Lesson 5.2 - Procrastination: what it is and how it works
We’re onto lesson 2 of this fifth module about procrastination.
Why you procrastinate
Have you ever thought about why you procrastinate? Seriously, have you ever tried to come up with a reason why you procrastinate?
Perhaps your reasons are something like this:
You’re facing a task that’s going to be unpleasant and boring and you just don’t wanna do it because it’s not fun.
You’re facing a task that feels overwhelming and is too difficult.
You resent having to do the task.
You’re a person who needs structure and you haven’t yet created a routine or system or structure for this thing.
You don’t have any motivation, because you don’t have a big picture or goal to drive you.
You have too much to do and you simply don’t have energy for it.
You procrastinate, because it’s become a habit for you.
As I’m going through these reasons, they sound more like excuses, don’t they? That’s because they are.
At the root of all these reasons lies the fact that you’re stuck in perfectionism. You’ve given the reins over to your perfectionism and, baby, it loooooves to call the shots.
Nobody likes to procrastinate, nobody wants to do it, but we forget that procrastination serves a purpose for us. We wouldn’t do it, if it didn’t have any benefits.
This is the one, MAJOR benefit that comes from procrastinating: it maintains the illusion of perfection.
When we keep ourselves from working on a project, we can ignore the fact that it isn’t perfect yet.
When we ARE working on that project, we delude ourselves into thinking that we’re working on it even if we know we’ll never finish it because it will never be perfect.
It’s only when we pull the trigger that we’re exposed to an entire wave of imperfection. And we’re afraid that this wave will drag us under, so we do whatever it takes to never be in that position.
What procrastination feels like
When I hear someone saying they’re struggling with procrastination I always get curious. I want to know more. What lies at the root of their procrastination?
I’ve found this question to be extremely helpful to get to the bottom of it:
“What does procrastination feel like when it pops up?”
The answer is almost always FEAR. Fear of the unknown, fear of failing, fear of succeeding. Fear.
That’s why perfectionism and procrastination are such closely related issues. They both stem from the same fears. In trying to cope with these fears, we first try to be the perfect perfectionist and if that doesn’t work we turn to procrastination and ignoring the fears altogether.
Next time you find yourself procrastinating the day away, ask yourself if maybe there’s some fear at play.
In fact, let’s grab the worksheet that comes with this lesson and try to identify the fear that causes your procrastination. What does procrastination feel like for you? Then, compare your answers to the work you did around fear in module 2. Are there similarities or maybe differences?
Please remember: fear of the unknown (showing up as, hello! procrastination) is completely normal whenever we are stretching ourselves to do something new or different and especially when it feels really important to us.
There’s nothing wrong with you for having these fears. They are completely normal and - spoiler alert - they’ll always be around.
3 types of procrastination
Okay, so we’ve talked about the WHAT and the WHY of procrastination, now let’s talk about the WHEN.
There are 3 moments in any project, process, or situation where procrastination tends to happen and, to keep things simple, we’ll call them:
1. The beginning
2. The end
3. The part in between AKA the middle
If you’re the type of procrastinator that procrastinates in the beginning of a process or project, it means that you’re overwhelmed by the sheer scope of the things you want to do and the endless list of tasks and to-do’s that need to get done. You don’t know where to begin to get you started, and you push tasks or projects off. You’re likely to have a lot of dreams and ideas, but fail to take action on them.
Society glorifies end results. You’ve probably internalized all those cultural messages about how great it is to finish the race and cross the finish line. And that creates pressure. And pressure leads to procrastination.
If you’re the type to fuss over tiny details, trying to make it perfect, worried about what people will think, afraid to press publish or declare a project finished, then you’re likely the type of procrastinator the procrastinates in the end of a process or project.
The third type of procrastinator is somewhat of a forgotten part when it comes to procrastination, and that is the messy middle. The hard part between the “Yes, this is what I want to be doing!” and the pat on the back you receive when you’ve finished your project.
I’m definitely this type of procrastinator. For the longest time, I’ve said that I’m in the middle of creating a new product for The Gratefulist. The truth is, though, that I’m not in the middle of creating it. For some reason I’m scared to be in that middle.
