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Do you tend to procrastinate? Here's how to stop

I was never really a procrastinator growing up. At school and even at university, I was always the student who starts working on a project as soon as they get the assignment. I didn’t like the pressure of a deadline.

It was when I started my own business that I developed the habit of procrastinating. As someone who has quite a lot of self discipline, I knew it wasn't an accountability issue. It was deeper than that.

The biggest difference was that at school + university my results were “predictable”. I knew that if I put in the effort I’ll get good grades. Growing my business was anything but predictable. I was constantly asked to do things that I never did before, and therefore couldn't predict the results.

The perfectionist in me was scared of getting disappointed if the outcome wasn’t exactly what I had in mind... so I procrastinated.

A lot of people have this idea that perfectionism is about being organised and always doing things on time, but the opposite is true…

Perfectionism is a protection mechanism to avoid emotional discomfort (shame, failure, disappointment) that we don’t know how to handle. It can feel really vulnerable to give 100% effort and not get a result.

That’s where procrastination comes in… If you do something at the last minute you can always “justify” not getting a result.

We procrastinate for the same reason we make most of the choices in life: to avoid uncomfortable feelings induced by certain tasks - boredom, anxiety, shame, disappointment, overwhelm, insecurity, self doubt and beyond.

All of our behaviours serve us in some way, even “bad ones”, which is why we repeat them. So understanding why you procrastinate in the first place can really help you to manage it better.

Here's a breakdown of the 4 biggest procrastination traps & how to manage them better:

The Perfectionist Mindset: "I work well under pressure"

You might believe that you work better under pressure, and it’s probably true to some degree, because (especially if you’re in the perfectionist mindset) once you get so close to the deadline, you give yourself permission to drop the (unrealistic) standard. The deadline forces you to push through the discomfort that you normally can’t get through, because again, it’s so much more vulnerable to give your 100%. If you’re afraid of failure / not meeting your goals (most of us are) your subconscious will find ways to make it feel less painful. When you procrastinate you can always find comfort in telling yourself “If I would have prepared more for the interview I might have gotten the job.” Not only you cut yourself short of growth opportunities, being in the habit of putting pressure on yourself isn’t sustainable and can lead to burnout. Practice lowering your (impossible) standards. Instead having the bar at a 100%, focus on having the bar at a 70%-80%. For example - if you’re preparing for a work presentation, focus on being 70%-80% ready. As you start taking “imperfect action” you’ll start breaking the cycle of perfectionism & procrastination. Overcommitting: "I'm so busy" When you fill up your calendar it’s often an indication of avoidance - if you have a full plate of commitments you’ll never be able to give your 100%, which again, feels less vulnerable. The other reason you might be filling up your calendar is that you like to be known as ‘reliable’, someone people can always count on. You don’t like letting anyone down. You care deeply about doing a good job and are so eager to please that you often find it hard to prioritize your own needs. Your biggest challenge is that you’re taking on too much so you can keep avoiding what you know you need to face right now (typically this is not a task). Ask yourself:

  1. What am I really avoiding?

  2. Before making a decision, ask yourself: If I am saying yes to this, what am I saying no to?

Shoulding: "I’m too lazy"

You might be rehearsing a story that you’re lazy. Procrastination is the opposite of being lazy. If you were lazy, you wouldn’t be so hard on yourself for not doing something. Maybe you’re simply tired and need a break? What you might really need is to be more compassionate with yourself. Sometimes procrastination is just a sign that you need to recharge.

We’re culturally wired to alway be busy, but we’re not robots designed for continuous "productivity." We humans need to rest, recharge, introspect, connect, and have fun – all meaningful and necessary.

So if you're having a particularly difficult time focusing and being productive, consider just giving yourself permission to do whatever you're doing with intention, so you allow the activity (even if that’s watching Netflix!) to be fully nurturing instead of drained by guilt.

When we shift from autopilot to intentionality, we're empowered to make a change in behaviour that doesn't serve us.

Your Inner Critic Talking to You: “Who are you to..?”

You may experience deeper feelings related to the task, such as self-doubt, low self-esteem or insecurity. Or maybe Imposter Syndrome is showing up (imposter syndrome is this funky thing that happens when you are actually good at something, but you don’t feel like you’re as good at it as other people think you are) and you’re afraid of being exposed as a fraud.

When your inner critic gets louder and meaner, those self-deprecating thoughts make it feel impossible to get started with your task. So you find yourself staring at a blank document thinking “I’m not smart enough to write this. What will people think of it? What if everyone laughs at me?”

Once you become aware of your critical inner voice and what it’s telling you, you can start to separate it from your own ‘true’ voice, and shift from judgment to self compassion:

  1. Write down your self-critical thoughts in the second-person (“you” statements), for example: “you’re not going to make it, you’re going to make a fool of yourself.”

  2. Connect with your wiser compassionate self and for each statement written above, ask yourself: If someone I really care about and love shared with me these statements, what truth will I offer them? write it down

Time management tips & tools like - The Pomodoro Technique, Time Blocking, Time Tracking and Getting Things Done - all are great methods you may want to explore that can help you become more productive. But truthfully, they won’t help if you’re not getting to the root problem. Procrastination isn't a time management issue, it’s an emotion regulation issue.

Whenever we focus on ‘external fixes’, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to go to the root problem and break the cycle of procrastination. To break this cycle we need to expose ourselves to the uncomfortable feeling that we try to avoid by procrastinating. We have to find a better reward than avoidance, one that can relieve our challenging feelings in the present moment without causing harm to our future selves. Treating ourselves with kindness and understanding in the face of our mistakes and failures instead of judgment. Meeting our challenges with greater acceptance and kindness instead of rumination. It's all about building resilience with a foundation of self compassion.

Journaling prompts to explore more:

  1. What are procrastinating in your life at the moment? (it may be a task, a goal, a new habit, making a decision or perhaps a change you’ve been wanting to create in your life)

  2. How has procrastinating become your comfort zone?

  3. What feelings are you trying to avoid by procrastinating?

  4. Complete the following: If I wasn’t waiting for the “perfect” (moment / feeling / circumstances) what would I be doing right now?

As you're exploring these questions + tools, I'd love to encourage you to shift into curiosity mode, rather than judging your experiences. Which procrastination trap do you most identify with? Love, Naama


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