“I am not in the mood today, I’ll do it tomorrow.” How many times have you made this excuse for reasons that are most likely inconsequential? The reality is not everything has the same sense of urgency as filing tax returns but even if we don’t feel like it, they still need to get done.
Procrastination is the delay or avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished by a certain deadline. Unknowingly, the main reason we avoid something is sometimes fear of failure, so when in doubt we decide not to act.
Studies found that many people like to put off doing something until the last minute. For example, a study from the American Psychological Association reported that 20% of Americans are chronic procrastinators and will postpone tasks as a habit. Non-procrastinators tend to have higher self-esteem than procrastinators and will get things done. Technology is one of the main culprits for procrastination, as it is tempting to spend hours browsing the web. This feels more rewarding in the short term, giving us a temporary high, whereas work may not. If we become slaves to the reward centres in our brain, we tend to seek temporary pleasures to push aside boredom, anxiety or any other emotion we don’t want to deal with. In the meantime, our work may suffer as a result.
It may seem counter-intuitive but simply tackling an item on your to-do list can give you the same level of satisfaction or positive feelings as your favourite mindless activity, if not higher.
There is something almost magical about starting a small task or project without expectations as it will set the wheels into motion. It doesn’t have to be a high priority task – what really matters is to make the first step to build momentum.
Do you have a clear plan of what you need to do each day? Is there an item on the list that is causing you more anxiety than others? Do you feel guilty about procrastinating but do it anyway? Let’s explore these feelings and find ways to overcome obstacles that stop you from achieving your goals.
8 Procrastination Tips & Solutions
1. Does Your Task Fit With Your Goals and Values?
While some tasks need doing whether we like them or not, others may not have the urgency we think they have. Ask yourself: does what you need to do today serve a purpose, a higher vision? Does it help to achieve something you truly desire?
Think about your values and what you can do to stand by them. In Sophrology, I support people as they get to know themselves more. Many of us have yet to define what we stand for because these thoughts are often de-prioritised for our ever-growing list of daily responsibilities. But when we take the time to really think about our purpose, we are better able to decide what our priorities are – what tasks are in line with your values? If we know this, then we are more comfortable embracing these tasks.
If a task doesn’t align with your values, then it may be easier to understand why your heart is not in it and let it go. This will free up some time to focus on what can actually make a difference in your life. Do things for the right reasons. They should not feel like a punishment, otherwise, you will resent them.
2. Make a Plan
Our brain doesn’t like uncertainty. In order to soothe ourselves, we create routines and structure, because they make us feel safer and help us stay focused. So, go on and make a full plan of action. Be realistic about your available time and energy, and the deadline you set for yourself. Otherwise, you may feel guilty for not attaining your goals or worse yet associate it with failing, which is unfair as the task may have been unattainable, to begin with. Remember you don’t have to accomplish everything in one day so spread out a number of tasks through the week and month.
3. Turn The Plan Into Action
Of course, the work is not over once you have written your plan. Don’t dwell too much on the plan because it doesn’t need to be perfect. The point is to have a sense of structure to guide and motivate you. Just make a start and you will notice an immediate shift in your energy. You may also need to adapt the plan later on if some of your circumstances change. The idea here is not to lose momentum. Keep the plan somewhere you can see it easily and, if it helps you, set reminders in your online calendar.
4. Every Small Step Counts
Once you have started, keep going! Even small steps count as progress. Just be patient with yourself and when you feel like you’ve hit a wall, don’t fault yourself for needing to take a pause – signs to look out for are losing concentration, tiredness and lethargy. This is your body telling you that your brain needs some rest so take the opportunity to stretch, inhale and exhale deeply, maybe do some exercise or practise a short mindfulness sequence. Focus is like a muscle that needs to be gently trained so you alternate strengthening it with periods of rest. Remember, even rest is a step towards progress.
5. Undivided Attention
Give the task at hand your undivided attention. Do that thing and nothing else: learning to be fully present with what you do is key, even if it is just for ten minutes. Be in it fully as this will make you more efficient. It’s surprising how much you get done in short but focused bursts of activity. Turn off all notifications, close your email, tell others not to interrupt you while you create the right environment to be fully focused. If you allocate a set time to tackle one item on your to-do list, you will have an endpoint and you can stop once the time is up.
6. Schedule a Break
It’s always a good idea to schedule some time in your diary to rest – achieving your goals and completing tasks take energy and life is all about balance. See the upcoming break in your day as the reward you deserve after your hard work. If you give yourself time to rest and do other pleasant activities like meeting friends, you become less likely to procrastinate because you don’t rely as much on distractions to get those temporary highs. Just like the undivided attention you give your tasks, be fully immersed in your chosen restful activity without guilt or worry and simply enjoy the present moment. It will make you more focused when you need to be.
7. Stay Detached
What we do is not who we are, therefore even when our work is in line with our full purpose, it’s always key to remember that we are not defined by our single experiences. If we get delayed, fail, or things simply don’t turn out as we envisioned them, it’s ok. Healthy detachment from our work is good to keep us sane. How can you achieve this? When you start to feel anxious about work, taking a few deep breaths really help.
Place one hand on your chest, the other on your tummy. Imagine you have a balloon where your tummy is. As you inhale, the balloon starts to inflate; as you exhale, it deflates. Exhale to double the length of your inhales, so in through your nose for three counts, and out through the mouth for six. Try to repeat mindfully for 2-3 minutes. How does this feel? Do you feel lighter and more energised?
Deep breathing enables you to feel more balanced. It helps you focus on the present moment and reconnect with your body instead of being locked inside your head.
8. Find The Cause of Procrastination
What’s stopping you? If despite implementing all the above steps, nothing seems to work, maybe you need to close your eyes for a moment and ask yourself some questions in a relaxed state.
You can reach a relaxed state through a 10-minute Sophrology practice. During Sophrology, the voice of the practitioner guides you through different relaxation and breathing exercises that help you change your brain wave activity – it’s called the alpha wave and this deep state of relaxation has been scientifically proven to help calm and balance the nervous and sympathetic nervous systems, reduce inflammation in the body and restore energy. Once you reach this state of relaxation you can ask yourself: what does my procrastination hide? Is it fear? Self-sabotage? Tiredness? A belief that I should let go of?
Once you know what is stopping your progress you can take positive action.
How Sophrology Can Help Cure Procrastination
One solution is Sophrology.
Sophrology works for time-starved individuals because it is so complementary to busy lifestyles and jam-packed schedules. Its structured approach allows you to reach a state of calm quickly and efficiently in just a few minutes.
Sophrology works by synchronising your breath with gentle movement, which allows your mind to become completely focused on the present moment. Further, its soothing effect on the nervous system can be very useful when fear, anxiety or fatigue are making you procrastinate, because mindfulness is restorative for both mind and body.
Apart from those mentioned above, here are some of other benefits of practising Sophrology:
- Relaxation, finding calm and clarity
- Visualisation to implement plans
- Letting go of blockages
- Working on motivation and energy
- Listening to your needs, staying in balance
- Adaptability and resilience
You will notice a difference in the way you feel just after one Sophrology session. It’s really easy to learn and you can practise it at home, any time you need it. You may have been a procrastinator one way or another all your life, but you can choose to change your past behaviours and your mindset to create a more positive future. If you would like to experience Sophrology for yourself, have a look at our online stress management course.