Why put off until tomorrow what you can do today? Well, because it's easier, you have more interesting things to do and, perhaps, you never really wanted to do those things in the first place.
Procrastinating isn't just about waiting until the last minute to get something done. It can also show up as the tendency to avoid confrontation, a reluctance to take risks or try new things, the ability to make big plans but to never follow through, the tendency to get sick or tired when faced with unpleasant tasks or the choice to blame others for your unhappiness instead of taking action.
Some of us have a bigger problem with procrastination than others, but we are all guilty of it now and again. What about you? Have you ever waited until the eleventh hour to pull together a term paper or a report for the boss? Can you always find a reason why that talk about boundary issues with your mother-in-law can wait? Do you spend hours or months researching the best brand of toothpaste or minivan? Do you keep talking about that new business you're going to start or that book you're going to write...someday? Whoops, that
last one sounds a little too familiar.
Anyway, you get my point. Most of us procrastinate at some point about something and some of us even manage to make procrastination into an art form. Wherever you fall on the continuum, procrastination rarely leads to a good outcome.
Too much putting off until tomorrow what you could, and should, do today can lead to poor job reviews, conflict with family and friends, missing out on new and exciting experiences and dreams that are never fulfilled. So if procrastination most often brings us failure and unhappiness, why do we do it?
There are lots of reasons but they fall into two main categories. Some people are a bit hedonistic. They just don't like to do the stuff that has to be done and put it off as long as possible. This is the “play before work” crowd. Their motto is “Why do boring, distasteful work when there is fun to be had?”
The other type of procrastinator is the “work before play” type who puts things off because of a fear of failure, perfectionism, rebellion, retaliation and a whole host of deeper reasons. They are the most unhappy because, even though they are not doing the dreaded task at hand, they aren't enjoying themselves either. They are too busy beating themselves up. The “play before work” crowd may be enjoying a few rounds of golf while Rome burns, but the “work before play” procrastinator is nervously chewing his fingernails down to bloody nubs.
Chances are that something in the last paragraph struck a chord. Now that you know what type of procrastinator you are, what is there to be done about it?
The first and most important thing to ask yourself about any unpleasant task that you are busily trying to avoid about is “Does it really matter?” If you are a chronic procrastinator and it is having a significantly negative impact on your life, then by all means do something to snap yourself out of it. But if you are only putting off one particular task now and again, it is critical that you ask yourself how much that task really matters.
Too many of us are putting ourselves under immense pressure to be all things to all people. We feel the need to always be doing something, to be endlessly productive and fabulously successful and to never say no to anyone who needs our talents or assistance. If this sounds like you, please...ask yourself if you really need to do those things that aren't getting done or if they can be put off, delegated or crossed off your list altogether. If so, do that and them stop reading this post and go put your feet up for a while. This isn't about you.
Okay, if you're still here, this is about you. Here are some ways to get back on track when you are derailed by procrastination:
Discover Your Reasons for Procrastinating
Keep a journal if necessary, but at least give it some serious thought. When you think about getting around to that despicable task that you keep putting off, what thoughts are going through your head? What feelings are you having? Is it just that you'd rather have fun? Or is it that you are afraid you won't be any good at it?...that you'll embarrass yourself?...that you'll be giving in to someone else's demands?...that you will lose a friend?
If you're putting off because you just want to have fun, prioritize your list of unattractive activities. Cross of those you can delegate or cancel and then plan rewards – rewards that someone else will give you only when you complete each of the remaining tasks. (It's important that you aren't personally responsible for doling out your own rewards. The “play before work” type will often just take the reward without doing the job and feel pretty okay about it!)
If you're putting off because of perfectionism or resistance to authority or some other deep-seated emotional reason, it might be a good idea to try and sort out your feelings about these issues with, or without, the help of a counselor/therapist. Once you have a handle of what these issues are, you can try some of the following ideas.
Communicate Your Goals to Others
Sometimes, telling other people about what you should or want to be doing helps to make you more accountable for taking action. It can be embarrassing to keep talking about what you are going to do and then never doing it!
Make a To-Do List
Make a reasonable list of those things that you need to get to – with deadlines. Crossing off items is reward enough for some. Seeing the list dwindle down to nothing can give a person a sense of accomplished and pride. Not enough for you? Assign a reward to each item. Have a piece of chocolate, a glass of wine, a bubble bath or a movie.
Break Big Jobs Down Into Smaller Ones
Do some tasks just seem too overwhelming? Break them down into smaller tasks and focus only on one at a time. The shorter and easier the task, the less daunting. Sometimes it's better to not look at the big picture.
Ask for Help
Somethings don't have to be solely your responsibility. Maybe what you need is a partner. Starting an exercise program is something that many of us put off and this is a great example of a task that becomes easier when it is done with someone else.
Getting things done is always a challenge, but when you put things off the challenge can turn into a problem. Don't let that happen to you. Start small...but start now. Getting your life back on track is one thing that just can't wait until tomorrow.