out your first step. Then take it.
We’re waiting for the perfect moment
Newsflash: There is no perfect moment. Ever.
There will never be the perfect time to quit the job you hate. (Unless you’re working toward a savings goal to give you some cushion for your new venture. That’s different.)
There will never be the perfect time to start a family.
There will never be the perfect time to start planning your trip to Europe.
Once you accept that the perfect moment doesn’t exist, you break down a big mental barrier to living the life you dream of.
WHAT PROCRASTINATION LOOKS LIKE
Sometimes it’s as easy to spot as a pint of Halo Top on the sofa for another 5 episodes of Parks and Rec, instead of loading the dishwasher and sweeping the kitchen.
Sometimes we procrastinate without even realizing it. I call it, “fake busy.”
This looks like prioritizing the un-important + not urgent, over the important + urgent. It’s alphabetizing a stack of business cards instead of working on a project. It’s reorganizing a spreadsheet instead of making that tough phone call. It’s self-sabotage in the form of stretching out one easy thing on your to-do list, so there’s just no time left to tackle the hard thing next on your list.
For me, it looks like replying to emails on my phone in the gym parking lot instead of hopping out of the car and going inside.
PRODUCTIVE PROCRASTINATION – IS IT REAL?
Turns out, yes. Productive procrastination, sometimes called purposeful procrastination, positive procrastination or intentional delay, can be a very healthy part of the creative process. It’s pushing back a project – say, writing a press release or drafting a blog post, so you can let your creative juices work in the background.
Great ideas can come from idle time, and I actually finished up the outline for this post and came up with the subject line for today’s edition of The Leadership Note in the shower after yesterday’s trip to the gym. And even though I was putting off writing this blog post, I did something productive – I went to the gym. Productive procrastination.
Waiting until the last minute also requires you to be ok with work that isn’t perfect – which is convenient because rarely is any work actually 100% perfect – so by waiting until the pressure’s on, you’re able to create the same quality of work, and in less time, than if you’d started a week ago.
But it’s not foolproof, and the mere existence of productive procrastination as a concept is not a permission slip to start putting off everything, all the time.
THE MINDSET TRICK I USE TO STOP PROCRASTINATING AND DO WHAT I GOTTA DO
I THINK ABOUT “FUTURE ANNA.”
Not Jetsons, space-age, Tomorrowland at Disney World Anna.
Anna in two weeks. Anna next year. Anna five years from now.
And I ask myself,
“Am I making things easier or harder for Future Anna?”
“Am I setting her up for success?”
“Am I helping Future Anna hit those goals we want to hit, and build the life we want? Or am I slowing her down and creating a delay?”
We often think very highly of our future selves. They’re thinner, more in shape, more successful, they have better hair, and they’ve folded all the laundry and put it away. In our heads, our future selves always get stuff done, that’s why we put so much on them when we decide to do something “later.”
But when we put something off, we’re just adding to the to-do list of our future self. We’re piling things on, and we’re putting some unrealistic expectations on someone we’re supposed to care a lot about.
And that’s just not a very nice thing to do.
Two more questions that work in some instances go like this:
“Am I making myself proud right now?”
“Am I living the life of my dreams?”
If you’ve ever stopped to think about what you’d like your life to look like, then you know what I’m talking about. That ideal life – the way you dress, what your house looks like, how you spend your time.
I work from home. For me, that’s living out a dream that I had years ago.
But when I work from home in my pajamas until noon, that’s not living the life of my dreams, because in that life of my dreams, I envision myself actually getting dressed – even if that just means putting on “nice yoga pants” and a cute baseball cap.
And if your dream looks like pajamas ‘til noon, more power to you! Own it!
No matter what your dreams look like, I challenge you to figure out the first step and make them happen. Be nice to Future You. You can do this.