Last update 18/03/2021
Hello Zen Organizers,
I don't know about you, but the last couple of weeks have been a bit hard, as they always are for me in January. I've had a considerable energy and motivation drop, which has pushed me to procrastinate more than usual.
So I thought: why not write an article and make a podcast episode about it?!
So here it is! Since we all procrastinate at some point or another, I hope you'll find the following tips useful!
What is procrastination?
Despite the common belief, procrastination doesn't equal doing nothing. On the contrary, when you procrastinate, you do things - just not the things you should be doing!
For example, you procrastinate when, instead of writing your very important report/paper, you sort your emails, clean up your desk, edit another report/paper that's not as urgent, talk to your colleague about an upcoming project. The day ends, and you haven't written anything.
You also procrastinate when, instead of booking a doctor's appointment for an important check-up, you clean up the house, call your mom, sort your socks by colour, mow the lawn, and then end up not calling the doctor.
In both situations, the other tasks probably had to be done as well. Still, they certainly weren't as important or urgent as writing the report or booking an appointment with the doctor. You used the other tasks as excuses to delay or postpone the tackling of the truly significant task.
And that's exactly what procrastination is: "the action of delaying or postponing something" (Procrastination, 2021).
The negative impacts of procrastination
As you can imagine, and probably know from your own experience with procrastination, delaying tasks too much can have consequences.
Some of the psychological impacts of procrastination are the increase of stress, anxiety, and guilt, especially as the deadline approaches. It can also lead to insomnia. Procrastination has also been linked to depression, low self-esteem, irrational behaviour, as well as unhappiness (Procrastination, 2021).
Another negative impact of procrastination is its effect on the achievement of your goals. The more you procrastinate, the less likely you are to reach them. In case you need a reality check, here's one: you actually have to work on your goals to achieve them. If you don't do anything or keep postponing the completion of the tasks that would allow you to get closer to your goals, then you'll never reach them. Procrastination can stand in the way of your dream life, so be careful not to be too complacent about it.
Finally, procrastination can lead to disastrous consequences. For example, you can get into serious trouble if you delay the submission of your tax report past its due date. If you overly postpone the study of your final exam or the writing of your final essay, you risk failing your class. If you delay too much a task at work, you can end up missing an important deadline and risk dismissal. Procrastination can have some catastrophic consequences on your life, so be careful.
Next, we'll see some of the positive aspects it can have, but it doesn't mean you should use them to justify every case of procrastination. We all procrastinate now and then, and it sometimes has benefits. However, you should be aware of what triggers procrastination and be able to identify when you're procrastinating. This way, you do it consciously and not in a default mode. You really don't want to become a chronic procrastinator because it can lead to very serious problems.
The benefits of procrastination
You've probably rarely heard of the benefits of procrastination because it's usually demonized and considered an enemy of productivity. However, it does have its advantages.
Still, as mentioned above, don't take these advantages as a free pass to wallow in your procrastination. Know that it can have benefits and consciously choose in which instances your procrastination can be advantageous. But also know when it doesn't and overcome it as quickly as possible (below, I'll give you tips to do that).
Have you ever heard of Parkinson's law? It's one of the main time laws (and one of my personal favourites). It states that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion" (Parkinson's law, 2021). So if you have one week to complete an assignment, you'll probably take the whole week even though you could complete it in less time. But if you put it off for a few days and end up having only two days to do it, you'll (hopefully) finish it in two days. As a result, procrastination could help you lose less time on a task and make you more efficient because of the reduced time you have to accomplish it. Of course, the downside is that it's more stressful to work this way. You risk being unable to complete the task on time, so make sure you start working on it on time. Also, plan a buffer period in case something unexpected happens. And trust me, something unexpected always happens. Ever heard of Murphy's law? I wouldn't want to be blamed for a missed deadline 😅.
Moreover, procrastination can help you focus only on the essential tasks and eliminate the useless ones. The more time you have to do something, the more you'll work on it and risk adding non-essential tasks and elements to it. When you have less time to do something, you tend to go straight to the point and focus only on what's truly needed.
As mentioned, procrastination can have the downside of forcing you to work under pressure. But it can also be an advantage because it's a skill required in many jobs nowadays. I'm not saying you should always procrastinate just to hone your capacity to work under pressure. However, it's a collateral effect of procrastination that shouldn't be ignored.
Another advantage of procrastination is that it can give you more time to explore your ideas. It's especially true for tasks that require creativity and inspiration. It's sometimes more efficient to think about this kind of task for a few days before completing it.
The causes of procrastination and how to overcome it
Don't feel too bad about procrastinating: everybody does it. And, as we saw, it can have some benefits.
Still, even if you shouldn't feel overly guilty, it doesn't mean you shouldn't try to overcome it! And to overcome it, you have to know the reason(s) that cause you to procrastinate on a given task.
So here are some of the most common causes of procrastination and ways to overcome them:
Fear: you might fear the negative and/or the positive consequences that could arise from tackling the task. For example, if you're looking for a new job, you might delay sending out resumés because you're afraid you will be rejected and won't find a new job. But you could also be worried about getting a new job, and maybe even your dream job.
