I confess…I’m a procrastinator. Not a chronic one that lives in chaos and depression all the time, but I’ve certainly had to fight the procrastination monster that sneaks into my life when I least expect it.
Maybe you’ve experienced similar problems…
Have you ever put off going to the dentist so that when you finally go, you learn that if you had only come sooner, you could have prevented a major procedure and saved a lot of pain?
Or maybe you were going to pay that bill online so you just set it aside because it’s not due for a few weeks, then you forget about it and it didn’t get paid? Of course, now you have to pay extra as a penalty for being “overdue.”
Or maybe you’ve put off organizing your office, and now it takes you twice as long to find the file you need and people are waiting on you and you look incompetent?
Or you put off starting something because you feel you need more information, even though you’ve spent countless hours researching and finding the same answers over and over again?
“Procrastination is the thief of time.” – Edward Young
It’s not just the thief of time. It also robs you of money, energy and your bandwith: the emotional or mental capacity required to deal with a situation. Some of the symptoms caused by procrastination include:
- obsessive thinking
- lack of confidence
- lack creativity
- sense of spiritual emptiness
- sense of hopelessness
You only have a certain amount of bandwidth of what you can handle on a day-to-day, month-to-month or even year-to-year basis. When your bandwidth is maxed out you feel overwhelmed, and then it starts to take a toll on your body. You may experience:
- high blood pressure
- muscle tension
- sleep problems
- eating problems
And because you live in relationship with family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, etc., these relationships will eventually be affected. You may try to hide from others and isolate yourself from relationships, or worse yet, go on the warpath and blame others for your problems.
If procrastination is causing you to lose time, money, energy or cause you pain and stress, it’s not too late to do something about it.
The good news is, overcoming procrastination isn’t as hard as you may think. You can learn time management skills and there are numerous effective systems and methods to choose from.
But the main concern is, can you manage yourself?
If you can’t manage yourself, you can’t manage anything else.
Until you understand why you are procrastinating it’s hard to know how to overcome it.
With the right understanding of yourself, and with taking the right action, you can get things done and stop wasting precious resources and making the problems worse.
#1 – You are overwhelmed by the size of the task.
If you are too focused on the big picture of something, it will seem like a daunting task and you just freeze. For example, when the whole house is in chaos, you don’t even know where to begin because half the stuff in the bedroom really belongs in the office.
But there’s no room for it there because you are cleaning out the filing cabinet and there are stacks of files everywhere and you don’t have time to finish this job so you can get the other stuff out of the bedroom.
And now the bedroom stuff is overflowing into the hallway and you don’t even know where to begin. And if you did, the bottom line is you know you don’t have enough time to do what is necessary to finish, so you don’t even start, so the office, hall and the bedroom are all problem areas, so it seems like the entire house is in an impossible mess to fix.
SOLUTION: Break it down into smaller chunks and tackle one chunk at a time. Tell yourself you don’t have to do “all” of it right “now.”
Use paper and pen to make a list of all the known steps you must do to complete the project. Then, schedule an exact time to accomplish just the first step. Write down the date and time you will do this first step.
Limit your focus to only one step at a time from your list. When a step is done, cross it off and decide on the next logical step and schedule when you can do it. When that time comes, complete that step, cross it off your list and decide which step should come next and schedule a time to do it.
Keep doing this, one step at a time until your list is complete. If you don’t know all the steps at the beginning, you just start with what you know, and add more steps as necessary. Focus on one small task at a time and before you know it, the project will be complete.
Tape your list to the fridge or somewhere you will see it OFTEN. As you see small tasks getting crossed off the list, you will feel a sense of achievement and be motivated to continue.
If you thought a task would take 60 minutes and you got done in 20 minutes, choose another task than can be completed with the time you have left that was scheduled for this project. Don’t waste the remaining 40 minutes, use it to keep going.
More often than not, we don’t have time left over, but we run short.
#2 – You underestimate the time requirement.
It is common for most people to estimate a task to take a certain amount of time but almost without exceptions, it takes much longer. For example, you set aside a couple hours on Saturday to clean out the garage and it took all weekend!
Now you don’t have time to complete the report that was due at work on Monday and you didn’t get the shopping done so it’s late Sunday night, you’re exhausted and having to rush to the store to pick up enough groceries for tomorrow’s breakfast before you can start on the report.
