Today, I’m unearthing old stuff. There is a folder on my computer, full of exciting nuggets of my writing history.
Ironically, I found the following article on procrastination sat there. I’ll split it into two parts, because if you’re someone it could help then there is no way you will read it all in one go…
Is the cluttered garden shed you meant to clear out in the spring is still bursting at the seams? Or maybe that idea you had to start your own business has gone on the back-burner? You could have fallen victim to procrastination, the habit of putting off tasks that you find difficult or uncertain, usually until the last possible minute.
Harriott & Ferrari (1996) found that procrastination was chronically affecting some 15-20% of adults, but many more of us find it creeping into certain areas of our lives, such as our careers. Whatever it is, we just don’t seem to be able to get around to doing it.
People who procrastinate are associating some form of unpleasantness or pain to the task they have to carry out, and it’s this negative thinking that leads to a range of behaviours to avoid the situation. The most typical of these are preparatory or avoidance tactics; for example a university student faced with a 10,000 word essay may find a sudden enthusiasm for arranging their desk, whilst another may find it easier to hide away in the student union bar. Both students will probably find that if their procrastinating continues, they will be under pressure to complete the work in time for the deadline.
If you find a task has been dragging on for some time or an idea never seems to turn into reality, try to assess how you feel when you confront it. These are all typical symptoms of procrastination along with some of the factors that cause them, and a few suggestions for steps you can take to get results.
If the thought of tackling a task leaves you feeling overwhelmed, then you are most likely thinking of it as one large whole. Try breaking the task down into smaller chunks, then take each chunk one step at a time.
So for example, rather than looking at the whole shed and thinking ‘how am I going to sort through all this?’, choose a corner and aim to sort through the objects there. Focus on making a start on the job rather than worrying about how you are going to finish it.
Another method is to allocate a certain amount of time to the task, say between 5 and 30 minutes, so that once you have worked through this period you can go and do something else. This method works well as you’ll probably find that because you motivated yourself to make a start, it will be much easier to keep going.
Can be caused by thinking that you have to do something, or associating some form of deprivation (usually of fun) with a task. Remember why you want to achieve it; whether it’s to improve your quality of life, or to fulfil an ambition. Keep in mind you always have freedom of choice, and you are doing the task because you want to, not because you have to.
It is hard to feel motivated if you feel a task is taking away your enjoyment of life so, if this is you, be sure to schedule in some leisure or relaxation time for yourself. If the task has to be spread out over a period of time, such as revising for an exam, plan a day off from studying to do something you enjoy.
As with overwhelm, try splitting the task into chunks, then reward yourself once you have completed a section or period of time. This way you will be focussing on the pleasure of the ‘reward’, rather than the monotony or complexity of the job in hand.
‘In clarifying the effects of procrastination, it is hypothesized that it is indeed a way of avoiding the anxiety associated with work,‘ says psychologist Piers Steel. ‘Procrastination may initially improve mood but should worsen it later.’
The fear of failure and negative thinking that causes you to feel anxious can be a major factor in delaying something, often to the extent that it never gets done. It is important to remember that it’s better to get the job completed rather than aspire for perfection but never finish, or maybe never even begin at all.
Praise yourself for what you have achieved. I am somewhat of a perfectionist, and found that all my ideas were not making it as far as the paper because I wanted them to flow out into a ready-made article. To overcome this, I jotted down ideas to form into a plan, then a draft. The first draft was far from perfect, but I had a complete piece of writing that I was free to come back and improve on. If I had kept putting it off until I had 2000 words of writing planned before I started, my paper would still be blank!