How to be successful while being a procrastinator

I have been a procrastinator for as long as I can remember. If there is anything that needs to be done, I would rather do it ‘tomorrow’ or ‘later’. The two magical and mystical realms where all the possibilities of my potential exist. And in writing this article on procrastination, I had to deal with and overcome a good deal of procrastination. What should have been a 3-day job (tops) turned into a 5-week on-and-of ordeal. At the end of the article, you will find a list of the many thoughts, distractions and procrastination I had while writing. Maybe you can relate to some of the thinking patterns.

Some people call procrastination an addiction some disagree. Being a life-long procrastinator myself, I can testify that it is NOT an addition — feel free to disagree for now but read the full article — it will change your mind.

In spite of being a lifelong procrastinator, I have managed to get an astonishing number of things done in life. How did I manage that and why do I still procrastinate?

What exactly is procrastination?

Procrastination is an automatic, negative, habit of, often needlessly, postponing and/or delaying a timely and relevant activity. The act of delaying or postponing a task or set of tasks. It is the force that prevents us from following through on what we set out to do even though we know it is good for us.

Now I want to reiterate this oxymoron; I know it’s good for me yet I still delay it and find ways to not do it. What kind of ridiculous behaviour is this? And people have been doing for centuries? What madness!!

Why do I do it?

I procrastinate not because I am lazy or lack motivation. People who know me personally will testify that motivation is not something I am short on. In my research and understanding of the problem, I have uncovered that I procrastinate, like most people, because there is a problem with emotional regulation. That is what it really is. Poor regulation of emotions about the task at hand.

People feel procrastination is a time or task management issue, it is not. It is in fact an emotion management problem.

Any task/chore I take on produces varying amounts of emotions. These emotions are often linked to the uncertainty of how well I am going to do, what the outcome is going to be and how it is going to impact my life, which in turn creates anxiety. And that, my friends, is why we all procrastinate.

But the problem doesn’t stop there. Once I start to procrastinate, I feel good momentarily as it helps alleviate some of the negative emotions. However, shortly after that, I start to feel bad, as delaying the task (which has to be done sooner or later) starts to create even more anxiety as it keeps looming over me. So I get stuck in this vicious cycle where I procrastinate because I cannot handle the negative emotions and the procrastination produces even more negative emotions. The obvious course of action would be to just get the bloody task done, then why don’t I?

I procrastinate, so what’s the big deal?

If you are anything like me, then you have various goals for your life. Things you want to do, achieve, have and become. Procrastination is my dream killer because everything on that list needs to be done — by me. I need to make things happen. One of the worst things procrastination has done is to cause me to lose integrity with my own self. When I commit to something and I end up not doing it, I lose trust in myself. It affects my self-esteem and confidence. That is detrimental to my dreams as it forces me to keep changing timelines on my tasks, project and ultimately my life.

Different Types of Procrastination

As mentioned earlier, procrastination is ultimately caused by negative emotions around a task. Emotion could be frustration, anger, boredom, worry, anxiety. And the type of emotion I feel defines the type of procrastinator I am (in that moment). There are 6 different types of procrastination behaviours. (Taken from this book by Linda Sapadin and Jack Maguire).

  1. The Worrier; Worries they are not good enough and will not be able to finish the task at hand hence they find it very hard to start the task. Motivated by anxiety and fear of failure.
  2. The Perfectionist; Wants the task to be done perfectly hence they often find it hard to start based on a fear of failure or incompetence.
  3. The over-doer; Commits to doing too many tasks and fails to prioritise and finish them on time. This is the one I can relate to the most.
  4. The crisis maker; always needs the pressure and stress of a crisis or a short deadline to do their work. It helps them fight their own boredom.
  5. The dreamer; dreams of a good life and grand ideas but does very little to make them a reality. They want things to come easy to them and they feel they shouldn’t have to work very hard at life hence they don’t put the effort into the tasks.
  6. The defier; feels they shouldn’t have to do this task, they are perhaps better than this. They are angry and frustrated and in these emotions, they keep putting the task off.

Which one can you relate to?

Where do distractions fit in all of this?

Distractions are some of the coping mechanisms that we use to deal with the anxiety, frustration fear, and all the other emotions that go with procrastination. We use distraction to get away from the task and there are two types of distractions, external distractions and internal distractions.

External Distractions

This one is pretty self-explanatory, these are all the pings and dings, notifications, noise, kids, pets, amazon deliveries and everything else that can take your mind off the current task.

Internal Distractions

An internal distraction results from your own internal drives, they are intrinsically generated — like random fleeting thoughts, constant worries, physiological and emotional states, your conflicts and so on.

So, how do I overcome my procrastination?

Before we get into the strategies, tips and techniques, there are a couple of psychological steps I needed to take.

The first thing I needed to do was to admit that I procrastinate. Admit and accept that I have an emotional regulation issue that needs addressing. Once I was able to accept that, the next thing was forgiving myself for what was already done and the time that was already gone. I couldn’t change that. Only after going through this emotional and psychological acceptance was I ready to focus on preventing it from happening in the future.

