The funny thing about procrastination is that we hate doing it when we’re doing it, but it’s hard to stop. Though not impossible, if you really want to break the habit. To get unstuck as an Avoider, we like to start at “why?” Once we recognize why we put things off, we can develop habits to reverse our impulses. To find your procrastination style, take our mini-quiz.
When you put something off, what do you feel, think, and do? Pick one from each group.
What do you Feel when you’re procrastinating?
What do you Think when you’re procrastinating?
A. Oh, I really should be doing that. And that. And that, too
B. I’m only making it worse but I can’t help myself
C. Shouldn’t someone else being doing this kind of thing?
What do you Do when you’re procrastinating?
A. A little of a lot of things to keep all the balls in the air
B. Nothing, but I think about it
C. Grouse a bit and then forget about it
If you chose mostly A answers, read about Pinball Procrastinators, below. Mostly B’s, you’re likely a Paralyzed Procrastinator, and C’s are Put-Upon. If you had a variety of letters in your answer, look for yourself in all three types, because you’ve developed a hybrid style of stalling.
A. Pinball Procrastinator
You’ve got plenty of good ideas. They seem to spring up in almost every conversation, making you the go-to person for your less-generative friends. On the flip side, lots of good ideas mean lots to get done. And you definitely want to…if only you weren’t feeling so overwhelmed by it all. Sure, you’re busy, bouncing from one pursuit to another, but somehow you don’t end up doing what needs to get done now.
What’s really stopping you: Not knowing how to start or tackle the task.
B. Paralyzed Procrastinator
There are many entry points to this place of inaction. You might be backing away from something you know will be hard. Or you’re used to others criticizing or re-doing your work. Then again, you could have set the bar too high for yourself. All of these land you in the same situation: waiting patiently for the perfect moment to get it right, until you wait so long, there’s no time.
What’s really stopping you: Reluctance to be judged — by others, yourself, or both.
C. Put-Upon Procrastinator
You’re one of the most productive people you know. That’s why the label of procrastinator seems so not right. But if you lift up your pile of accomplishments, you’ll find a persistent list of not-so-interesting items that aren’t getting done. Is it paperwork? Writing thank-you notes? Taking down the recycling? The common element is that it’s boring, and, well, not that important to you. So you regularly put it off in favor of more significant stuff.
What’s really stopping you: Boredom, and a belief that it’s not a good use of your time.
Did you see yourself in one of these? Or a bit in all three? By admitting that you procrastinate, and digging into why, you take a giant step forward. But don’t be tempted to stop there. You also need to tackle how you procrastinate.
Consider these popular delay tactics — and some maneuvers to undo them.
• Productive procrastination. You’re busy-busy-busy getting stuff done, crossing items off your list…and actively avoiding you-know-what. But as long as you remain on-the-go, no one can say you don’t have a good excuse, right?
If you want to stop this: Put only the critical items on your to-do list, and don’t let yourself stray from your set agenda.
• Unproductive procrastination. Similar to productive procrastination, you push the unwanted to-do off your radar, but instead of filling your time with lots of other tasks, you simply go about your day as if the unwanted task didn’t exist.
If you want to stop this: Turn the task from invisible to unavoidable. Make it an obstacle that must be dealt with before you can move on to more welcome activities. For instance, you can’t pick up your new floating chair for the pool party until you go to the Post Office and buy stamps.
• Waiting for perfect. You can’t get started, or finished, if circumstances aren’t just so. So, you don’t.
If you want to stop this: Prove to yourself that you don’t need a perfect moment to perform. Use your scraps of free time, five minutes here or 20 minutes there, to make progress.
These solutions won’t feel good at first because you’re pitting your rational side against your emotional one. But the more often your rational side perseveres, the easier it will get. But there is one catch: You have to want to stop procrastinating for any approach to work.
Next week: Meet Linda Hollander, self-professed pinball procrastinator, who shares her worst procrastination moment.
We can be such clever devils when it comes to delay tactics — so clever that we may not even know we’re doing it. Here, we lift the curtain on the high art of avoiding.
1. Prioritizing. This is a helpful tool for the efficient-minded. It’s also an easy avoidance mechanism. All we have to do is keep pushing the unsavory to-do to the bottom of our list, regardless of its importance.
2. Talking about it. It takes a little while to catch onto this trick because we’re so vocal about our intentions. We chat up others about our plans. We envision and share the success of having done it…but for all our posturing, we don’t actually take action.
3. Thinking no one will care or notice. This belief lets us justify inactivity. “What does it matter?” we say. “I’m the only one who will know it got done.”
4. Multitasking. When we’re juggling five, 10, even 25 things at the same time, we can use multitasking as an excuse to sidestep the undesirable — there’s always something else to do, see, check on, talk about.
5. It’s never been done before. The blueprint hasn’t been drawn and there’s nothing to measure up against, so our mind puts on the brakes because we’re going to have think in a different, possibly uncomfortable, way.
6. Sleeping too little, too often. Inadequate shut-eye makes our world look worse. A 20-minute walk seems like an hour. Getting the kids up becomes a feat for Ellen Ripley in “Aliens.” Just imagine how your tired self responds to a task you’d rather not do on your most energetic day.
7. Things never work out. We’ve had a string of non-successes and our confidence pendulum is on the down swing. That’s when the defeatist voice in our head starts asking, “Why bother?”
8. Situation imperfect. It’s too noisy. Too humid. Too crowded. Too depressing. Just fill in the blank, because there’s always a reason the circumstances aren’t right for getting started.
Tired of putting things off? Try these 9 tips to stop procrastinating.
Are you acting like an Avoider? Download the free Unstuck iPad app to find out.
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