We all procrastinate in small ways or large ways. At times procrastination can serve us as it helps us to think more deeply about something. At other times it causes us and possibly others pain, as something simply doesn’t get done.
In this episode Jean Balfour share some of the reasons we procrastinate and then identifies different ways to moving towards action.
She shares 3 key strategies
Along with a range of smaller strategies for moving towards action.
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Hi, everyone. And welcome to making sense of work today. I'm going to explore the topic of procrastination. How often do you put things off? Before we head off into that conversation? Let me procrastinate a minute. I wanted to let you know that if you would like to be kept informed about our personal or professional development opportunities, or you are looking for some coaching or. Thinking about becoming an accredited coach, you can sign up to our newsletter at www.baileybalfour.com and you'll be able to be kept informed about these. You can also find me and follow me if you like on LinkedIn Jean Balfour and on Instagram,@jean.balfour so let me head off into procrastination. I'm not a big procrastinator, but there's no doubt about it. That there are things that. Put off put to the bottom of five pile, leave, hanging around in my inbox. Don't get done just generally procrastinate about, and this causes me problems. And I'm imagining that there's also things that you procrastinate about. That it's true for all of us, that we often put things off that we could get done. Really a little bit of procrastination. Isn't a big problem. The problem comes when we put off things that matter to us all we put off things that we need to do in order to be successful in our working lives. So what I want to do in the podcast today is explore a little bit about what causes procrastination, because it's actually not that straightforward, understanding it, and then offering you a few tips and tricks for, understanding it and overcoming. and then offering you a few tips and tricks for you to see if you can procrastinate less, or at least for the things that really matter in your life. You get round to doing them in a timely manner. so what does cause it, well, when I was thinking about this, actually the first thing that popped into my mind was fear. And I think this is often because we don't do things because we can be afraid that we are not gonna do a very good job or that we are fearful that people will judge us or that we don't have the necessary skills or the knowledge or. Ability to do us and fear is very paralyzing. It's triggers the fight flight freeze response. And in procrastination, we are largely in freeze. And so because of this fearful, we get, don't get round to doing it. and link to a bit of that can be perfectionism. We can put things off because we are worried that we don't have the time or the energy to do them perfectly, or we don't think we are good enough or capable enough of doing them perfectly. And so, cause of that, we procrast. Linked to all of that is that we sometimes procrastinate actually, because we simply don't know what to do. This can be a really common one, and this is quite a straightforward one. I have a, a good recent example. I've got to, uh, get a Singapore driving license and. It really is a straightforward process of registering online, going and doing the theory test. But every time I logged in to the website, I just got confused. I couldn't understand what I needed to do. And so I put it off. I put it down. This has been going on for six months. I've had my driving license, my UK one sitting on my desk, staring at me to remind me to get round it to it. But because I haven't kind of worked out what it is that I actually need to do. I put it off. And a few days ago, actually I found the time to work out what to do. And of course it took me five minutes and it was straightforward, but this is a common reason. I think why we procrastinate is because we actually dunno what to do. And so we don't put the time and energy in to working out what it is that we need to do. Another reason. I know I procrastinate is because I've got a big job or something maybe small, even that actually requires me to really concentrate and do some deep thinking. And so this can feel easier to put it off, to do simple tasks, short term. Operational things rather than actually making the time to sit down and think about it. If you think about perhaps an email that you've got, that you need to write to a client or a colleague that actually requires some thinking, how often, and how long do you put those sorts of things off or a report that needs to be written. I've even noticed that creative projects can cause procrastination. You know, one of my key priorities at the moment is the creation of this podcast. I love it. I enjoy it. I'm getting feedback about the value it's bringing to others. And yet I can put off sitting down. To prepare for it. And I think that this is because it requires us to shift from that distracted quick sort of solving things brain and to move into our deeper thinking, to calm ourselves down and to take the time to do something. So even though something might be a hundred percent aligned with our values or our goals, we still procrastinate because we are concerned about finding the space for that deep thinking. another thing that can happen to us is that it's about our identity. So I sometimes hear people say, well, I'm just a procrastinator. This is just who I am. And so we name it. We believe that it's true about us. And of course then, Hey, Presto, it is true because we believe it to be so. Now of course we can procrastinate because the thing that we've got to do, we simply don't like doing, or it doesn't connect with our values. This is a really hard truth that we, all of us