Staring at you is a blank, virtual sheet of paper with a blinking line, waiting for your words to fill the entire page. Writing your proposal, which is the very first thing on your To-do list, has not yet been checked off. You sip a cup of coffee and take a look at your cluttered workspace. You organize your paper, sweep the floor and get another cup of coffee. You get back to your desk and watch the latest video of that singer you admire. And after browsing for a couple of minutes, you find yourself with only 30 minutes left to finish your task.
Procrastination is the act of avoiding the tasks that need to be accomplished, by doing other things that you find more pleasurable. It is one of the worst habits at work that affect one’s productivity, efficiency, and reputation. Realistically, tips on how to avoid this habit don’t always work for everyone because if you take a look at the procrastinator’s mind, you’ll understand that procrastination is not optional. Tim Urban, the author of the website “Wait But Why” says that you can’t just tell the person to “avoid procrastination” since it is something they don’t know how not to do.
According to Urban’s creative illustration, a procrastinator’s mind has four elements:
- the rational decision maker that drives the person to being productive,
- the instant gratification monkey who acts as the distraction,
- the dark playground where the RDM always gets into, and
- the panic monster that appears every time the deadline is near.
Most people think that procrastination is always linked to rebellion and laziness but in most cases, the reason is deeper. It may be associated with fear of failing or rejection, lack of motivation and focus, and anxiety.
So, what kind of procrastinator are you and how can you solve your procrastination issues?
Are you the “lazy one”?
“Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you, tomorrow.” If this tune is the song that constantly plays in your head every time you face a hard task, then you’re probably guilty of being a lazy procrastinator. You tend to get easily distracted by the colorful beam of light brought by your desires, so that you forget your commitment to your boss. Laziness results in poor performance and a bad reputation at work.
Maybe putting a little pressure on yourself might be a good decision. A little cup of wakefulness like thoughts of having a heavy pile of workloads you cannot handle, or getting denied a promotion might give you a push to work. You may also make your intentions public and ask someone to check up on you, so you’ll be driven to finish your tasks to avoid embarrassment. Then, acknowledge your distractions and keep yourself from them. Close the website that allows you to view cute cat videos or those that offer free movie viewing during work hours. You may do these during break time to replenish your mind after your tasks are accomplished. Again, the key words are, “after your tasks are accomplished.”
Or just “someone lost”?
You are not lazy. You just don’t know what to do or how to do the task, making you always end up in a whimsical forest of instant gratification since you don’t have the courage to enter the dark, creepy road to accomplishment. The point here is you have a long, intimidating list of tasks that leaves you overwhelmed, giving you panic attacks even before you get started.
The best thing you can do is focus on one task at a time. Doing this will help improve the quality of your work. You may start on the easy ones and progress gradually to the hard ones. Or you may also adjust the tasks based on your productivity hours. Are you more productive in the morning or in the afternoon? Do the most difficult tasks during the time when your hands are thirsty for productivity. Another trick in to leave your desk and walk around—not to escape but to allow you to think clearer.
Or maybe another “uninspired soul”
You know what to do and you know the consequences of not finishing your tasks, but you cannot start since you’re waiting for inspiration to tickle your senses. Scriptwriter Ricky Lee discusses writers’ productivity issues in his scriptwriting manual. He says, “Don’t start writing when you’re in good mood. Write to be in good mood.” This principle can also be applied to any form of task. If you find yourself procrastinating due to lack of motivation, the best thing you can do is to begin. There is no to-do list or special kind of music that can defeat procrastination better than simply doing the task now. Eventually, the pleasant rhythm of ideas will flow, allowing you to finish your task on time.
To keep you motivated, you may also think of the “rewards and punishments” idea, where you punish yourself after you fail to finish or even try to do your task, and reward yourself after you’ve efficiently completed your workload. Think of getting a plate of steak rather than a bowl of instant noodles for lunch. Doing this may help increase your productivity since you become motivated to get things done in order to get a treat. And besides, there’s nothing greater than the feeling of waking up with determination and going to bed with satisfaction. In the long run, you might not just have a steak for lunch but a good evaluation from your boss.
Perhaps you’re the “goal-driven perfectionist”
Procrastination does not only happen to lazy or uninspired workers. It mostly visits the minds of those who are so diligent that they can’t start the task – the perfectionists. A piece of advice from Danielle LaPorte, a Canadian author and motivational speaker: “Don’t let your want for perfection become procrastination.” There’s a distinct link between procrastination and perfection. You try so hard to have the perfect output by planning your tasks ahead, gathering more information, creating an unrealistic outline, and in the end, you create an impressive blueprint instead of a real, tangible architecture. Then you schedule all your tasks for tomorrow so you have more time to produce your perfect outcome, and it goes on and on. When this becomes a habit, the desire for perfection may lead to anxiety.
Instead of overthinking and having chaotic thoughts about failing and rejection, focus more on the creative process rather than the outcome. You may apply the “design thinking” principles (discovery, interpretation, ideation, experimentation, and evolution) that will stretch out the importance of what you have gained from the task. Remember that perfection is different from excellence: perfection is an outcome that fosters negativity due to perceived mistakes, while excellence is an outcome beautifully honed by lessons learned from experience and gaining confidence from it.
Victor Kiam, an American entrepreneur once said, “Procrastination is opportunity’s assassin.” So in order to thrive in life, you better acknowledge the reasons why you procrastinate and start to beat them. Not tomorrow, but today.
Author: As an idealistic writer stuck in the office most of the day, Carmina Natividad always seeks creative ways to maximize her time. She turns creative concepts about office furniture and interior design into words by writing for Ideal Furniture, a one-stop-shop in Sydney, Australia that specializes in both commercial and home office furniture solutions.