Article by Alexandra Sutcliffe
You’ve made a cup of coffee, turned on your laptop, and are keen to write the next chapter of your novel. All you have to do is click on the document icon, and set to work.
But wait – another email’s just arrived, followed by a text. Then there’s that developing news story, has there been an update? Oh, and now an old friend’s posted something on Facebook you really must respond to…
Does this sound familiar? To some degree we are all guilty of procrastinating, and today, more than ever, there are distractions all around us. A phone is no longer simply for making calls, nor a laptop just a means for writing documents. Both have become deliverers of entertainment, communication, news, gossip, games and so much more.
It takes willpower not to keep putting things off
It’s said that some 20% identify themselves as chronic procrastinators. In the workplace, with deadlines and managers keeping us in check, we have no choice but to get on with a task, no matter how uninspiring it may be. But for those of us who are self-employed, working part-time, or retired, it takes will power and self-control not to keep putting things off.
At its most mundane, procrastination is that feeling of not being bothered to do something that possibly doesn’t matter anyway. At its most harmful, it’s the fear of discovering the worst, and putting off seeing a doctor or dealing with an important financial issue. Between those two extremes, most psychologists agree that the three main reasons we procrastinate are: the need for perfection, the fear of failure, and conversely, the fear of success.
The need for perfection can result in putting obstacles in the way – ‘I can’t do X until Y is in place’ – until it starts sounding like a list of excuses. As Christy Whitman, best-selling author and founder of the Quantum Success Coaching Academy, puts it, ‘We tend to focus on what’s not right, and then we miss out, because we’re now in lack and looking for what’s wrong. Don’t look for perfection, do your best, and look for ways you can improve.’
Fear of Failure
Closely linked, the fear of failure might keep us from starting a new venture, such as writing that novel. It’s a daunting, lonely task, and of course our laptops are never more than one click away from a world of entertainment and fun. The novel might never even get finished, let alone published, we remind ourselves, so what’s the point? But if everyone thought like that there would be no development in the world, no creations or inventions or discoveries. To quote Susan Jeffers in her 1987 best seller, Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway: ‘The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it. Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.’
The fear of success might strike when launching a new business, for example, and worrying that you might become overwhelmed with customers whose demands you cannot meet. The simple truth is, you’ll never know unless you try! Just remind yourself – if you do nothing, nothing will change. Give it a go, and you might really enjoy the experience, as well as the sense of purpose and fulfilment the business gives you.
Four ways of dealing with procrastination:
- Write down you list of goals, breaking them into manageable chunks. Too big a goal and your eyes will gloss over it on the list, but broken into segments and you’ll feel more like tackling one at a time.
- Set up a reward for later. Try disconnecting your laptop from the internet for a set period, after which you can relax and reconnect. This way you’re not denying yourself, you’re merely deferring the pleasure until you’ve got something done.
- Attach one task to another, such as, a daily walk you enjoy, followed by the ten minutes of language study you keep putting off. Creating a routine will make any task feel more achievable.
- If you constantly catch yourself admitting how you never get things done, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, use affirmations to spur yourself on. Remember, affirmations must always be positive, and in the present tense. Try, ‘I take charge and get things done. I seize the moment and take action’.
The reality is that once we do get started on a task, our perception of it invariably changes, and it turns out to be less stressful and complicated than we’d been expecting. And once it’s over, that feeling of relief and accomplishment is a reward in itself!
Alexandra Sutcliffe is a life coach based in France. She specialises in expat coaching, creativity coaching and energy coaching.