in, all of our jobs have things that we simply don't want to do. Sitting the driving there test is a good example of this for me, but the thing is that. Do have to do these things. We have to do the things our boss asks us to do. We need to do our accounts if you're not an accounts person and that's not fun. Um, we need to, you know, fill in our tax returns. We, we need to do the things that need to be done. And so often, because we don't like doing it, we put it off. And then I think, I believe it hangs over us. It hangs around for us for a while. The thing about that type of procrastination is that often when we do the thing that we are procrastinating about, we actually get an amazing sense of satisfaction and achievement. We begin to feel like we've done something it's over. I finished it and sense of pride in doing that. So that is a type of procrastination that I think can be particularly challenging for us. And yet when we do those things, life becomes easier. So often procrastination is associated with an emotion. I've already talked a little bit about fear, it might be associated with our fear of not knowing enough. And so we are frozen. It might be that we are, uh, frightened of finding some information out. So we put off doing something because we don't want to see it, or it might be that the activity is going to remind us of something. And we don't want the emotion that comes with us. So procrastination is connected to our emotional life and our emotional wellbeing. so there's many, many reasons why we procrastinate, but there's also one reason that I think is actually a good thing. And so in talking about how to overcome it before we look at that, I want to think about why procrastination actually might be serving us at times. So when we're. Wanting to do something that requires particularly deep thought or planning. Maybe you're preparing for a presentation for a senior team. Maybe it's about writing report or writing a blog post or writing a podcast actually. We may need to procrastinate so that our brains have some time to chew it over, to think about it. As I was sitting down to write this and I, I knew I was gonna be preparing a podcast about procrastination. I noticed that at the time between deciding to do it. And sitting down to do it. Now, a lot of ideas, percolated, a lot of thoughts about my own experience, about the experience of coaching clients I'd had. And basically our brains are thinking about it. They're pondering it. And I think the neuroscience would tell us that this is our default mode network. Playing with the idea it's ruminating, it's floating around. And so sometimes procrastination is allowing that to happen. It's moving us away from the kind of focused goal oriented work and helping us to just think about what's the best way to do this. What's the best approach. For those of us who see ourselves as decisive. And I would put myself in this category actually allowing this procrastination and this floating around may be a good thing because it may be that our ideas aren't fully formed and it's better for us to let things kind of move around before we make a final decision. So don't see procrastination as all. Bad. I think that sometimes it's really helping us to ponder and think about what is the best decision. however, if we are caught in a cycle of procrastination and it's not serving us, it's really good. I think to see if we can find ways to overcome it, because if we don't do that, we can end up in a cycle of self blame and self-criticism, and of course that's not serving us. So what can we do about it? How can we overcome procrastination and how can we move from that into action that is appropriate for the task at hand, I've got a starting point that may surprise you. This is about starting with acknowledging the feelings around the procrastination. So thinking, wow, I'm procrastinating about this and in a non blaming self-compasionate way, just noticing. And maybe even beginning to think, Hmm. I wonder what's going on here at this point. Really notice the labels that you're saying to yourself. Oh, I'm just a procrastinator and maybe just notice them and let them be, let them be in the sort of peripheral vision, but not in your main focus. Begin to be aware of the stories that you are telling yourself about procrastination. And the second thing I encourage is to then think about the cause of the procrastination. So is it because I'm feeling that I can't do it, is it because I don't have all the information? Is it because it's triggering some sort of emotion in me, maybe anxiety, is it because I'm worried about what other people will think. Noticing and naming the feelings about it allows space for them. It allows them to kind of be there. We can look at them and say, oh, this is because I'm worried. I'm not gonna do a good enough job. And so I can acknowledge that, see it, and then say, okay, even though I think that I still have to do it, it's time for me to move on from it. So I'm making room for the feelings, all the feelings that I have about doing this. I was thinking about the feelings I was having about procrastinating about the podcast, and it's all to do with, do I have enough to say, will it be good enough? Will people judge me? And so in this case, what I want to do is just say, okay, let those feelings come up. Notice them, acknowledge them, make room for them. And then they. Be there. If we try and push them down, they're like a beach ball underwater. They keep popping up. So just noticing and acknowledging the feelings and emotions we have around an activity can help us to move forward into action. And the third thing that we can do is we can begin to think about the end goal or the reason or the reward. So let me go back to my driving example. The reward for this of course, is that I'll be able to drive again. And that this is associated with