“I work best under pressure.”
I can't tell you how many times those words have passed my lips, but I can tell you that I'd been saying those words for years believing it was just a quirk of my personality.
But, after far too many coffee-fueled late night study and work sessions, I can tell you one thing with 100% certainty: I don't work better under pressure, and procrastination is a real problem that can cause unnecessary stress.
Why Do We Procrastinate?
In my own personal experience, procrastination has two main causes: fear and indifference.
People procrastinate when they fear the outcome of the task at hand.
Some common fears are…
- loss of control
…and the list goes on.
Additionally, indifference can play a role in procrastination as well.
The task may need to be done in order to make a passing grade or keep a job, but there's no personal desire to achieve the task.
Can Procrastination Be Overcome?
We know why procrastination occurs, so with that knowledge we now know that anyone who desires to can take control and overcome procrastination.
The trick with procrastination (and with any flaw or trait that we'd like to overcome), is to treat it at the source.
Yes, procrastination can be overcome, but only by those people who want to overcome it. It takes persistence and requires continued effort, but so does anything worth having in life.
So, we know why we procrastinate, and we also know that it's possible to overcome. What now?
How to Overcome Procrastination
Let's take a simple example that many procrastinators can likely relate to.
John has a weekly status report due by Friday at 5 P.M.
John puts it off and puts it off until 1 P.M. on Friday rolls around and he's madly dashing around the office collecting the info he needs to complete it. He manages to send it in just in time.
Remember, there's two likely reasons behind the sort of procrastination mentioned above — fear or indifference.
Is John fearful of the outcome, or simply indifferent to it?
Maybe John fears that his boss won't be satisfied with John's progress throughout the week. Or, John could be indifferent to the task — after all, John knows how to do his job and he does is damn well, so why does he have to provide a progress report, week after week after week?
Whether John fears the outcome or is indifferent to it doesn't matter to his boss — all that matters to him is that the report gets handed in on time. To John, however, understanding the reason behind his procrastination will give him the key to overcoming it.
1. When You Procrastinate Because of Fear
If you're putting off a task because you fear the outcome, the obvious answer is to face that fear. But that's a simplistic and condescending answer, and we want to know how to solve this problem in reality, not theory.
To use John's example from above, he fears that his boss will be disappointed in him. On the surface, John may think he just doesn't want to do the report and that's why he procrastinates. But when he becomes honest with himself, he can now see the real reason is fear.
If you're procrastinating due to fear, the very first question you need to ask yourself is, “Is this fear based in reality?”
John has near-perfect work attendance, gets exceptional remarks at his annual review, and is well-regarded by his boss in every other instance.
While it's unlikely that John's fears are based in reality, he may still struggle with them.
If your fears aren't based in reality but you're still struggling to shake them off, the next question is, “What can I do to relieve these fears?”
Getting back to John, one way to alleviate his fears is to better understand why the progress reports are necessary. It likely has nothing to do with the way John's boss sees him as an employee. It may be something that's done for the sake of the company's shareholders, or an easy way to keep the higher-ups of the company in the loop.
2. When You Procrastinate Because of Indifference
We all do things we don't want to do because we know they need to be done.
Sometimes, however, even though we do them, we may not do them well, or we may put them off to the very last possible minute.
If you're procrastinating because you have no interest in the outcome whatsoever, there are a few things you can do to change your mindset and get your head in the game.
John hates writing those damned progress reports. They don't benefit him in any way, and in fact, they are a nuisance. Is there hope for John? Can he invest himself in this task even the tiniest bit? That depends on John's attitude.
John can choose to see those reports as a burden, or he can see them as another way to show his boss how great he is at his job.
Y'see, you don't have to like something to see its value, and you don't have to see its value in the same way as others do. If John can beat procrastination by seeing the weekly reports as just another step towards professional excellence, why does it matter if his views are different than his bosses?
The same goes for anyone who procrastinates due to lack of interest or desire — YOU can change how you see the task that's before you, and with that new view in mind, tackle that task head on.