Can you kill procrastination?

Whatever the endeavour, procrastination is a blight on getting things done. For freelancers, it’s especially problematic when you get paid for the work that gets done and to some extent you’re only as good as your last story. Miss a deadline without a decent reason and you can quickly find yourself on the editor’s black list

Yet one of the things you often observe in freelance groups is just how much procrastination can be a problem and how many people struggle with it in one way or another.

So when looking to develop strategies to combat procrastination, the first thing to examine is ‘why’. Why do we suffer from procrastination and what is it showing us about our work and our approach to getting things done?

Why do we procrastinate?

In its simplest form procrastination is a form of task avoidance, but getting to the heart of why we’re avoiding doing something can be more complicated. If you look up reasons for procrastination, you’ll come across plenty of them. It might be:

  • Trouble focusing
  • Lack of engagement or boredom with task
  • Feeling overwhelmed by the task
  • Fear of failure or not measuring up
  • Self-defeating habits
  • Perfectionism

That’s a fairly comprehensive list of the many reasons you can find yourself putting off starting a task or avoiding finishing something.

Let’s briefly talk about doomscrolling

At this point it’s also probably important to discuss the way many of us, at least those in possession of a phone and good connectivity, have shattered our concentration with phone addictions and ruined our ability to stay on task. Driven by the need to get the dopamine hit or transfixed by the endless scroll (or doomscrolling given the state of the world) on social media, we can hide procrastination behind rounds of email and social media checking. Guilty! In another post, I’ll focus on, well, focus and how we can get back our attention and stay on task.

What can we do about procrastination?

So we might have a bit of a handle on some of the probable causes of procrastination, but that doesn’t really help us to fix the problem – although it is a start. Feeling guilty or even feeling like a bit of a failure because you procrastinate isn’t really a very useful starting position because it puts a negative label on your behaviour and yourself.

Instead it’s better to focus on your awareness on when and how you procrastinate to understand if there’s a pattern or where it can be linked to certain factors or situations. There are a variety of questions you can ask yourself and look at what comes to mind without placing value judgments on your answers?

  • Does it happen at regular points in the day or week?
  • Is it a problem with certain tasks?
  • Is there some other common element in your procrastination?
  • What do you do instead of that task when you’re procrastinating?
  • How do you feel when you’re facing a task that you procrastinate over?
  • How do you feel when you’re in full blown procrastination mode?

I’d suggest the answer to the last question at least is ‘not great, guilty, bad’.

Can you be a productive procrastinator?

Full-blown procrastination isn’t really a good thing. It wastes your time, put off the jobs you need to get done and leaves you feeling bad about yourself. But in saying all that, I’m going to propose a slightly radical approach to treating procrastination.

Now not being a psychologist, I can’t vouch for the psychological basis of this approach. However, I do feel confident in saying that finding flexible strategies that work, while being realistic about the issue and avoiding judging yourself is a helpful way to approach the problem of procrastination. I also know of some very successful (and high-earning) freelancers who have openly confessed to suffering from procrastination, so I think you can make it work for you.

To begin with, I’d suggest that it’s possible to reframe some procrastination as necessary thinking and mulling over time. So often in work we’re judged by the measure of productivity being about purely output. Now of course we must get things done and finished, but who’s to say how long you need to think through the task at hand or let things percolate in your mind before tacking them. If you’re a deep thinker then you may just need to build in extra time for consideration before tackling your tasks. Even if you come to the conclusion you’re a committed procrastinator then it might be more useful to just accept that and build in an amount of time in your schedule for faffing or procrastinating and take some of the stress out of the way you get things done.

Tame your procrastination habit

Now if you really want to tame your procrastination habit, then there are some ways to rein it in. Psychologists looking at the problem tell us that in the first instance self-control is needed to help address procrastination. Like most things, this habit is a kind of muscle that needs strengthening, so depending on how bad your procrastination is you may want to start with small challenges of self-control to get things done and move away from putting things off.

  • Setting time limits for tasks may help settle the mind so it knows it only has to focus or work on something for a set amount of time.
  • Set achievable goals in the short-time, build in some kind of reward and recognise the sense of satisfaction that comes from getting on with things.
  • For those who feel lost, consider working out a time or plan of action so that you don’t have to figure out how long to work on something or how many times you’ll need to work on something to complete it.
  • Work on certain things at certain times of the day to coincide with when you feel most productive and to structure what gets done when.
  • Break down tasks into smaller chunks to counteract feeling overwhelmed.
  • Give different tasks priority ratings so that you can see which tasks are more pressing than others.
  • Develop a To Do list across the month, week and day so that you can track what needs to be done, where things are at and what’s happening. A platform like Trello is a simple, visual way to record, order and manage all sorts of different jobs, projects and tasks.
  • Practice responding to things when they come in by making a decision without too much delay.
  • Finally, you might also want to reduce the amount of time you’ve got available. There’s nothing like being short of time to focus you’re attention and instill that sense of urgency that seems to help procrastination fall by the wayside.

Final thoughts on combating procrastination

Procrastination can rob you of giving your tasks the proper time and attention they need. It can also generate feelings of stress and anxiety and leave you feeling bad abut yourself and your work habits.

If it’s something you struggle with, it’s worth spending time trying to understand when and why procrastination kicks in and looking to apply some strategies to minimise how much of a problem it is. Hopefully this helps too.

Image by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Rosalyn Page

Rosalyn is an award-winning writer with a niche in digital lifestyle, technology, innovation and travel.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.