Procrastination is a problem that can interfere with all aspects of your life. If you are a procrastinator, then the important people in your life are probably angry and frustrated with you. You continually let them down because you don’t get things done when you are supposed to. What’s worse is that you end up being angry with yourself too. Guilt and low self-esteem are often the companions of procrastination. You can overcome this problem and get things done.
Everyone procrastinates sometimes. Usually it has to do with putting off a job that you really don’t like. Things like cleaning the garage or writing a year-end report may have little intrinsic appeal so it’s quite natural for you to resist doing them. Occasional procrastination may have to do with avoiding a task you find difficult to do like talking to a friend about an issue between you, or asking your boss for a raise. Again, most of us will put something like this off for awhile but we eventually tackle the job and get it done.
Procrastination is a serious problem when putting things off becomes a way of life. Nothing gets done, your life is stalled in the important areas, and your relationships with others suffer.
The best way to stop procrastinating is to trick yourself. This technique works when you procrastinate because the size of the task seems overwhelming. Tell yourself you are not going to do the whole job, but you’re just going to do one part of it. For example, if you’ve been putting off washing the windows, tell yourself that you are just going to wash one set of windows. You’ll probably end up doing two or three windows because you have everything out anyway. If you’ve been avoiding doing the twenty-page report, tell yourself you’ll just do the title page and the table of contents. You’ll probably finish off the introduction and maybe even do chapter one.
Another technique is to start anywhere, rather than feeling like you always have to start at the beginning. We often defeat ourselves because we can’t decide on the best place to begin. Starting anywhere is better than not starting at all and it’s amazing how a job gets clearer and easier once you wade into it. This is called the “Swiss cheese” method of problem solving. When you take big chunks out of the task, what’s left looks like Swiss cheese.
A third approach is to decide that you’ll just do a lousy job. The mind-set that things have to be perfect often paralyzes a procrastinator. Perfectionists make every task a huge task. They not only have to do the one task, they have to do all the related tasks and everything has to be done perfectly. Deciding to do a lousy job is another version of tricking yourself. It’s much easier to improve something that has been done in a less than perfect way than it is to start from the beginning. If you are a perfectionist, you know it will always end up well done anyway.
Sigmund Freud once said that when inspiration didn’t come to him, he would go halfway to meet it. This is a great technique to overcome procrastination. Resolve to start your task even though you may not be in the mood. Force yourself to be disciplined so that you can start work at a given time. Take action and get the ball rolling. Do one thing to begin your project – make a phone call, organize your desk, make a list, anything that will take you one step closer to your goal. After you’ve taken the first step, take the next one. As you overcome the inertia, you’ll be amazed at how the ideas and the energy begin to flow.
It’s very important to build leisure and rest time into your schedule. Most procrastinators spend their time worrying about all the things they are not doing and feeling guilty about letting others down. They can’t enjoy any of their time because they always think they should be doing something else. It’s much easier to work if you know that a break is waiting for you. The most creative and productive people are those who know how to keep a healthy balance between work and play.
Finally, if you really are stuck in procrastination, maybe you ought to take a look at your whole life. Procrastination is a form of resistance. If you procrastinate everywhere, it may be that some major changes have to be made. It’s often too scary to think about major life transitions. It’s easier to just ignore it and quietly resist the life you’re living. Neglecting the big stuff is a waste of your whole life. If you think this may be the case, enter into counselling and get some insight into what is holding you back.
When you ignore or avoid problems, they don’t go away. Problems grow over time and eventually you will be forced into dealing with them. Use these simple techniques to tackle the small problems and most of the big ones will take care of themselves. You will like yourself better and feel more in control of your life. Things will get done and the nagging – both internal and external – will stop.
Shirley Vandersteen, Ph. D., R. Psych.