Here is a list of techniques and tools I (still) use to deal with my procrastination:

Internal Strategies / Emotion Management

  • I tackle internal distraction and emotional regulation with meditation. I spend 10–30 minutes first thing in the morning meditating. This helps me set the tone for the rest of the day and keeps me calm (mostly) throughout the day.
  • Journaling. Followed by meditation is 10 minutes of journaling practice. This helps in 2 different ways
    – Writing helps me get clarity on my thoughts and encourages me to think clearly and succinctly.
    – It helps to get emotions out of the head and onto the paper, clearing the mind for the work that needs to happen.
  • Defining my goal and purpose. What am I trying to achieve and why? This is a very important beginning step of any project. I need to know where I am going with this and why. It helps give me perspective and the initial burst of motivation required.
  • What do I have to show for my time? I have a review process at the end of the day as well as the week. This is where I check on the progress of my various projects and cross-check with the to-do lists. I am conscious about spending my time and doing the work as I know I will get audited at the end of the day/week.
  • Lower the bar. Sometimes showing up is more important than making it perfect. So I focus on getting the task done rather than doing it perfectly.

External Tools / Techniques

  • Setting shorter-term goals. Parkinson’s law state that a task expands to fill the allocated time. If you give yourself 3 days to clean your house, you are going to take 3 days. However, if you give yourself 3 hours, you can probably do it in 3 hours too.
  • Breaking goals into smaller steps. Once I have a big goal, I break it down all the way to the next actionable step. As small as possible that I can start doing immediately. For example, if my goal is to write an article on healthy eating, the next step is not to research but the next step is creating a new page in Notion and putting the headline.
  • Taking action. Once I have my next actionable step and it takes less than 2 minutes to do, I am going to do it right away. I won’t schedule or delegate anything that takes me less than 2 minutes. I will do it and get it done right away.
  • Time blocking. Not only do I put my tasks on a to-do list but from the list, I transfer them onto to calendar. I allocated time for them. Having a to-do list is good but blocking time for the tasks on the calendar ensures it is going to get done.
  • Pomodoro timer. When I need to do focused work I set myself a 25-minute timer and turn off all notifications. I work in 25-minute chunks, punctuated with 5-minute breaks.
  • Unplugging. I turn off as many notifications as possible, on the computer, phone and watch. I also regularly unsubscribe to email newsletters to not get distracted.
  • Keep a distraction list. Even during the focused work time of 25-minutes, I get random thoughts, questions and queries pop up in the mind. For this, I have a distraction list where I put all these random questions and thoughts which seems very important in the moment and in my dedicated distraction time, I go through the list.
  • Rest and recovery. I try and build time in my day to rest. Whether it’s watching a documentary, reading a book, going for a walk or just listening to music. 20–30 minutes to give my body and mind a break.

Although it may sound easy as steps 1,2 and 3 it can be hard. Developing this list of tools and strategies comes after many iterations, frustrations and missed opportunities. In spite of all these techniques, I still procrastinate but these strategies definitely help me deal with it in a more structured and planned manner and I hope you find them valuable too.

Stay awesome 🙂

Some thoughts, distractions, random searches, procrastination while writing this article:

  • Why am I making so many typing errors today, hmmm, maybe I should do some typing practice? Looks for typing practice websites and starts practice
  • Oh lemme check Instagram (for the 49th time today)
  • Oh, I wonder what Nadine (my daughter) is doing… goes to check on her .. and starts playing with her
  • I should find more Alfred workflows
  • This music isn’t working… I need to find better playlists
  • oh, I haven’t done my core workout today. Goes to do a core workout
  • I am hungry (again)
  • I wonder what Nadine is doing (again)
  • I should watch some inspiring documentary
  • I think I ate too much .. maybe I need to go for a walk .. Goes for 30 min walk
  • Maybe I need to do a poo
  • Wow my backyard is so dirty … I need to get rid of all these leaves
  • I should read more about procrastination so I can distil my learning better
  • I wonder what are the specials on Dan Murphys
  • Let’s see if there are any interesting new podcasts episodes
  • Is this the best writing app for blogs? Maybe I should research a better app
  • I should check my Amazon subscription and see if I can automate more deliveries
  • Man, my beard is getting messy, I need to trim this
  • How come I haven’t had any messages on WhatsApp for 20 mins .. Lemme open it and check if it’s working
  • If I had bought bitcoins 10 years ago I would be a millionaire today
  • I should research what are the best investments for 2022
  • Wow, this room is dirty. I need to vacuum it. Now.
  • Perhaps I need a different keyboard to make me type faster … lets research
  • Maybe I should sit in bed and write or even lie down
  • I need to do my piano scales practice. Now
  • I ought to meditate and calm my mind for 20 mins
  • I should check out the new Coke Studio season
  • and on and on and on

Anything to avoid doing the task at hand. Research, it seems, is my ultimate and best form of procrastination 😃

Can you relate to some of these thought patterns?