August 2, 2020 2 By Rick

Let’s talk about procrastination. Well, maybe later – just joking, of course. If you’re like me, you feel guilty about putting things off until later, but that’s just normal. Let’s face it, we all procrastinate at some point. It can be small, unimportant things like going through old papers or reorganizing your closet. But it’s more likely to be bigger, more important things that require time and commitment. And these are the ones that can make us look foolish, feel emotionally bad or flat out fail. And we’re really good at coming up with all sorts of creative reasons why today isn’t the right time to tackle this task. We’re too young, too old, too tired, too stressed, too busy or too inexperienced. And sometimes, some of these reasons are true, but usually they’re because we’re afraid. 

The trick
We’re wired to avoid pain or anything that might harm our pride and make us look foolish. The trick is to find ways to work smarter to get your tasks done. Remove the things that distract you and schedule a short break to check your social media or surf the net. If you attempt to ignore the urge to do these things, it will make it more difficult. An important distinction we need to make is the one between momentary happiness and long-term happiness. When we chase momentary happiness, we ignore complex, challenging and difficult tasks, which is where we grow, develop and eventually find long-term happiness.

Goals and standards
If – I should say, when – you find yourself procrastinating, examine your goals and standards. It might help to lower your goals a bit in the beginning and/or set mini goals to avoid performance anxiety. Take baby steps and celebrate your mini achievements. Some people call this lowering your success threshold. Take exercise, for example. How many times have you failed to follow through on your New Year’s resolution to start exercising? Start, instead, by setting a goal of exercising 10-20 minutes a few days week instead of 60 minutes a day four or five times a week. There will be times when you don’t achieve your goals but achieving part of your goals will keep you from feeling like a failure.

Inspiration or motivation
The difference between these terms is not always clear, but it is significant. For example, you can get inspired in many ways, such as listening to a song, reading a book or meeting a person you admire. And suddenly, you realize that this is something you want to do, or if this person can do it, so can I. It’s a catalyst for change. You start your program – whatever – it might be, work hard for a few weeks or maybe even a few months and then it gets harder and harder to keep going. This is where motivation comes into play. Motivation is what keeps you going when things get complicated, and this usually comes from within. It’s related to grit and perseverance.

 Distractions and rewards
As I mentioned earlier, distractions can lead to procrastination. Turn off all your notifications on your electronic devices. Set a time limit for how long you want to work uninterrupted and focus on your work until the period is up. Then, reward yourself by indulging in an “urge” and relaxing a bit. Habits (or needs, if you prefer) – and yes, these are habits – are Challenging to ignore and even more difficult to eliminate. If your habit is checking Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the like, then accommodate this need by scheduling around 5 minutes every hour to do this. I’ve heard this called “structured procrastination.”

Structured procrastination
This is when you do many small things that make you feel like you’re achieving things and making progress without really achieving anything or making progress. Each of these little things produces short-term joy, no matter how simple the action. Long-term thinking, on the other hand, is where we find true joy. Another way to tackle this problem is to build in a system of incentives and consequences and make yourself accountable to yourself or to someone else for reaching your goals. Visualization is yet another way.

If you envision what you expect and want to achieve ahead of time, you’ll become better focused and better able to avoid distractions. For example, you’re in the middle of some critical work or a meaningful discussion and your cellphone starts vibrating because an email has come in. This isn’t what you expected and it’s not part of the goal you visualized achieving, making it easier to tell yourself that you’ll deal with this later.

The many faces of procrastination
I’ve already touched on some of the reasons we procrastinate. But there are many others to consider. It can be choosing pleasure over discipline or trying to avoid something you perceive as negative (filing income taxes or dealing with authorities, in my case). Sometimes it’s because the task isn’t urgent, which makes it much easier to procrastinate. It seems we’re hard-wired to prioritize present needs over future needs. If that’s the case, try looking at the bigger picture to gain a new perspective, according to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Occasionally, it’s because we don’t know where to start. If that’s the case, accept that it’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed in the beginning. Remember, when you’re starting something new, its OK to mess up and do things over.

Just don’t want to
Let’s face it, sometimes, we just don’t want to do our work. You know what I mean. It’s a beautiful sunny day, the birds are singing and the weather has crappy lately. You just reckon. Nope, I’m not going to work today. Of though, it coincides with a tedious and/or complicated task that needs to be done. According to a study in the European Journal of Personality,” many college students procrastinated did so merely because there were fun alternatives. In their minds, they weren’t blowing off their work—they fully intended to study. Just not right now.” Obviously, these students knew themselves well and did study later.

No one likes to fail
We’re all afraid of failure. Fear is a powerful emotion that can keep us bogged down with excuses. Try focusing on what you don’t want, so you can use fear in your favor. Used correctly, fear can be a powerful motivator to get things done. Watch out for perfectionism because procrastination is often its sidekick. When you have sky-high standards and believe that your self-worth is tied to your performance, the combination can keep you from starting or even make you abandon projects because you’re afraid you can meet your own standards.

Get moving
It’s crucial to get moving and build your momentum. And to that, yep, you guessed it. You’ve got to move out of your comfort zone. Starting today, step out of your comfort zone as often as possible – even if it’s just a small step. Otherwise, lazy excuses will cause you to procrastinate. Progress doesn’t have to be fast, either. Just moving forward will inspire you, so take that crucial step today.