But what is its true meaning?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines procrastination as “to put off intentionally and habitually.”
And some psychologists say it is “a gap between intention and action.”
No matter how you slice it, procrastination is a significant deterrent to success. It’s a big reason so many people live lives of desperation and frustration. They tend to avoid or delay large, essential tasks that have considerable future value. And this adds even more stress and creates a further hardship.
But every now and then procrastination works out to our benefit.
It’s only by accident
Sometimes we get lucky, and it turns out that the task we have been putting off doesn’t need to get done after all. Like when a project gets canceled. Or the boss doesn’t need that report you never got around to writing.
However, things like that happen only occasionally—when the world operates against your own expectations. It’s like going to Las Vegas and spinning the roulette wheel. Sometimes you’ll win, but most of the time you won’t. On average, that’s a terrible strategy for success.
The Oxford English Dictionary has one of the best definitions I’ve seen. It defines procrastination as a postponement, “often with the sense of deferring though indecision, when early action would have been preferable.”
Since we’re all guilty of this (at least from time to time), let’s spend a few minutes talking about typical signs of procrastination and ways to overcome this self-sabotaging behavior.
Put a finger on it
The first step in stopping procrastinating is to recognize that you’re doing it.
However, this isn’t always as straightforward as it sounds.
Although there are many more, here are several habits of procrastinators.
1. You’re always a day or two (or more) late.
You often find yourself performing tasks that you intended to do the day before. You reason it away by telling yourself it’s because you take on too much each day.
Or you leave an item on your to-do list for a long time, even though it’s important.
2. You complete low-priority tasks first.
You fill your time with the trivial tasks that are on your to-do list or things other people ask you to do.
3. You are easily distracted.
You sit down to start a task, and then immediately go off to get coffee or decide to check your email.
4. You admire passionate workers.
You admire people who are passionate and dedicated to their work. You want to be the same but deep inside you believe that you can’t.
5. You wait for the mood to strike.
You tell yourself you’re waiting to be in the “right mood” or for the “right time” to tackle a task.
6. You’re easily excited, but you don’t follow through.
You see people making things happen, and it looks easy. So, you give it a try. But your excitement quickly wanes when you find out it involves hard work. The thought of tackling a challenging project is so stressful, the only way to get out of it is to find something else to do.
7. You claim you work best when “your back is against the wall.”
You love the adrenaline rush of knowing you’re running out of time. You often take action only when you’re threatened with a “Must do.”
What’s driving your procrastination?
You need to understand the reasons why you are procrastinating before you can begin to tackle it.
Below are some possible reasons for procrastination. Look at the list to see which ones resonate with you:
• Feeling like there are other things you should do first
• Lacking confidence in the task
• Unable to begin an essential task until you get organized
• Perfectionism and fear of failure
• Overwhelmed by thinking of it
• Having too much work to do at once
• Finding the task is boring or unpleasant
(If you can think of an additional reason people procrastinate, please leave it in the comments below.)
Deal with it
Procrastination usually involves ignoring an unpleasant, but likely more critical task, in favor of one that is more enjoyable or easier.
But giving in to this impulse has consequences. Even minor episodes of procrastination can make you feel guilty or ashamed. And over the long haul, procrastinating makes you less productive and prevents you from achieving your goals.
Procrastination is a habit. And the only way to get rid of a bad habit is to replace it with a good habit.
Here are five habits you can develop to overcome procrastination. I recommend using as many of them as possible to give yourself the best possible chance of succeeding.
1. Commit to important tasks. Focus on doing, not avoiding. Write down the tasks that you need to complete each day and specify a time for doing them. This will help you to tackle your work efficiently and become far more productive.
2. Rephrase your internal dialog. Replace the phrases “need to” and “have to” with “choose to.”
Saying the first two phrases implies that you have no choice in what you do. This can make you feel disempowered and unmotivated to take on large, important tasks.
However, saying, “I choose to,” implies that you want to do the project and it makes you feel more in control of your life.
3. Minimize distractions. Turn off your email and social media and avoid sitting anywhere near a television while you work.
4. Make it look smaller. Break a big task down into weekly and daily subtasks.
5. Focus on the long game. If you’re procrastinating because you find a task unpleasant, identify the long-term benefits of completing it. For instance, could it affect your annual performance review or your bottom line if you’re a business owner?
You might also identify the unpleasant consequences of avoiding the task. Ask yourself what will happen if you don’t complete it? How might it affect your personal, team or organizational goals? For some people, understanding the consequences of avoiding or delaying something makes the task more enjoyable.
There is no magic pill that will put an end to procrastination forever. But these tips will help you take concrete steps toward achieving more and feeling a lot better about yourself.
When you decide that you will move forward no matter what, you’re guaranteed to enjoy much more of the good things that life has to offer.
To your success,