Do you procrastinate? Put things off to tomorrow that you could do today?
You’re not alone.
One study found that 95% of people occasionally procrastinate. You’re in good company.
So why do we do it?
Though many theories are out there, here are four common reasons we put stuff off.
1. We think it’s difficult: When the task seems hard to do, we naturally avoid it in favor of something easy. This explains why so many tax payers wait until April 14 to get down to business.
2. We think it’s time consuming: With our time always in short supply, something that seems ready to gobble large blocks of time is going to be set aside. “We’ll have more time on the weekend,” we say, “so we’ll tackle it then.”
3. We think we don’t know enough: Few people like to make mistakes, so instead of taking real action we turn to study and research. We keep learning more (from the safety of home) until we feel safe to start. Then, when we feel ready…we learn some more.
4. We think people will judge us: Engineers don’t get engineer’s block; accountants don’t get accountant’s block. But writers? Oh, they get blocked. And one possible reason is the fear of getting criticized. Because they worry so much about what people will think, they put off the writing, or, worse, work themselves into a lather that we call writer’s block.
The solution to these problems? As simple as it sounds, just tell yourself the opposite. (I told you it would sound simple.)
We talk to ourselves–a lot. Often it’s everyday chatter about what we’re going to do or what you would have said to that nasty Target cashier if given a second chance. But we also talk ourselves into procrastination.
When a task or chore or goal pops into our heads, we often run through one or more of the common traps above. We convince ourselves, even before starting, that it’s going to be hard, or time consuming, or mistake prone, or judged.
That’s why a new conversation–a controlled conversation–is so helpful. You can stop the problem before it has a chance to kick in.
The next time you have to do something, consciously tell yourself:
1. It’s not so hard.
2. It won’t take that long.
3. I’m sure I can do it, or at least learn as I go.
4. No one really cares about what I’m doing; they’re worried about their own problems.
One more tip.
A study in the December 2008 edition of Psychological Science found that people are more likely to put things off when they focus on WHY they should do it as opposed to HOW it should be done.
When tax time rolls around–or anything else you habitually put off–think about concrete ways to get it done. Don’t worry about the why.
So what do you put off? How do you beat procrastination? Let us know in the comments below!