→ If you find yourself procrastinating on something, find out if there's an underlying fear and analyze it. Is this fear justified? What's the worse thing that could happen if you tackled the task? What's the best thing? Is it worth postponing this task? Usually, admitting you're afraid of something and putting a name on it helps break the fear and get over it.
Self-doubt: self-doubt and your limiting beliefs could also prevent you from completing the task.
→ Here again, try to analyze what negative thoughts come to your mind when you think about the task. If you have negative thoughts like "I'm not good enough to complete it," "I don't have enough experience or knowledge," "I don't have enough time to do it," etc., examine these thoughts and determine whether they are objectively true or not. Also, think about all the things you've accomplished in your life. You're probably very capable of handling this task. I'm pretty sure you'll realize these thoughts are unfounded. Read this article for more tips on overcoming limiting beliefs.
Lack of motivation: although we'd all prefer to do only things we genuinely like, we all know that's not always possible. Even jobs, projects, or goals we love contain tasks that don't excite us. It's normal.
→ If you procrastinate on a task because you lack the motivation to tackle it, try to put things into perspective: what greater objective or project does it allow you to achieve? Don’t focus on this single mundane task, but try to link it to its higher purpose. You’ll see, it’s much more motivating to do annoying tasks when you see them in this optic!
→ Of course, to do that, you need to have a clear vision for your life and specific goals. If this is not the case, then I suggest you start by doing this because you'll be more likely to procrastinate if you don't have a defined direction in your life. Read this article to help you determine your vision and your priorities and set specific goals.
→ Another way to boost your motivation is with rewards. Promise yourself something enjoyable if you complete the task. It might be a fun activity, an object you've been wanting for some time, a vacation, etc.
Lack of energy: despite what our society tries to make us believe, we're cyclical beings. It means that it's normal to have fluctuating energy levels throughout the day and over longer periods. Therefore, it's normal to have moments where you have less energy to tackle harder tasks.
→ When you have an energy drop, listen to your body and slow things down (as much as possible, I know it's not always feasible). Focus solely on what's truly important and urgent. Strip down your to-do list to the bare minimum and take time to recharge your batteries and take good care of yourself.
Feeling of overwhelmingness: procrastination often happens when you have to start a big project or goal. The amount of work seems so big and undefined that you feel overwhelmed, discouraged, and paralyzed. You don't know where to start, so you don't do anything.
→ First things first: deconstruct into the smallest possible tasks the goal or the project. Write down every single task you have to accomplish. Then, plan these tasks and set deadlines to complete them. By doing this, you'll realize that what used to be an overwhelming undefined entity is simply composed of small actionable and achievable tasks you can easily tackle individually. With a clear course of action, you should feel much less overwhelmed, and you should also know what's the first step you can take to start working on the project or goal.
→ Now, all you have to do is stop procrastinating and get started! Easier said than done, I know. Starting is usually the hardest part. Just sit down (or take whatever position required 😂), get rid of all distractions, set your timer for five minutes, and work on that first task. Spoiler alert: you'll probably end up working more than these five minutes 😉. But even if you don't, at least you'll have stopped procrastinating (Cornell University, n.d.)!
And if you need help to set your goals and determine your course of action, you can download this free workbook:
There are also other ways to overcome procrastination, no matter its cause.
The easiest of them is not to do the task in question. Of course, this is only an option if the task isn't important and if its cancellation won't lead to consequences.
If you can't cancel the task, try to see if you can delegate it to someone else. However, if you choose this option, make sure you assign it to the relevant and competent person. It's always frustrating to be delegated a task that isn't of our competence or has nothing to do with us.
Another option is to delay the fulfillment of the task. It's quite ironic to procrastinate on the procrastination of a task, isn't it? 🤣 But sometimes, we just need time. Maybe you're lacking the inspiration to complete the task, if it's something you have to create, for instance. Let it sit a few days and let your subconscious do its job. You'll probably have the epiphany you needed. The same goes for motivation, energy, will, etc. At times, you simply need to get back to it a bit later to get your groove on! I'm not saying you should procrastinate every single time you're procrastinating on a task. But if you genuinely don't feel like doing the task, maybe giving it some time is the best option!
Moreover, procrastination creeps in more easily when there's a lack of organization. If you know exactly what you have to do and when you have to do it, it's less difficult to resist the temptation to postpone your tasks. So try to plan your week and your days ahead. For example, on Sunday, list down all the tasks you have to do that week and schedule them. But don't plan them randomly: use your natural biological clock (or chronorhythm) to plan your tasks according to your energy levels throughout the day. Also, don't overload your days. Set a maximum of three priorities every day and plan some buffer periods in your week.
Finally, limit distractions as much as possible. When you don't feel like doing something, you're more prone to be distracted. It'll be easier to focus on the task and get things done if you're not constantly distracted.
I really hope the content of this article and podcast episode will help you overcome your procrastination - or, at least, that you'll make good use of its few advantages!
I wish you a procrastination-free week,
Cornell University. (n.d.). Break the cycle of procrastination. Retrieved from: http://lsc.cornell.edu/break-the-cycle-of-procrastination/
Parkinson's law. (2021). Wikipedia. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkinson's_law
Procrcastination. (2021). Wikipedia. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Procrastination