An innocent cup of coffee
I recently met up with a friend who’s running workshops on procrastination. I sat down with her over coffee and she explained that she was inspired to run the event because of her own battles against it. I sat listening, not really contemplating my own proclivity for procrastination, and began offering my professional opinion on why we procrastinate and how we can overcome it.
It was during our conversation I realised that, yes, I’m guilty of procrastinating too. In fact, we came to the conclusion that almost everyone does to some extent and over a variety of different things.
What is procrastination?
If I could find two words to sum up the act of procrastination, they would be: avoidance and delaying.
When procrastinating, we tend to do one of two things. We either avoid doing something completely or we delay doing it right up until the last minute. Both are done in the hope that (a) what needs to be done will become clearer the longer we wait or (b) through some miraculous minor miracle it’ll just happen or go away on its own.
How do we procrastinate?
The Top Five I see in myself and colleagues around me include:
- Waiting for someone else to do it;
- Surfing social media and even window shopping on the web;
- Being a perfectionist;
- Becoming over qualified, collecting certifications to add to your collections;
- Finding even more plates to spin.
Why do we procrastinate?
Do we procrastinate because we lack the skills and knowledge for certain situations or are we just plain lazy? The answer is, we all do it for different reasons and to varying degrees.
For some, it could be self-esteem driven or even a personality preference. For example, introverts might procrastinate over spending time in large groups, preferring to conduct smaller more intimate relationships.
For others, the answer lies in who they are. Their urge to procrastinate is driven by unconscious and subconscious thinking and emotions.
And for yet others, procrastination is inextricably linked with core values. Our values are, after all, at the heart of our decision making and isn’t the resolution, even to do nothing, still a decision?
Why do I procrastinate?
I often find myself procrastinating in situations when I become aware of the need to turn my strengths down.
Utilising strengths such as creativity and detail not only give me feelings of security and safety but excitement and positivity too. Unfortunately, they might not always be the most suitable strengths for a given situation.
In which case I might need to be more task focused or even strict at closing things down – neither of which are strengths of mine – leaving me feeling less energised and more inclined to procrastinate.
Others witnessing my procrastination would see me over thinking (detail) while bouncing from one idea to the next (creativity) asking questions like ‘what if?’ or ‘what else?’ instead of prioritising and finishing the most important tasks first (task focused and closing).
I’d go as far as saying that I’d procrastinate over any task just because I love the ongoing scenario of being the ‘ideas person’, allowing my detail and creativity full rein!
By becoming more self-aware, it’s possible to take steps to curb the urge to procrastinate over areas of weakness.
Manage your strengths more effectively by turning down those in overdrive.
Become familiar with when strengths become a comfort blanket, especially when more pressing activity is required. Identify your overdrive behaviour and just STOP.
If you are a thinker, do you overthink? If you’re energised by relationships, do you continually seek opportunities to network? If you are a ‘doer’, do you add tasks even if they’ve been completed just so you can tick them off?
Ask yourself – what were the situations that caused you to procrastinate? What were the triggers?
Consider which of your strengths can help you overcome your weaker areas.
Pinpoint a strength you can draw on to help overcome a weaker area. For example I use my strength for strategic thinking to pull me out of the detail and help me see the ‘big picture’. I might also use my collaborative strengths to work with others strong in the areas of task and results focused.
Ask yourself – what were the weaknesses you were faced with overcoming? What strengths can be used to overcome an area of weakness?
Create a network of supportive colleagues who can help you overcome procrastination.
Nobody is brilliant at everything; strategically surround yourself with people who have strengths in your weaker areas. The network of support we build around us should not only be people who think similarly but who can also, at times, challenge how we think or act.
Ask yourself – who in my network can I contact for help and support when the situation arises? Can I help others who have weaknesses in my areas of strength?
Top tips to avoid procrastination
- Identify why you want to change – what’s reward if you do / consequence if you do not?
- Become more self aware of your strengths & weaknesses – get feedback from colleagues / use a strengths profiler like the BPS Certified Strengthscope® tool.
- Reflect on previous procrastination (draw the last 12 months as a timeline, identify where you have procrastinated in the past – when, why and how did you deal with it ).
- Create some structure – be prepared based on your timeline. Have an action plan that you use when faced with weaker areas. SMART goals and step-by-step process you follow.
- Have a complimentary support network – be tactical in your support network. Who can you collaborate with more effectively in the future?
- Celebrate achievements / have a reward system in place when completing your SMART objectives.
- Practise, practise, practise until this new habit is natural! Accept that your weaker areas will never energise you like your strengths. However, developing skills and competencies in weaker areas will ensure you reduce the chance of them becoming a reason to procrastinate.
Next time you find yourself ‘busy doing nothing’, pause and ask yourself if you’re supposed to be doing it or are you, in reality, procrastinating? It’s more than likely you’re procrastinating… don’t just think about it, do it!