SOLUTION: Schedule more time than you think it will take and give yourself permission to NOT complete it in one session. Work for the entire scheduled time and if it’s not done, schedule another time to finish it. You must learn to set and keep limits on your time. In the example above, the report due at work was more important than a clean garage.
BONUS TIP: Never sacrifice top priority projects to complete a less important one. Procrastinators are famous for this!
#3 – You set unrealistic expectations.
As a perfectionist, I suffered many consequences of procrastination simply because I thought something had to be perfect or it wasn’t worth doing. I often set goals that were beyond my abilities, then when I couldn’t achieve them, I was so disappointed in myself that I let fear prevent me from trying again until I had all my ducks “perfectly” in a row to ensure my success.
I would waste time and money researching the “perfect” way to do something, or buying the “perfect” product to make sure the outcome was “perfect.” I was more concerned with certainty that it could be done perfect, than just getting it done.
Fear of failure is a major cause of procrastination in many people. Fear can paralyze you from doing anything.
If you are a fellow perfectionist, let me advise you that it is NOT a positive trait! Your pride will be your downfall. You may think you have high standards but God is the only one who can do anything perfect.
If you start neglecting your genuine responsibilities because you don’t think you can achieve the perfect standard, you are creating even more problems in your life than you can imagine. If not reaching the standard of perfection keeps you from trying, it’s time you start lowering your standard to what is not only realistic, but also your responsibility. It’s not your responsibility to be perfect. Imperfect is not the same as failure.
SOLUTION: Define what is good enough before you start. Success must include completing the task “imperfectly” or it’s not important enough to spend any time on it.
Don’t compare yourself to others. There will always be somebody than can do something better than you–but they don’t have your responsibilities. Whatever role God has given to you, that you must do and do it to the best of your ability. You can’t do it with somebody else’s ability, nor can you worm your way out of it because you feel inadequate.
BONUS TIP: Stop trying to be perfect. Do your best. Learn from your mistakes. Improve your skills. Then move on, humbly acknowledging you are not God.
#4 – You are ruled by emotions.
Many people will not do what they ought to do simply because the don’t “feel” like doing it. They are not in the mood.
Emotions were meant to be servants; they make lousy masters!
The definition of “lazy” is: being unwilling to work or use energy. Everyone has free will and it should be used to be master over the emotions. Fear doesn’t rule just the perfectionist, it can sneak into the emotional type as well.
Fear is the cause of worry about the unknown. “What if I go to the doctor and he says it’s cancer?” Fear of bad news, or even change, can be a crippling emotion.
SOLUTION: Be your own boss and tell yourself to “just do it” regardless of your feelings. Don’t think the worst and worry about an unknown factor. You could reframe the question: “What if I go to the doctor learn a prescription can clear this up in two weeks?” Better yet, stop asking “What if…?” questions.
Learning to trust in the sovereignty of God will stop you from asking, “What if…?” questions and have you asking, “What do I do next?” instead.
Stop being ruled by emotions. Rule yourself with your God-given ability to reason and keep moving forward.
#5 – You don’t set clear goals.
It’s hard to achieve anything when there is confusion over what needs to be done, and when it needs to be done, and who needs to do it. If you don’t know how to put all the pieces together, you can learn.
The ability to set attainable goals, prioritize them and delegate responsibilities is a skill set everyone needs!
Tasks must be prioritized as important and urgent, or important. Important and urgent are always the first tasks to be completed, then the important ones. Many of the so-called urgent ones can be ignored!
We often get “urgent” requests that take us away from the important tasks and many of these “urgent” requests come to us from people who did not fulfill their responsibility on time and they are pushing it on to us.
For example, did your son forget to tell you he has to have treats to take to school today? So now it’s urgent you drop what you’re doing to make or buy some.
It is urgent to him, but not important to you because you have a job to get to on time. Therefore, you must discern which takes priority! One is urgent to somebody else but not important to you.
This means you must be able to identify whether something is only your responsibility, if it is a shared responsibility, or not your responsbility at all.
For example, is cleaning the house ONLY your responsibility, or can you delegate chores to your kids? Setting clear goals includes delegating tasks to others.
SOLUTION: A good goal is not only clear, it is attainable. A goal does not have to appeal to your emotions but is likely connected to a role or responsibility that is clearly yours and must be done whether you want to or not.
Analyze which duties must be fulfilled first, second, third, etc. Some things are time sensitive and urgent. Some things are not urgent, but may need to be first, before another step can be done. Sometimes the “clear” goal is simply “obedience” to do your responsibilites.
