What causes that stuck feeling, a reluctance to start a task or feeling there is never enough time. I’ve spent many hours watching Ted talks and googling articles about time management, time boxing and time effectiveness trying to answer this question and not doing the task I meant to be doing!
Procrastination is defined as the action of delaying or postponing something. It’s a challenge I think we’ve all faced at some point and it’s something that resonates strongly for me.
I’ve been a life-long procrastinator with many examples of delaying and avoiding issues that matter to me through the years. My final university course dissertation was finished in a chaotic all-night mission of proofing and printing 20,000-words on a frustratingly slow home printer, with help from my long-suffering family, to meet the submission deadline. It was hugely stressful for all concerned and although I made the deadline, it didn’t feel like a win.
We often make excuses for our avoidance and delays “I don’t want to fail or look foolish so why not avoid making a start”, “I don’t even know where to start, it feels overwhelming” or “I must make this perfect, so unless it is, nothing is going to move forward”.
What drives this seemingly self-limiting and negative behaviour? From the moment we are born we are exposed to and influenced by different attitudes, beliefs and behaviours from the world around us. These beliefs and behaviours can become an inner dialogue, affecting how we see ourselves and others. We all have two inner voices, one of nurture that brings encouragement and self-compassion and another more dominant critical voice that feeds into our anxieties, undermining our self-confidence and causing self-doubt. Our inner critic is useful to help us identify mistakes and set us back on the right path. However, it can also shame, undermine and erode our self-worth, self-confidence and reduce our resilience.
Listening to our inner critic, stops us getting stuff done, even if the stuff is time critical or something we want to do. If all we can hear is our inner critic, it makes it difficult for us to achieve our goals and create the life we want.
So, what are the ways that we can we tame that inner critic and overcome procrastination? Changing negative behaviours is difficult, but not impossible here are three examples of strategies I use;
Begin with noticing situations when your inner critic shows up and what it is saying. This voice may sound critical or other times it may sound friendly and wanting the best for you. Either way its game is to bring you down and continue to limit you.
A powerful exercise you can do is to write down any self-critical thoughts in the second person, I.e. “you can’t do this”. Think about what or who these voices sound like, it’s likely they will sound familiar, perhaps someone from your past – a parent, teacher etc. Making these connections can help to separate these voices from your current sense of self. Challenge your inner critic with responses that are more realistic and caring using “I” statements such as “I am competent”. Read them back and see how that feels. Keep pushing the self-critical thoughts away and focus on the reaffirming statements.
Make the task more achievable by breaking it down into smaller manageable chunks. Doing this helps to create a sense of momentum and achievement as you take a step, no matter how small, towards your bigger goal i.e. weight loss, fitness, moving to a new house, starting a business. If a task feels to big and overwhelming, create sub-tasks. However, be sure to check with yourself when the task is completed and to know when the task has been completed.
Create accountability for yourself. Simply, this means creating measures to help keep you on track to achieve your desired goal. Set goals and timelines, we often work best if there is a tangible deadline. Give yourself daily, weekly or monthly deadlines for outcomes and results and keep track of what you have achieved – this might be as simple as a post it on the fridge to sharing your goal with a friend/work colleague or engaging a coach. It’s important to review your goals
Where are you currently procrastinating in life?
How does that make you feel?
Why are you procrastinating?