On procrastination

Procrastination comes from the desire for action.

You want to do something, so you do something easy, like opening Facebook, because the job you should be doing seems boring or difficult, or you have too much to do.

Don’t give yourself a hard time. There is usually a good reason for it. Getting frustrated makes it worse.

Your frustration also comes from the desire for action – an unsatisfied desire to get the job done.

Why do you procrastinate?

(If you are in a procrastination crisis and require an emergency escape procedure, read this short Note: How to stop procrastinating.)

STOP. Accept you are procrastinating. Now think for a moment. What is the true problem?

You ought to enjoy and feel enthusiasm for your work. Not feeling enthusiastic means there is something wrong.

We procrastinate for three reasons:

1. The task is too boring
2. The task is too difficult
3. You have several things to do and you don’t know which to do first.

These are three manifestations of the same problem:

Lack of a clear decision about priorities.

Let us consider each one in turn.

1. You procrastinate because the task is boring

What does “boring” mean? It boils down to purpose.

The most boring task is exciting if it moves you towards a goal that is important to you.

The most exciting task is boring if you don’t believe it’s moving you towards your goal.

You don’t believe me? Ask the woman who is painting a shop for her new business. Ask the man out food shopping for his date that evening.

Boring chores are exciting when they have a purpose that is important to us.

Boredom is a human emotion that, like all human emotions, has an important function. It tells us when we are doing the wrong thing, or doing the right thing the wrong way.

Take boredom seriously. Listen to your body.

If you are procrastinating because the work seems boring, then either the job is unimportant, or you don’t understand why it is important.

Think carefully about why you decided to do the task. Consider not doing it at all, or postponing it.

When you know the purpose of the job, you will either do it, delay it, or delete it.

2. You procrastinate because the job seems too difficult

When a job seems too difficult and you don’t know where to start, the result is procrastination.

Think how you do a jigsaw puzzle.

You put the picture of the finished puzzle where you can see it. Then you do the easy bits. You find the corner pieces, and then the edge pieces, and then you try some of the middle.

Do the same thing with your work.

First, make sure you understand what you are trying to do (and why). Then find the easy bits to do first.

Most jobs are made up of smaller parts (even if the first part is “get out my notebook and pen”). Pick something easy. Once you get started, you will find you gather momentum.

A job begun is a job half done.

Until you have made a decision about the starting point, it’s impossible to start. Your brain knows this, so you procrastinate.

Decide where to start, then start.

3. You procrastinate because you have several jobs to do and you don’t know which to do first

We prefer to do nothing than to do the wrong thing. As soon as you begin a job, you are neglecting everything else by default.

We prefer to procrastinate than to make a decision.

First write down everything you can think of that you need to do today, including minor errands such as shopping.

Next, accept that time is limited. Accept that you are not going to finish all the things on your list. Your task is to decide what you are not going to do.

Cross out everything that is trivial.

Now look at the remaining items. Is there something that absolutely must get finished today? Do that.

Is everything equally important? If so, it hardly matters where you start, and dithering is not going to help.

Pick one thing, work out how to start it, and get stuck in.

One final point

How do you know your most important task? It’s the one you procrastinate the most.