We all do it from time to time, but is it getting in the way of you living your life?
We all do it from time to time, but is your procrastination getting in the way of getting things done? Megan Roantree finds out how to get over it and get on with it
I first learned the meaning of procrastination while doing my Leaving Cert. I’d lie on my bed with my books, folders and highlighters spread out around me while I did literally anything other than pick up a school book. I knew it made sense to actually study, I knew I was wasting time not being productive with just weeks to the exam, and yet I’d still rather listen to music, go on Facebook or even clean my room rather than do the logical thing and start studying.
While I was 18 before I learned the actual word, I was procrastinating long before then. Even as a child, on the rare occasion I’d be told to go and tidy my room, I’d sit on the bed reading a book I’d rediscovered, or play with something I’d recently found, even though I knew a nice tidy room would be much better than an hour of sitting doing nothing.
I did it when I was a little girl, I did it as a teen, and I definitely still do it now – most of us do! But why? “We often procrastinate on jobs that are a bit fuzzy, if we don’t know what’s involved so we’ll keep putting it off rather than sitting down, having a think and looking at how big the job really is,” says Ciara Conlon, author of Productivity for Dummies.
She adds: “In terms of how this can affect us, we end up doing work that isn’t what we should be doing, so we avoid what we should be doing now and instead do what we prefer or what doesn’t seem as difficult to handle, or we’ll choose something we know how to do.”
It’s become something of a meme lately and we all love to blame our star sign or the fact that we’re type A or anything else we can think of, but does personality type actually have anything to do with it? “There is definitely a split between people who are more prone to action, who are very logical and those who are more person focused,” Ciara explains.
“The latter is people who spend a lot of time talking about what they want to do. They might have amazing vision, but they don’t take action. So your personality type can hold you back. I would have been of the latter, all my life I couldn’t understand. I had all these amazing ideas and I was wondering why I wasn’t rich and famous but it was actually just that I wasn’t following through with the action. When I realised that I had to have systems and processes in order to get things done I started to become more successful, I was able to write and finish a book, rather than just having an amazing idea for one,” she adds.
So if you’re naturally more people focused, it doesn’t mean you’re a lost cause as leadership coach Ciara ensures you can tap into the systems that will help you to take action. When it comes to big goals, it’s just a matter of being very clear with yourself. “A lot of people who procrastinate simply haven’t set goals, and don’t know exactly what they want, they might have a vague idea but they don’t actually sit down long enough to decide.”
So if you’re putting off asking for a raise, or searching for a new job, it’s often fear that’s holding you back.“I think in that case you should plan your next action and make one small step towards what is it you’re thinking about. It’s about trying to spend some time on getting more clarity, some people find it so difficult, some personalities are very risk-averse. So if you’re like that it’s a blocker in going forward because you can see all the ways it can go wrong. For someone like that you should try and force yourself into looking at the positive possibilities, and in looking at that, take some kind of action so you can move forward.”
Sometimes, when we are unhappy or looking for a change in any area of life, we put it to the back of our minds and avoiding making any actions. If you’re struggling with this, Ciara says it’s important to broaden your horizons.
Very often, people just don’t even know what they want to do next year, or what they want their lives to look like in five years. They’re just so caught up in the day to day grind and they don’t see any possibility of how this can change. It’s a good idea to try and speak to people that you wouldn’t normally speak to, read things that you wouldn’t normally read, and try and think differently so you can see your possibilities.”
Occasionally, procrastination can be a sign that we are unsure of something, and sometimes taking time to decide what’s right is the only way to move forward. “There are times where it’s right to procrastinate on something to give yourself more time to think about the problem and no rush into it. That’s when it’s a good thing,” Ciara explained, “But in general it’s an issue that can really hold people back in their life and they procrastinate forever.”
If you can’t face a task, set yourself a small goal first. “What I usually say to people when I work with them one to one and they have a big goal or task that they are not moving forward with I’ll say plan 15 minutes in your calendar to think about it. That creates a little bit of momentum to just think about what it is you’re going to do first. That can sometimes just give it the kick that you need.”
For many people, procrastination is avoiding the little things, housework, assignments, errands, and Ciara says the only way to tackle this, is to make it a habit. “If it’s something you want to bring into your life regularly like cleaning the kitchen, doing things that are good for you or trying to keep something up regularly, you need to approach it like a habit, not like a goal in the future but a daily habit that we create in order to get there.
A little tip is if something takes less than two minutes, do it now! It can really help with things like housework because it’s not going to take long. And that also helps create habits. And when you create habits you’re effectively automating the actions that you keep doing. What happens a lot of the time when we fail to create habits is that we are actively talking ourselves out of it ‘do I need to do it now,’ or ‘I’ll get around to it later’ we’re self-sabotaging consistently. But when you preserve a habit repeatedly you’re creating a new neural pathway in your brain which strengthens and strengthens so that you get to a point where you don’t even question it anymore. It becomes like brushing your teeth.”
Worried that procrastination is just part of who you are? Ciara ensures that with these tips everyone can get over it and get on with it. “It’s absolutely 100% possible to change. It’s just about moving forward with something, it doesn’t have to be perfect, but a step in the right direction will create momentum and once you have that you’re more likely to be successful and create habits that improve your productivity.
This piece originally appeared in the May issue of Stellar Magazine.