Procrastination and relying on stress

Anyone who regularly procrastinates will tell you that they want to do the thing but they just keep putting it off. Often when we procrastinate we justify it to ourselves by prioriting things with low urgency that still give us that good feeling of that comes from getting things done.

We tell ourselves we’ll start later or tomorrow and we convince ourselves that that we still have enough time to get it done.

But what tends to happen is we just continue to put things off more and more. We do this until our stress levels start to increase and we reach the point where if we don’t start now we’ll miss the deadline.

And so you finally begin.

I had a recent experience with procrastination and once the work was complete I ended up reflecting on my behaviour.

When you get into the habit of choosing to procrastinate until the last possible moment, you train yourself to rely on stress to get things done. And so the next time you have a deadline you’re unable to find the motivation because you’re waiting for the adrenaline to kick in.

I think there are 2 main ways to stop procrastinating.

The first way is to experience things going wrong as a result of your procrastination. When our habits have negative implications this encourages a change in behaviour. It might start with you giving yourself 5 days for something instead of two and slowly build up until you become someone who always makes sure they have enough time.

The second is to just start straight away next time. We tell ourselves it’s difficult to start and just decide that it’s true when it’s not at all. Starting takes a little effort and commitment but it’s not as challenging as you tell yourself.

It’ll probably help to remind yourself of the benefits of starting straight away like being able to work at a steady pace instead of having to cram everything into a short period of time.

If you’re someone with a habit of procrastinating, it might not seem easy to change but it’s definitely possible.

Not enough time

One of the most popular excuses people make is not having enough time.

Yet you’re able to make time for things that you don’t even really consider to be important.

Meanwhile, it’s your life long dream that you’re willing to put on hold or sometimes put off altogether.

There’s no denying that it can be difficult to make time but surely you’d be willing to find a way for the things you truly care about.

Finding a way might mean getting up a little earlier, watching one episode of that show you like instead of three or even making use of your train journeys.

It might seem challenging but with a little thought and a little effort, it’s definitely possible to make the most of the time you have.

Slow progress

There’s a popular saying that goes ‘Slow progress is better than no progress’. I totally agree.

What we often do is rush because we want progress to be quick.

Perhaps this is because slow progress doesn’t feel like moving forward in the moment. It’s only, in a few weeks or months time that you’re able to see how far you’ve come.

This idea of choosing to rush instead of embracing slow progress can be applied to many scenarios, one of which is procrastination.

Dedicating a few days to get something done is often much more appealing than spending a few weeks doing something bit by bit.

But often we don’t have a few days spare, just a few moments each week.

And the great thing about slow progress is that it helps build a habit of long term commitment.

On the other hand when you rush you’re relying on adrenaline and cortisol, what your body releases as a response to stress which is great in the short-tun but not something you want to make a habit out of.

Two types of perfectionists

When you think of a perfectionist, what comes to mind?

Almost every time it’s the type A personality who is incredibly organised and competitive. The sort of person who is particular and also explicit about wanting to get things right.

But there is a different kind of perfectionist too.

The second is the sort of person that procrastinates and fears their best will never be good enough.

Beneath the surface they seek perfectionism too. They have such high expectations that they won’t even try if they think they can’t meet them. This sort of person feels disappointed if they produce something that isn’t ‘perfect’.

The difference between these 2 people is that the first is willing to try.

When to start

Do it now.

There are 100 cliches about the right time to begin

You’ve heard them, I’ve heard them and sometimes i even write them.

But the truth is now is really as good a time as any.

If you think something is worth putting off and doing later instead, ask yourself why.

Do you genuinely have more work to do behind the scenes. More planning, learning and preparing.

Or are you using it as an excuse to hide.

You don’t have to wait until you’re perfect to start putting stuff out out there, learn to see the beauty in your growth.

You say you’ll do it later but later may never come, so why not do it now?

Boredom and avoidance

If you think you’re bored you might find that there’s actually something you’re avoiding.

So often we find ourselves feeling like we have nothing to do, when in reality we’re just putting off what needs to be done.

When you don’t want to do something, it feels easier to avoid it in favour of something else, even if something else is doing nothing at all

Worth putting off

How do you decide what’s worth doing now?

Putting something off because it has no urgency or immediate impact if you don’t do it now is reasonable.

Putting something off that you know you should be doing now is silly.

The more time you let slip away, the more the urgency increases. Suddenly the thing that would have been manageable over a 6 week span has to be done within a few days with no assurance that it’ll be done well.

When you find yourself in those situations you’ll realise that some things aren’t worth putting off.

Procrastination pleasure

There must be some explanation for why we do it.

When you don’t want to do something or you know it won’t be easy, putting it off feels good. There’s pleasure in indulging in the freedom of future deadlines, future work or future responsibilities.

But that doesn’t mean that you can avoid them forever. That pleasurable feeling of freedom and not doing what you “posed to do” can’t last. You see the thing is whether you do it now or later you still have to get it done.

Instead of indulging in procrastination pleasure followed by an intense stressful period, choose to indulge in productivity pleasure and give yourself as much time as you can in order to do things well.

Sure pressure creates diamonds but constantly putting yourself through stress when you don’t need to could result in insomnia, chest pain and diarrhoea.

You might be used to doing things one way but that’s no reason not to try something new.

Self-sabotage

How could I do that to myself?

The idea that we intentionally ruin things for ourselves is fascinating but also odd because despite causing the mess we often end up surprised, sad or angry that it happened.

Over-coming self-sabotaging behaviours can serve as a growth point where you have the opportunity to unlearn unhelpful beliefs.

Sometimes we mess things up due to limiting beliefs or our own insecurities become self-fulfilling properties. You might find yourself caught up in the unfortunate outcome that it doesn’t even cross our mind that you were the cause of it, or perhaps you’re not ready to admit it.

I’ve learnt that sometimes the problem is you. 

And the beauty of causing problems is that in most cases you can fix them too!

Managing stress and deadlines

Been there done that, felt awful.

So, these are three little things that work for me because sometimes I need to remind myself that putting things off will never be helpful.

Start
Beginning as soon as possible gives you the most amount of time to work on your thing. I’ve found that it’s often when I leave things until the last minute I don’t have time to work through the challenging bit which shows up as things being too difficult when maybe what I needed was more time.

Plan
So I’m a planner. I find that it helps me feel less overwhelmed and gives me the structure I need. Otherwise I get caught up in my thoughts and nothing gets done. It also makes things easier for when you’re doing the work and leaves less room for distraction.

Talk
A recent lesson I’ve learnt. If you’ve started and made some plans but are still finding things difficult or maybe if it’s just stressful, talking helps . You might not think it’s true but you might be surprised. Voicing how you feel can be freeing and also depending on who you speak to you might get some helpful advice or a fresh perspective.

What works for you?