Do you find yourself struggling to keep yourself afloat and having an existential crisis and asking yourself – “Why do we procrastinate?”
We all tend to procrastinate our tasks, some more often than others. If you’re a chronic procrastinator, you know how frustrating it can be to constantly be stuck with a pile of work weighing you down in the back of your mind. You’re also stuck in a cycle of delaying tasks that need to get done, and either facing the consequences later, or your own negative feelings of guilt.
If you’re a procrastinator, you are attuned to the insane rush just hours before a submission, exam or work deadline. One of the really interesting facets of this chronic procrastination is the fact that through school, college and even work – somehow or other you’ve always managed to make the deadline in time and got the work done. But as we grow older, the timelines are left for us to personally define and to be responsible for. For a procrastinator, this suddenly becomes detrimental with long term consequences that come with this tendency.
As a freelancer, this can become a great deterrent in your ability to be more productive and successful in your endeavors. While external deadlines provided you with the the musch needed structure and motivator to complete the work, you now have the responsibility to self-impose these deadlines. This is where things start to take a darker turn in your life.
Check out this fun TED Talk which perfectly captures the mind of a serial procrastinator:
So how can you overcome this monster of procrastination?
So, Why Do We Procrastinate?
“If you are unable to understand the cause of a problem, it is impossible to solve it.” -Naoto Kan
Before we try to overcome something, it’s important to understand the root cause of the problem. Knowing your enemy is half the battle in your journey to defeat it.
So let’s dive into exploring some of the main reasons why we may struggle with procrastination and tackle how to overcome each of them.
1. Mindset of Perfectionism
Perfectionism paralysis is a significant problem many face. It stops you from getting things done, because it prevents you from getting started in the first place! If not that, then you’re constantly trying to improve your work and chasing after a future ideal of what you want to achieve.
The problem with this is that nothing in the world is perfect. Fixating on improving your output has to have a deadline. Without external deadlines imposed, the process of achieving perfection with the work at hand can be endless.
Harboring this mindset of perfectionism cause you to procrastinate your work endlessly, never reaching a state of completion because it can always be better.
How can you overcome perfectionism?
The truth is, you need to be able to give yourself a time frame within which to produce an output. We are all constantly evolving beings, with new ideas and new skills developed over time. Just give the work your best effort. Taking action and producing an output is far better than not putting anything out there at all.
This is something I personally learnt over a period of time. I changed my mindset to being more practical and realistic about the output. While I gave it my best, I also internally recognized that I could improve it later and that it was okay if it wasn’t perfect!
After years of putting off a passion project or a business idea, it was liberating to just go for it!
2. Fear of Failure
The closely related sibling of perfectionism is our fear of failure. This is a deep seated fear many of us have. We are so afraid of not fulfilling the expectations of others or the expectations that we have of ourselves – that we end up procrastinating. It’s easier to not do something because don’t know whether we’ll achieve the result that we want or live up to a desired outcome. This can stem from a lack the confidence or not believing that we’re good enough.
How can you overcome the fear of failure?
At the root of this is our need to focus on the outcome or result. The only way to actually overcome this fear of failure is by acting! We have to focus on the present because the only thing within our control is the work we put in at this moment. If you never try, how will you ever know? The unknown can be daunting, but the unknown of a success you’ll never know because you never tried is worse!
And so what if you do fail? We’ve all heard the saying that failure is the stepping stone to success, and the story of Thomas Edison, who invented the lightbulb. …
3. Lack of Motivation
This one is a struggle. Sometimes you’re faced with tasks that you just don’t like. It’s hard to muster up the will to do them. If you depend purely on motivation to do a task at hand, there are going to be many things that will be left undone.
And so the cycle of procrastination begins yet again. But life is a mixed bag of activities, you won’t always like everything, but there are some things you need to do anyway.
My father taught me this principle of three categories that activities can fall into: things I have to do, things I love to do and things I’m asked to do.
Not everything is going to be exciting or something that you enjoy doing, some tasks can simply be boring. But the criteria for their completino cannot be so dependent on your motivation level.
How can you overcome a lack of motivation?
The greater focus needs to be on building a strong work ethic and sense of duty. There are things that may be expected of you and there are things you will need to do given the time and place. You need to create strong principles for yourself so that your will to complete the required task is always greater than the option of giving up or putting it off. Don’t be afraid of taking responsibility, and start being accountable to yourself and to others around you.
