Many pulses start racing wildly in this last quarter of the year and eyes take frantic glances at the clock as time seems to furiously tick away in shameless competition with “unticked” tasks on many To-Do lists. Piled lists of yet to be done tasks appear to monstrously overshadow the face of the last few weeks, waiting anxiously to wrap up yet another year before unveiling a new season.
By Cynthia C Hakutangwi
The proverbial envelope that contains the achievements of the year teasingly swings its flaps as it impatiently waits to tuck in, seal and send off yet another year into history. Many people’s thoughts continually turn to take stock, counting every minute and garnering the energy and strength required to immerse themselves into overdue tasks before the proverbial envelope is snatched from under their nose to be tucked away in another year past.
While so many are in the energised “execute, complete and wrap up” mode, procrastinators are paying a much higher price as everything they have casually tucked away further to another day during the year suddenly demands attention, speaking in the dark monotones of the 11th hour. As if the shame of it all was not enough, some are entertaining the tempting thoughts of further moving the pending tasks into yet another New Year.
All of us occasionally put off boring or unpleasant tasks — clearing the piling in-tray, fixing broken furniture, paying bills or organising dysfunctional areas of our lives.
On the other hand, procrastinators repeatedly postpone acts that would lead to success or more fulfilled lives through self-defeating delays. In the previous installments in this series of measuring our progress, we examined the need to review set goals and making relevant adjustments where necessary.
We also established the importance of developing a system of accountability to ensure ultimate success and avoid the risk of going through the next 12 months getting nothing but the same results of past years. If you have found yourself putting off important tasks over and over again, you are not alone.
In fact, many people procrastinate to some degree — but some are so chronically affected by procrastination that it stops them fulfilling their potential and disrupts their careers. The key to controlling this destructive habit is to recognise when you start procrastinating, understand why it happens and take active steps to manage your time and outcomes better.
What is procrastination?
You procrastinate when you put off things that you should be focusing on right now, usually in favour of doing something that is more enjoyable, or that you are more comfortable doing. According to psychologist Professor Clarry Lay, a prominent writer on the subject, procrastination occurs when there is “a temporal gap between intended behaviour and enacted behaviour.”
Is it possible to overcome procrastination?
If you are honest with yourself, you probably know when you are procrastinating. The first step is to recognise that you are procrastinating. Some of the key indicators of procrastination include:
lFilling your day with low priority tasks from your To-Do list
lSitting down to start a high-priority task, and almost immediately going off to do something else.
lLeaving an item on your To-Do list for a long time, even though you know it is important.
lRegularly saying “Yes” to unimportant tasks that others ask you to do, and filling your time with these instead of getting on with the important tasks already on your list.
lWaiting for the “right mood” or the “right time” to tackle an important task at hand.
There are certain actions that can easily be mistaken for procrastination. Putting off an unimportant task for example, is not necessarily procrastination; it may just be good prioritisation. Putting off an important task for a short period because you are feeling particularly tired is not necessarily procrastination either, for as long as you do not delay starting the task for more than a day or more.
If you have a genuine reason for rescheduling something important, then you are not necessarily procrastinating. However, if you are simply “making an excuse” because you really just do not want to do it, then you are guilty of procrastinating.
Once you have recognised that you are procrastinating, the second step is to establish why you are prone to this behaviour. One reason is that people find a particular task unpleasant, and try to avoid it. Another cause is that people are disorganised.
Organised people manage to fend off the temptation, because they work with prioritised “To-do lists” and schedules which emphasise how important the task is, and identify precisely when it is due.
They will also have planned how long a task will take to do, and will have worked back from that point to identify when they need to get started in order to avoid it being late. Another major cause is having underdeveloped decision-making skills. If you simply cannot decide what to do, you are likely to put off taking action in case you do the wrong thing.
The way forward
Habits only stop being habits when you have persistently stopped practising them, hence using as many approaches as possible will maximise your chances of beating them.
lReward yourself for achievements
lAsk someone else to check up on you
lIdentify the unpleasant consequences of NOT doing the task
lPlan your day each day, get organised and keep a To-Do list. Delete or delegate from your To-Do list those things that do not relate to your top three to five goals.
lBreak the project into a set of smaller, more manageable tasks
lGet clear about what you want in life and write down all your goals within set time frames
Procrastination is habit forming. Even if your honest intention is to only put something off temporarily, the very act of procrastinating sets up a chain reaction that makes it easier to do it again. Procrastination enlarges the task.
The more often we put off doing something, the more intimidating it feels. Eventually, the task gets out of proportion in our minds that chances are we will probably never be able to get ourselves to take the necessary actions.
l Cynthia Hakutangwi is a communications and personal development consultant, life coach, author and strategist. Looking at improving balance, energy, organisation, health fitness, relationships, focus, faith and happiness? Wholeness Incorporated coaching offers you strategies and simple steps you can implement today to become a better, more-balanced, happier version of yourself.
E-mail: email@example.com. Facebook: Wholeness Incorporated.