Define the goal clearly with as many specifics as possible.
Look forward to the end result. Start with the end in mind and work your way backwards. Think of it like you would planning a trip.
When you travel, you have a particular destination in mind. You refer to a road map to learn the best routes and you calculate how far you can go in one day.
With that knowledge, you can find where you can stay overnight, where and when to stop for gas or food, etc. You repeat the process until the entire journey is mapped out.
Before long, you have a daily itinerary that gives you step by step details of what each day of your journey will look like.
Make yourself “roadmaps” for projects. The great thing about this method is you can re-use it again and again.
For example, when you do spring cleaning, you don’t need to sit down every year and think through everything again. Just pull out the spring cleaning list you used last year and do it again.
Many projects, big or small, can be systematized so you don’t have to re-think it every time. You can use them to track how much time or money was required, which will help you be more efficient next time. Your “roadmaps” can evolve and be improved.
#6 – You have too many choices.
When you are given several choices about something, you naturally stop to analyze each one and try to determine which one is in your best interest. A great deal of time is often wasted while people just try to make a decision.
Fewer choices limit the time it takes to make a decision. This can be seen in the child who is offered three different options for breakfast, the teenager who can have this gadget or that one, the adult who can get insurance plan A, B, C, D or E.
And the more choices offered leads to people often second guessing their decisions, which can lead to more time starting over in the decision making process.
In the end, people often make unwise decisions because they wasted too much time trying to analyze each choice, or because there were so many choices they were too overwhelmed to analyze any of them, and when met with a deadline they make a decision only because time was running out.
SOLUTION: Limit choices for yourself and others you are responsible for. Most choices do not lead to life or death decisions. If you get it down to two possible choices and still can’t decide, flip a coin and move on to your next decision.
If it’s choosing something for others you are responsible for, such as what your daughter can wear to school, make the decision before going to bed the night before.
Do not wait until the last minute as the hasty decision will involve stress, which usually leads to falling behind in schedule. So whether you must choose the annual plan or the monthly installments, what to cook for breakfast, or any non-critical issue, limit the choices and pick whatever seems best.
BONUS TIP: Whenever possible, break it down to no more than two choices.
#7 – You ignore your physical limitations.
This cause can range from not having the physical ability to do something, to being so stressed from the overwhelm of thinking about doing something new.
There are some people who live in great chaos day in an day out, knowing it is causing them anxiety. But rather than fighting against it, they feel like victims of it and become depressed, which only makes them feel more guilty and adds to their anxiety.
Mental stress always has a debilitating effect on the body. It may cause a person insomnia, which makes them tired all day, which leaves them with no energy to take action to change and it’s just a downward cycle.
For example, poor health is often a result of people who procrastinated about taking charge of their diet and exercise lifestyle.
SOLUTION: Acknowledge your genuine limitations, then identify what you are using for excuses and eliminate them. Whether it’s mental stress causing physical health problems, or health problems caused by lack of self-discipline, these are both issues that you can take charge of.
You can work on finding the right balance of diet, sleep and exercise. You can choose to do what needs to be done and do your best with what you’ve got, instead of feeling like a victim of circumstance.
BONUS TIP: Outsource what you truly cannot do and take steps to tackle the things you can.
It really comes down to taking charge of yourself!
- Overwhelmed by size of task – break it into steps
- Under estimated time requirement – schedule more time than you think you need
- Set unrealistic goals – define attainable success
- Ruled by emotions – Just do it
- Unclear Goals – define the end result and steps to get there
- Too many choices – limit choices, make decision and carry it out
- Physical limitations – outsource to others, don’t make excuses but work with what is within your control
These are the basic reasons people procrastinate. Understanding your own weaknesses is the first step to taking charge of your life.
Take a few moments now to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Be honest with yourself.
Sometimes it’s not a lack of character but skills. Learning time management skills can be beneficial in forming new habits.
Most weaknesses start in the mind, not the body. Which is good news because you can change your mind.
You can be transformed by the renewing of your mind and root out bad thought patterns.
But most times, it’s your will that’s at fault. Even though you may know what you need to do, you don’t want to. You allow your emotions to rule you, instead of ruling over yourself. You must learn how to “will” yourself to do it.
Leave me a comment below telling me why you procrastinate and what you’re going to do to stop.