I’ve done a lot of research, gathered information, informed myself about how to create this product. Then there’s the part where I’ve created a strategy, an outline, and a master to-do list. Basically, I’ve got the beginning part of this process down.
I’ve also spent time considering what the finished product will look like and fantasizing about how well the product will be received and how it will help so many people. You see, the end part of this process is a breeze.
It’s the middle part of the process that’s kicking my butt. Because the middle part is messy. The middle part is hard. It’s where the work gets done. It’s where difficult decisions need to be made. And it’s oh so easy and alluring to shy away and not lean into the discomfort of that hard middle part.
Now over to you and your trusted worksheet.
Which type of procrastinator are you? Do you procrastinate in the beginning or the end of a project or are you more likely to procrastinate in the middle of a process?
Knowing this could make all the difference for you, as you can foresee when the procrastination bug will strike and take precautions.
Heads up, it’s entirely possible that your type of procrastination changes in different situations. You might be a productivity rockstar in your personal life, but when it comes work you’re the queen of procrastination. Or you might be rockin’ it in business, but that big house renovation project doesn’t get done.
So, ask yourself: am I always this type of procrastinator or do I switch it up under different circumstances?
To dig even deeper and get more clarity, these question might help you too:
When are you procrastinating? Are there certain times of the day, week, or month when you get stuck? For instance, are you someone that gets hit hard by the afternoon slump? Or are you spent by the time Friday rolls around?
Are there circumstances that lead to your procrastination? Perhaps when you’re working home alone? Or when it’s your turn to cook for an ailing neighbor?
Another step in this process of self-awareness is to get clarity about some of the mental blocks you might be experiencing.
Before we dive into the topic of mental blocks, I want to leave you with this. Because this is important to remember.
Occasionally, you WILL procrastinate, you WILL have off days, unproductive days, or days when you just want to watch Netflix and ignore everything on your to-do list. And then you feel bad for not being motivated and not getting anything done. Is this you?
Well… this is important for you to remember: it is literally not possible to be 100% motivated, productive, and excited to work and do the things you need to do 5 days a week, 52 weeks each year. It’s just not. No matter how on top of it you are, there will still be days when you sit down to work and it just isn’t happening. Days when closing all your tabs and turning off all notifications on your phone and forcing yourself to focus still won’t get the job done.
Why? Because every single person in the history of the world, like ever, has days when they just can’t make it work. I still have days when creativity and motivation are just not happening and I work all day long to only end up with one thing finished. I have days where 95% of my to-do list looks like lifting an entire car over my head with one arm and that leaves me at my computer thinking “Ughhh I don’t have time for this. Why can’t I get it together?”
This lesson isn’t about cutting procrastination from your life, forever and ever.
This is my permission slip for you: cut yourself a little slack. It’s okay, do it. It’s totally normal and, in fact, expected to have days where you cannot be as productive and creative as you want to be. You have to learn to be okay with that.
Okay, let’s move on.
One of your mental blocks could be motivation. Usually, motivation blocks are subconscious: a limiting belief you have.
Ask yourself this question: what’s really holding me back from doing the work?
The belief that you’re not up to the task? Or that you won’t be able to do things perfectly? Or maybe you’re overwhelmed by how much time it will take to finish the work.
Use your worksheet to really dig deep and get to the root of your motivation blocks.
Distractions could be another mental block for you. Everyone has their own set of distractions and certain tasks that knock them off track. Distractions come in the form of tasks that seem necessary and may be urgent, but they don’t really help you get to your goal.
Distractions aren’t all bad, though. They can be fun and enjoyable and sometimes necessary and functional. Where distractions take a turn toward the bad side is when they begin to run your schedule.
Once you recognize those things that throw you off course, you’ll then be able to dodge them the next time they come your way. Over on the worksheet, take some time to think about what some of your biggest and most common distractions are. Brainstorm ways to stop them from being distractions, like setting office hours and informing your family or roommates about them, like shutting down every notification on your phone, or setting designated times during the day to check email or social media.
That’s it for this lesson. I’ve left you with some work to do, so make sure to complete the exercises on the worksheet before moving on to the next lesson.