4. Lack of Energy
Do you sometimes find yourself lacking the energy to function at your best? Lack of energy can also cause us to procrastinate our work. You just don’t feel like working at times and so you don’t. We all know about time management, but what about energy management?
Energy naturally fluctuates and we don’t have the same levels of energy throughout the day.
It’s important to identify the causes of lack of energy which can be physical or mental.
How can you overcome a lack of energy?
It’s important to be mindful and observe your energy levels through the day. This can help you identify blocks of time where your energy levels are high and capitalize on it by prioritizing the more difficult tasks then.
Some things you can do consistently are get enough sleep, exercise daily, drink enough water, eat the right food and a good timely routine through the day. It’s also important to engage in activities that energize you, and take note of activities that drain you energy. This could also be dependent on your personality type. For example if you’re an introvert, social interaction will drain your energy after a certain point. Limiting that and taking time out to do something you love can help energize you internally.
5. Lack of Focus
Our mind is often an entity of its own, following through on its whims and fancies. It can be difficult to keep our mind in check. This causes a lack of focus, and with the abundance of distractions that exist at the tip of our fingers in the age of smartphones and social media, we end up leaving our tasks incomplete or assigning the fate of “tomorrow” or “later” to them.
This makes us fall into the trap of task switching or multi-tasking as well.
How can you overcome a lack of focus?
Training our minds to stay focused is an essential skill to master if we want to be more productive and efficient. Doing yoga, breathing exercises and chanting are powerful ways of learning to control the mind.
It is also important to create a focused space for yourself by disengaging from your phone. Switch off your push notifications while you’re working and put your phone aside. Create a workspace which inspires you to work towards a vision of your future. Creating the right atmosphere can help you maintain and retain your brain to focus on the task at hand for longer periods of time. You can also take timed breaks, which helps you to keep a control over how you direct your mind, rather than the mind directing you.
6. Feeling Overwhelmed
Let’s face it, life can get really overwhelming sometimes. Our situations and circumstances can cause us to spiral and feel like there’s simply too much going on. This has a mental impact on us, making us feel overwhelmed or anxious.
We can also get caught in a headspace where our mind is processing past events, or worrying about the future. Neither of the two are productive, and leave us in a status quo unable to move forward. The only way to move forward is through present actions, the catalyst for which are our thoughts. Therefore that becomes the key to overcoming feeling overwhelmed.
How can you overcome feeling overwhelmed?
Be present. Focus on the moment at hand. Yoga, chanting or breathing exercises are powerful ways of observing the patterns of the mind and learning to be present. Do activities that are calming for you. Listening to music or spending time with nature are also great ways to achieve that. Practicing this will help you to control your emotions and not be subjected to them helplessly.
Sometimes to-do lists can also get long, and the work that’s piled up feels unwelcome and overwhelming to get started with.
Keep your to-do lists short and focused on a group of activities at a time. Focus only on the one task you are doing, complete it, and then move on to the next. This will help you to get more work done, little by little, rather than focusing on all the work pending and not doing anything at all!
7. Focused on Short-Term Gains
We could also call this the instant gratification monkey that’s jumping around in our heads. It’s easier and more tempting to give in to our impulses in the moment and seek satisfaction from what’s in front of us. It could be a distraction or an activity we enjoy, or simply a way to escape what we see as “work”. This causes us to pass up on prioritizing the more important tasks and yet again remaining in the vicious cycle of procrastination.
How to overcome this short-term gain response?
It’s important to have a long-term vision that outweighs the short term gain. The long term return of small consistent actions in the present provide greater returns. It is hard to stay focused on it, as it’s not as tangible as what we have readily accessible to us now. But by utilizing our greater intelligence, visualizing the positive and beneficial outcomes of what we want to accomplish, we can curb the tendency to give in to short-term gains that hinder our long-term growth.
You can now analyze for yourself with the above information to see what areas you struggle with and can work on improving.
At the end of the day, it’s important not to attribute negative qualities to yourself. Create principles and routines with which to live your life and signal positive affirmations to yourself.
The most important thing is to understand how you function as a person and identify the root cause of your procrastination. Procrastination is not an insurmountable entity. It may seem difficult, almost impossible at times, but the human spirit is far more powerful. Take small steps everyday to form new habits and allow yourself the room to grow.
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Also Read: Working From Home Productivity Tips
Take the Quiz:
You can also try out this quiz that helps you pinpoint the cause of your procrastination and suggests some solutions: https://whydoiprocrastinate.com/