Procrastination 101. Part 1: Why Are You Struggling?
This post is for anyone who struggles with procrastination.
What is procrastination?
Procrastination is putting off doing something.
Why do we procrastinate?
There’s no one reason, there are many and the more of these you recognise, the more you’ll likely procrastinate. If they are all going on then no wonder you aren’t making decisions and taking answers. I discuss nine of the common factors in procrastination below.
1. Stress / Threat
There’s an area of your brain that can take hi-jack your behaviours called the amygdala. This region of the brain is far more interested in what will make you feel better now, than what would help you have the best life in the future.
So, anything that adversely affects you adversely physically, mentally or emotionally will trigger the amygdala which impacts on your desire and / or ability to get things done.
When this happens your “time perspective” often switches from what will benefit you in the future and instead puts far more emphasis on how to feel better now, regardless of future consequences.
- Physical pain, illness, poor sleep, dehydration, high or low blood sugar, not eating enough can all impact and make getting things done far more difficult.
- Mentally a mind that has too many thoughts will typically struggle to “stick to the plan”.
- Emotionally if we aren’t feeling how we want to feel (safe, secure, important, loved, like things are going in the right direction, purposeful) then we can struggle to get things done.
There’s also 4 main characteristics that can trigger the amygdala and get in the way of you being productive. These are:
- Things going too fast
- Things going too slow
So, if you are procrastinating, you need to consider and start to solve all of this to allow you to show up as your best self and do good work consistently.
For more information on this please watch my video on Triune Brain Theory.
2. It isn’t yet a Habit
Approximately half of everything we do daily is because it’s already a habit, so if you are wondering why you don’t do something, the fact that the thing you want to do isn’t a habit is most often the answer to why you don’t do it.
Humans evolved to conserve energy, and therefore most of us are or at least have become path of least resistance creatures (habitually).
Habits are nature’s way of saving energy. It does this by putting things on autopilot (that it thinks are useful for us), to save energy. Habits are your secret weapon when it comes to achieving lots and having a great life. Forming habits can be a great way to overcome procrastination.
Once a habit is formed it becomes much easier to do the thing and it can actually become hard not to do the thing.
So, to make your life the best it can be you want to put the things that will make the biggest difference to your life on autopilot and that means making them habitual.
To help you make something a habit get clear on these “triggers” for habits:
Location: Where exactly will you do this thing?
When: At what time?
State: What will I be feeling like?
Who: Who else will or won’t be present?
Immediately preceding action: What did I just do that will be “the trigger” for me to now do the new thing I want to become a habit.
Using these 5 triggers skilfully will make habituating behaviours much easier.
3. Environment Factors & Procrastination
Often where we are, what the environment is like (and who is around) dictates what we will or won’t do. To beat procrastination you want to set up your environment to make it as easy as possible to do the things you want to do and as difficult as possible to do other things that may compete for your interest.
Practically for me this looks like a tidy clean room, a clear desk with only the equipment I need, perhaps a nice plant or two and a cup of coffee.
I may also use noise cancelling headphones so that I can remove distractions.
4. Time Pressure
Many of the things we put off doing, we put off because there is no deadline to achieve the thing. This is both a blessing and a curse.
One way to overcome this you can use an accountability partner, who you share your own self imposed deadlines.
It’s interesting that we will push ourselves to deliver on things for others within agreed timescales but will often not push ourselves the same way when it’s something for ourselves.
Letting ourselves down is often a habit, and to have a great life this needs to change.
5. Unclear Priorities
Most of us don’t know what our top priority is. This in itself is enough to paralyse us. We often think everything is important, but the truth is everything is not equally important. One thing is more important than all the other things.
In addition to this, you can only be doing one thing at a time, and to determine the best thing to do, you need to know which thing is truly the most important.
For me a great life is one where I spend my time daily on the things that are most important to me.
So, you need to write a list of EVERYTHING you need to do and then prioritise that list. I do this weekly on a Sunday and then review my progress the following Sunday.
6. Too Many Priorities
Most people don’t do well with multiple priorities and the more priorities we have, the less effective we often become. When it comes to productivity and effectiveness less is usually better!
7. To-do lists
To-do lists can cause procrastination. I know this seems counter intuitive (and I know I just told you to write a list) but if your to-do list makes you feel anxious, overwhelmed, or you don’t know how to do something on the list then the list itself can be problematic from a performance perspective.
To-do lists can also make it feel like our work is never done and this can really bring us down and steal our joy. No matter how much you do, there always seems like so much more to do and this is tough mentally and emotionally.
8. Poor task order leads to procrastination
We often do the things that arrive in our inbox (and are someone else’s priority – and possibly even quite a low one of theirs) before our own most important things.
Why do we do this?
Once again, the answer is usually habit.
Operating like this is rarely a good thing because it means that we are using up our brainpower based on other people’s priorities and possibly not our own. This means that we use often us up our cognitive resources, willpower and discipline before we even get to the thing that matters most to us.
9. Information stored in lots of different ways in lots of different places.
Some people prefer paper, some prefer all on a device and some prefer a mixture of both. Any of these 3 combinations can work.
What you need is something that works and is efficient. How does your approach stack up? Is it working for you?
What you don’t want is to be using your brain to store and remember lots of things or for your information to be held in many different places.
You need to figure out your own personal productivity and effectiveness framework.
Here’s what I use:
EVERNOTE to make notes that are for reference purposes.
THINGS3 to run my TODAY list and to hold the list of all future tasks and ideas to revisit in the future.
NOTABILITY to make handwritten notes on my ipad. I use this for all client sessions so I can make written notes (rather than trying to type) whilst having a coaching session.
EMAIL has folders for everything.
I almost never use paper, other than if I want to think things through and structure my thoughts, in which case I still find a pencil and paper useful occasionally.
As you can see there are many reasons why we procrastinate / aren’t anywhere near as efficient or productive as we would like to be.
Now you know many of the causes, you can start to design and implement your own productivity and effectiveness solutions that will actually work. Follow me on Facebook to make sure you see it.