Procrastination is typically a repeating cycle with four stages:
- Putting off something we aren’t positively motivated (energised) to do
- Feeling guilty
- Reduced self-esteem and self-efficacy
- Reduced energy, which makes us more likely to put things off…
Coaches and mentors can help clients break this vicious cycle by firstly helping them to recognise it, then to develop strategies for addressing each stage. When people fail to break the cycle, it is often because they address only part of it – so the process continues as before.
Here are some practical approaches for addressing each stage.
Putting things off
- What are the common characteristics of things you put off?
- What are your emotional responses when you are faced with such a task?
- Having a process for recognising and acknowledging tasks you are likely to put off
- Alongside the traditional To Do list, create a Procrastination list, with three columns:
- What I’m likely to procrastinate about
- The consequences (which may be a mixture of positive and negative)
- My tactics for getting this task done
- The “quick peep” strategy – saying to yourself “I know I don’t want to do this, but I’ll take a look at it now, to see what’s involved”. Much of the time, it proves to be less difficult and less discomforting than you thought, so you get on with it anyway.
- Saving up all the tasks you have low energy for and tackling them in one blitz on a Friday morning. Many people find that they are energised by the fact that they won’t have these things worrying them over the weekend. When this tactic becomes a habit, people typically find that they are also motivated by the reward of having Friday afternoon to concentrate more fully on tasks they particularly enjoy.
- How would you like to feel?
- What small shift could make that happen?
- Identifying the emotional triggers that make you feel guilty, and reframing these
- When I do get round to doing this, what can I add to improve the output, so that other people feel it was worth waiting for? (Envisioning positive reactions from others can help to motivate, too.)
- How will you feel about yourself once you’ve done this?
- Who can you call upon for support and encouragement?
- Analyse how the task plays to your strengths and weaknesses. Explore how applying your strengths to it could result in a better outcome
- Practice self-forgiveness. Tell yourself you are sorry and agree what you are going to do to re-establish the balance of your self-respect
- How do you recharge your batteries in other circumstances?
- Taking a brisk walk or doing some other exercise (physical exercise increases the flow of blood sugars to the brain and so makes us mentally energised)
- Cultivate curiosity: What could I learn from doing tackling this in a different way from normal?
- Link the task with a reward
- Do something that makes you laugh. Laughter produces endorphins, which give you an immediate energy “fix”
- Choose your time of day to tackle tasks you are likely to procrastinate about. We all have more energy at some times of the day than others, so adapting to your energy cycle makes sense.
When procrastination is habitual, it’s not easy to overcome. However, addressing each stage of the cycle makes the odds a lot better.