How To Overcome Procrastination – Part 1

This is part 1 of a 5-part series on How to Overcome Procrastination.

Clock -- Leaving things to last minute

Leaving things to the last minute. Does this sight look familiar to you?

Is there something you are procrastinating in your life now? What is it? Is it surrounding your work? Your relationship? Your family? Your health? What is the one thing which you should be working on in your life, but you are putting off for some reason or other?

Why Overcome Procrastination?

Some may not see procrastination as a real problem, because they receive benefits from procrastinating on something. For example, the relief you get when you successfully avoid something you don’t want to do. However, while these ‘benefits’ give you the impression you are in a better place, you aren’t. It’s just an illusion.

Let’s say it is Monday now and you have an important report you need to finish by Friday morning (a 20% high value task). This report is one of the most important tasks on your work list, but you decide to put off on it due to the large amount of research and analysis needed. Rather than work on it, you spend the next 3 days shuffling between the less important 80% tasks.

Then, Thursday arrives and you are trapped – you have to work on the report or it’s going to jeopardize your job. As you work on it, you find yourself in a hot soup, because there are so many things to be done. After all, that’s the very reason you put it off initially! In a last bid attempt to meet the deadline, you pull an all-nighter to do the report. After painfully sloughing through the night, you finally manage to finish it at 4am and meet the Friday deadline.

So net, the task gets done, it’s submitted in time, and everything turned out fine.

Did you realize what just happened here? The fact that everything turned out fine led to your subconscious belief that procrastinating on the task didn’t bring in any negative effects. In fact, as far as you are aware of, it has a series of supposed benefits:

  1. Leaving it to the last minute creates a high sense of urgency which appears to boost your productivity, giving you a higher value on time spent working.
  2. You experience short-term gratification from not having to deal with the report on Mon-Wed.
  3. Procrastinating didn’t jeopardize anything in reality.

Yet, if you look at it holistically, procrastination has created downsides which may not be immediately noticeable:

  1. Your time in Mon-Wed was not effectively spent. Ideally, you would want to spend your time in proportion to how important the task is. The more important a task, the more time you want to allocate to it to maximize the output on the task. Spending more time on less important work doesn’t give you significantly increased value, compared to spending more time on more important work. A ratio I use is 80-20 for the high value-low value tasks (aka my 20/80 to-do list –  Read Day 8 of Live a Better Life in 30 Days Program on 20/80 To-Do Lists).
  2. Unnecessary anguish and anxiety experienced (whether subconsciously or consciously) trying to avoid the task. The more you prolong the task, the more unnecessary anxiety you experience, compared to if you dealt with the task head-first. In addition, the continuous avoidance leads you to form a distorted mental image of how intimidating the task is vs. what it actually is. In the end you are left with an exaggerated but baseless fear of what you’re supposed to do.
  3. More often than not, the final output is short of what you are really capable of, as leaving it to the last minute left you with insufficient time to properly work on it.

The 3 downsides are actually corresponding counterpoints for the 3 illusionary benefits. If you compare the list and take a holistic view, the downsides far outweigh the supposed benefits of procrastination. Not only are you being less productive, you experience unnecessary anxiety, and you deliver an output that falls short of what you can really do. Procrastination leaves you in a worse position, compared to if you didn’t procrastinate. As I’ve written before in What Are You Running Away From?, avoidance isn’t going to bring you nearer to what you want.

Thus, if you are a procrastinator, whether chronic or not, it’s time to start resolving this issue of procrastination and stop deferring your life away. As long as you keep putting off what you should be doing, you are putting off living. That’s no better than being a sleepwalker.

Continue reading part 2, where I will share why mainstream ways of dealing with procrastination don’t work and share the two root causes of procrastination.

This is part 1 of a 5-part series on How to Overcome Procrastination.

Image: Clock