"I'll do it later," you say to yourself... but you said that yesterday too. "Just a 10-minute break," you promise in your head... but it so quickly turns into an hour. It's happening again: you're procrastinating.
Procrastination is the act of postponing something that shouldn't be postponed. Common things that people procrastinate on include work, business, school, errands, and family obligations. All of those tasks take effort, a lot more effort than the alternative of delaying them to relax, play, or get some entertainment. It feels relaxing to procrastinate when you've got loads of work to do.
But those good feelings are always short-lived. In hindsight, you realize that the delay costs you progress, progress that could have moved you forward in your career, improved your relationships with family members, or enhanced your life in some way. You need to stop procrastinating in order to live your life to the fullest.
The first and most important step to overcoming procrastination is understanding why you procrastinate. Luckily, it's quite simple: you procrastinate because you are subconsciously trying to avoid judgment.
As humans, we tie a lot of our self-worth to the judgment of our performance, both from ourselves and from others. Your brain uses procrastination as a way of avoiding that judgment.
- When you delay the completion of a work project then you delay it being seen and critiqued by your boss
- When you delay starting your business then you delay the possibility of failure and judgment from others that know you started it
- When you delay visiting your family, then you delay the typical conversations about how things are going, and how you might be judged based on your response
It feels comfortable to procrastinate because then you don't have to face the discomfort of judgment. Hearing judgment can be extremely painful, especially when it's about something important to you. People might call you stupid, ugly, not smart, a failure; it's only natural that you would want to avoid that risk.
But the problem is that when you don't take the chances to fail or be judged, then you miss out on chances for success. Having a chance to succeed always requires that there is a chance to fail.
- You have to show that work project to your boss to have a chance at getting a raise or promotion
- You have to start your business to have a chance of it succeeding
- You have to spend time with your family to have a chance at building a strong relationship with them
Taking those chances is a necessity for building a great life. You can avoid small pains when you procrastinate, but that's not going to help you grow. Building a great life requires you to take deliberate, positive action, literally the opposite of procrastination.
According to Nic Voge, a top researcher on procrastination, overcoming procrastination is a three-step process.
(1) Be aware of what you’re doing and why
First, understand that the reason you're procrastinating is that your brain is trying to protect you. It's not because you're weak or not smart; you're doing something that's quite natural.
Now you can recognize the times when you procrastinate and make a mental note of any regular occurrences. Not with judgment, just neutral.
(2) Tip the balance
You now know that it's fear of judgment that's pushing you to procrastinate. The key to overcoming that is to push yourself in the other direction.
Take a piece of paper and on the left side write down all the reasons you need to do the work. On the right side, write down all the reasons you shouldn't do it, including avoiding judgment. Now it's your job to make the left side stronger than the right to convince yourself to get the work done.
(3) Challenge your beliefs
The final step is to change your mindset about your self-worth. Your self-worth is not tied to your ability or accomplishments, it's tied to your character. To develop great character, there is no requirement to perform at a specific level. All you have to do is do your best at any time.
We don't procrastinate because we're weak, we procrastinate because we're human. Understanding your human nature is the key to overcoming procrastination and making better use of your time. Become self-aware by recognizing your procrastination, understanding that it's not a character flaw, and then finding ways to convince yourself to push through the work and get it done.