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Procrastination: It’s Time to Do Something About It!!

Life can certainly be overwhelming at times. Deadlines to meet, demands of email and cell phones, and responsibilities on the home front can all create the temptation to procrastinate. “Procrastination is quite a widespread problem” says Neil Fiore, PhD. He feels that “People have more seemingly legitimate excuses to avoid doing the right work – the work that is in line with their values and goals”. Everyone occasionally postpones boring or unpleasant tasks. But some people sabotage their success and quality of life by repeatedly putting things off, guaranteeing undesired outcomes. How we "coach ourselves" through these times is critical to our being able to overcome these debilitating thoughts and behaviors. 

Why do we procrastinate? Psychologists report several reasons including fear of failure (or success), anger (rebellion against loss of control), task-related anxieties (including dislike of the work), perfectionism, pleasure-seeking behaviors, unclear expectations, or depression. Some people have convinced themselves that “I work better under pressure” or “I’ll feel better about tackling that work later”. However, it has been found that procrastinators’ last minute work is often of low quality and tomorrow never comes. Fiore states that the idea that “pressure improves performance” is the most common myth amongst procrastinators.

Saying to ourselves “The thing I have to finish is so big and important, I have to do it perfectly, and I won’t have any fun doing it”, is self-defeating. This shows that we are not coaching or managing ourselves effectively. Fiore states that telling ourselves “I have to do it” automatically causes ambivalence and internal rebellion. It causes us to add “but I don’t want to”, making us a victim and wanting to rebel against the task, as a child would. 

The preferred, more mature, strategy is to say “I choose to start on one small step, do it humanly, with plenty of time for guilt-free play”. This means “I will do it as well as I can, within the time frame I am given to do it”. As we choose to do something, we are making a decision using the executive part of the brain, reducing the possibility of initiating an internal battle with ourselves over starting the task. Going back and forth between “I don’t want to” and “I have to” sets us up for chronic ambivalence and procrastination. The rebellious child in us will also become easily overwhelmed if finishing is the goal. Simply telling our mind and body where to show up to begin the task is an effective coaching technique, rather than focusing on finishing alone. Saying to ourselves “keep starting”is a way of moving us toward completion. As we take a leadership rolein our lives by starting a dreaded task, we experience both relief from negative feelings and increased positive emotions, which will help carry us through to the end. It is also helpful to break large tasks down into manageable portions, creating small successes as you complete each one.

It is important to note that “no play leads to burnout”, states Fiore. Without scheduled time to play, we lose motivation and the ability to concentrate on important tasks. “Your inner child needs to know that you’re going out to play”. He recommends that we legitimize and schedule guilt-free play in our lives so that we are able to retain our level of engagement in our work activities and feel a sense of balance.

Living with the mantra “I should be doing something else right now” perpetuates the guilt and paralysis of putting things off. The Procrastination Research Group asked the question “To what extent is procrastination having a negative impact on your happiness” and found that 46 % say “quite a bit” or “very much”, and 18% report “extreme negative effect”. Research has also shown that some people who are chronic procrastinators may experience higher levels of drinking, insomnia, stomach problems and colds and flu. Procrastination also affects key relationships in our lives. We don’t need to suffer the physical and emotional consequences of delaying tasks. It’s OK to reach out for help to sort this out and find easy solutions.


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