What’s hiding behind your procrastination?


When we think of someone who is procrastinating, it immediately conjures up images of that person being lazy and doing anything to avoid work. But when we look beneath the surface, there may actually be another cause behind the behaviour that is masquerading as procrastination. In this post, I’d like to explore three potential causes of procrastination:

Loss of enthusiasmIn order to dedicate ourselves to research and writing, we need a level of commitment and enthusiasm that can be difficult to sustain over long periods of time. Without that passion and sense of connection, it can feel like there is little incentive to show up at our desks each day and work.

OverwhelmWhen it comes to longer-term projects, it may seem like there is an endless amount of work to do. We don’t always know where to start and so we become stuck. In this case it is a feeling of overwhelm that lies beneath our procrastination.

PerfectionismMany of us carry a deep-seated fear that our work won’t be good enough, or indeed, that we might not be good enough. This causes us to worry about how we might be judged to the point that we become paralyzed unless we can create something perfect. So here we have perfectionism lurking behind the behaviour of procrastination.

What should be noted immediately is that none of the above are mutually exclusive. We can transition between a paralyzing perfectionism, feelings of overwhelm and a loss of enthusiasm. In fact, it’s very common to experience all of them simultaneously. But how do we overcome them?

The first antidote to procrastination is to reconnect with your enthusiasm for the project you are working on. When it comes to longer term projects, it’s completely natural to lose sight of the passion and excitement that once drew you to it in the first place. When this occurs, it can feel difficult and downright impossible to motivate ourselves. This may require taking a self-imposed break, or doing something to distract ourselves from the project in order to get a bit of distance from it. Next, it can be useful to jog our memories and try to reconnect with the initial feeling you had when you began. As I explored in my previous post, ask yourself why you wanted to do this project? What excited you the most about it? Write down your answers and try to build some momentum from there.

Another technique, which can be particularly useful if your procrastination is resulting from feeling overwhelmed, is to break your seemingly unmanageable and never-ending project into something more manageable. Every single task or project can be broken down into smaller steps. After all, no one writes an entire thesis in one sitting. Larger projects are always the end product of several smaller steps. So, sit down with a blank sheet of paper and write down everything that needs to be done in much smaller, digestible steps. Breaking your tasks down can instantly relieve the feelings of overwhelm that often lead to procrastination.

A final approach that can be used to alleviate the perfectionism that often lurks behind procrastination is to title whatever you are working on as a ‘sketch.’ The term ‘sketching’ immediately takes the pressure off and frees us from the expectation that whatever we create has to be perfect. This initial sketch is simply the foundation for what will follow and can therefore be tweaked over time. Although it may sound like something very minor – this subtle shift in language can dramatically help to silence our inner critic, alter our expectations and allow us to get started, which is so often the hardest part!

The next time you find yourself procrastinating, ask yourself whether any of the common causes of procrastination apply to you (loss of enthusiasm, overwhelm or perfectionism) and hopefully some of the strategies above will help you to move through it more quickly.

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