How I wish I didn’t put things off! Let me give you an example: My friend had kindly taken the kids to the park. We’d put the car seats in the car and when she returned I went out to put them back in. Inevitably, by then all the kids were tired and hungry and so instead, I chucked them in the boot and figured I would sort it out later. Of course, later never came. Rather, I found myself two days later hurrying to get the kids in the car as we rushed for their swimming lesson. I opened the car door to see empty spaces where their car seats should be. Cursing myself I wrestled the seats into the Isofix (which for some reason I struggle with) and wondered why, oh why I hadn’t saved myself time and done it sooner.
We all procrastinate sometimes (if you’re a major procrastinator that’s a different matter), often when we are feeling overwhelmed. Almost always it’s down to a feeling that I don’t have time. I can’t seem to get motivated to do things even though putting it off makes it more difficult in the long run. If I feel like the task at hand is going to take too long, I procrastinate on it. In fact, almost all my tasks are done on a priority basis. However, time is a factor, particularly if it’s a non-urgent task, like the car seats…but what if it then becomes urgent? Putting the car seats in became a priority because we couldn’t go swimming without them and, as usual, we were running late.
Consequences of procrastination
Procrastination produces anxiety because it can feel like you don’t have the willpower to finish things. This leads to feelings of helplessness and feeling disempowered. When we postpone things indefinitely, despite knowing full well that they’re actually urgent and should be done without delay, it leaves a heavy burden hanging over us.
Delaying the task at hand doesn’t reduce any anxiety, anger or worry that we may feel. In fact, it only makes us feel worse. These feelings will increase as time goes on and the conflict remains unresolved or the job remains undone.
Reasons you put things off
When we delay things, we do it for one of two reasons. Either we have replaced it with another activity that is more pleasant or unimportant, or we just simply prefer not to do anything.
If we try to justify the situation by saying that another thing is more important, then we turn into victims of the present. There is a tendency for us to consider our daily to-do’s as more urgent.
But when we do this, the larger projects with long-term rewards or benefits are put on the back burner. Whatever happens, to come up that day automatically becomes the most important thing and so we are unable to prioritise.
By asking yourself a couple of specific questions, you can get to the bottom of your procrastination.
- If I’m going to have to do it eventually, what am I actually achieving by postponing it?
- Is it something that only affects me or does it involve other people?
A simple strategy to stop putting things off
When you answer these questions truthfully your attitude will almost certainly change. We might need to reframe our procrastinating thoughts in those moments when we have the opportunity to do the task but don’t? We have many subconscious thoughts that drive our procrastination behaviours. Here are three common examples, with some ways to reframe the issue:
Procrastination: “I’ll do it later”
Reframe: I will spend x minutes doing this task. It may actually take less time and energy than I imagine. Besides, I’ll probably waste more energy by putting it off and worrying about it.
Procrastination: I’m not “in the mood” to do a task, I will have the energy to tackle it later on. (This is common if it’s a difficult or unpleasant task.)
Reframe: I can still get things done even if I don’t feel “ready”. Even if the task is unpleasant, I can still be effective in it.
Procrastination: It’s difficult for me to make a decision until I have all of the information.
Reframe: I may not be able to get every piece of information to make a “perfect” choice. Sometimes it is better to make a decision now, based on current circumstances. I can adjust later if new information comes to hand.
We all know that putting tasks off will often make it more difficult for us in the long term, but that doesn’t always affect our motivation. The key is to get started. Think of how good it will feel if I can get it completed and on time so I can do more pleasant things. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and apprehensive where there is an unpleasant task or decision to be made and you’re actively avoiding it – remember, putting it off it could make you feel worse in the long run. Focus on the long-term benefits, rather than the short-term discomfort of doing the task.