my parents, who I want to be able to drive when I'm at their pace or when I'm on holiday. I can hire a car with the podcast, the reason and the value for me is that my main. Driver and value in life is to be helpful. And so if I focus on this, if I focus on how I can be helpful on the end goal, maybe it will help me to move towards action. Maybe that will help me to overcome the procrastination. Now, of course it might be that the thing that you're procrastinating about is something you really don't want to do and you have to do, because it's a part of your job or because, um, you know, the government requires it. And if it's that type of procrastination, I still think we can look at the big picture. We can step back and say, how does this serve my career overall? So for example, it may be that the thing I'm putting off doing is because. Don't like that I've been asked to do it, but actually I mostly like my job. So I need to see this as being a part of a job that I like. And I'm just going to do these things, even though perhaps it doesn't align purely with my values or my reason for being. So those are the three things that I think can specifically help us to be aware and acknowledge it with self-compassion to be curious about how we feel about it, and then to focus on the reason to focus on the big picture and on the, um, value and the reward for it. But there's a few other smaller, practical things that we can do. Many of these will be familiar to you, but let's just look at them now. So the first one is that quite often we are procrastinating because it's something really big and it's the elephant analogy that there's so much that we need to go into it and it feels too large. So we don't start. So this is a classic time management or a. Elephant analogy. Don't try and eat the whole elephant, break it down into tasks, set aside periods of time, where you can plan for it and you can work on it. And really just take it one step at a time. I've talked before about Martha Beck's idea of one degree turns and James clear in atomic habits also talks about 1% improvements. So this is where we can do this. We can decide that if we get a little bit done, Then we will move in the direction of our goal of it is what it is that we want to achieve. Another really practical thing actually is to disconnect because when we are procrastinating, it's much more easy for us to get distracted by social media, by emails, by things to do if we're working at home, we can be distracted by the washing things that we would normally procrastinate about suddenly become very attractive. And so making a commitment to yourself, to, uh, focus, to sit down, to do that and to disconnect from all of those things that are going on around you. We can think about our energy. So often when we are putting things off, we tend to get round to them when we are tired. And then they seem really hard, particularly if the thing that we are putting off. Is something that we find painful or difficult or needs concentration, bizarrely, we deprioritize it, it sits at the bottom of our pile. We look at it and we prioritize something else. So my approach to this is actually to prioritize it rather than deprioritize it. I move it to the top of my pile. This means deciding that I'm going to do the things that I might. Put off doing when I have my best energy for me, that's at the beginning of the day for you, that might be at the end of the day, I'm going to do it at the time of the day. When I think I'll be able to focus best and get it done in the most meaningful way and in the quickest way. So that may be for you about putting time in your diary so that you can do that. At that time, I had a coaching client who agreed that every day, she. Start her day by doing one of the activities that she was putting off doing, and she would get it done, first thing, and then get on with the rest of the day. And of course, this is incredibly rewarding because it means that you get those things done and then you can move on to other things that need to be done. And so that links to thinking about routines and, and how doing something in a routine way, planning time in that's at the same time every day, Jerry Seinfeld talks about his writing routine that, you know, he can procrastinate about it. So he makes sure he has coffee. He's sitting in the same place and he's sitting in that chair at the same time of the day. So he doesn't procrastinate about it. So some form of routine can do that. we can set small rewards for when we've done something. When I've finished this, I'll have a cup of coffee. Or when I do that thing that I've been procrastinating about, I can go off and do something that brings me absolute joy that I really want to do. We can keep track of what we've done often. When we are procrastinating, we're spending a lot of time focusing on what we haven't done, but actually we can think about all the things that we've achieved. We can look at what we did through the day and think actually, this kind of reprograms ourselves to see ourselves as somebody who gets something done and somebody who overcomes procrastination. now, of course, if you are really struggling with this, I would encourage you to find a coach to help you to think about the causes of your own procrastination. And to think about how you can get down to the things that matter to you most, because procrastination can cause us quite a lot of pain in our lives, but it actually doesn't need to. I really think that we can overcome it and we can move towards feeling that we are doing the things that matter to us in a meaningful, in our. So as I finish, I'd like to challenge you to think about one thing that you are procrastinating about, and immediately after listening to the set plan for how you're going to start it and begin to move it towards completion. I look forward to hearing how that goes.