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Procrastinators Listen Up


I HAVE been trying to write this column on procrastination for months now.

I sit down at my computer, write the word Procrastination at the top of the word document, stare at it, then get busy writing a new Facebook post, an extremely witty tweet, or sometimes I just go downstairs and make myself a coffee.

Whatever it is, it is something other than writing my column on Procrastination.

The fact that you are reading this tells me that I eventually finished it. But why did it take me that long? Why did I keep leaving it until ‘later?’ It’s not that it is a bland topic, and plenty of us do it. In fact I have had many requests to write about it.

So why have I been putting of writing about something that I know I need to write?

Procrastination is putting off doing something that you need to do, and replacing it with things that are maybe less urgent or more pleasurable in the moment.

Big report due at the end of the week? Well let’s get onto Facebook and linger there for a few hours. Confrontation needs to be done with an employee? Let’s duck out for a latte. Ironing to be done? Hey I might just go and try on my new ravishing red nail polish I bought yesterday and see if it goes with my new tan strappy sandals.

I bet there are some of you reading this post at work right now when you are supposed to be doing something else. Procrastinating much? Why do we procrastinate when the pain of not doing what we need to do is going to grow, the longer we leave it? The report is still going to have to get done, and so is the ironing. A fairy isn’t going to miraculously appear and do them for you. They are still waiting for you.

People often think procrastination is laziness, but usually this is not the case.

What we are doing is valuing what we are doing ‘now’ more than we value what we ‘should’ be doing. And the longer we gain more pleasure from ‘avoiding’, we are not going to change our behaviour. But maybe your procrastinating ways are inconveniencing you, and you haven’t realised it yet. Procrastination rarely stops unless you are really negatively affected by your own behaviour (like getting fired for not making the deadline). But even then, some people are barely bothered.

The other way to stop it is to be aware that it’s a problem and actively do something about it.

REALISE THAT YOU PROCRASTINATE

Are you putting off doing something that you know you must do? Maybe it’s the mowing, maybe it’s your tax, maybe it’s the pile of boxes that have been unpacked or maybe it’s ending the relationship you’re not ready for.

Whatever it may be it is likely you are fluffing around and avoiding it.

IDENTIFY YOUR DISCOMFORT

When you think about doing the task you have to do, what does the thought of it make you feel? What kind of discomfort does it bring up for you? Maybe it is the possibility of feeling bored, unconfident, or you just plain ole’ freaking out. Then notice if your avoidance is more about avoiding this feeling rather than the actual task you need to do.

Most of us seek to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. So obviously, when we know something is going to cause us discomfort, we go out of our way to not feel it. Avoiding the discomfort and doing something more ‘comfortable’ makes us feel good in the short term.

But you know what, the original stuff still has to be done. And it is going to stay there until you do it — like a little procrastinating cloud floating right over your head.

DELAY PLEASURE AND BE FREE

See if you can delay gratification for the pleasurable thing you keep doing, and see if it ends up being more pleasurable to get the less pleasurable thing first. You know, do a little experiment on yourself. What if — the actual act of getting your more discomforting job done first, actually made you feel more comfortable? Perhaps all of this time you had never given it a chance.

Write that report and hand it in. Mow that lawn. Do that tax. Get it over with and then relax. You don’t have it hovering over you anymore.

You are free to do what you want now. There is nothing worse than watching a movie when you know you should be doing something other than watching the movie.

It’s never as enjoyable. Just get your work done. Then you can focus on what Ryan Gosling is doing in peace (or maybe that’s just me).

Now that I have finished writing this article, I now realise it wasn’t as bad as I thought. In fact, it was quite enjoyable, and probably would have been more so if not for the frequent stops to my coffee machine.

If only I had written it a few months back.