Edward Young an 18th century poet said that procrastination is the thief of time. Boy was he right!
The topic of procrastination comes up often in my time management workshops and always has a great debate. A shout out to Brian from one of my recent workshops when he said that we are ALL citizens of the largest nation-procrastination!
Dr. Timothy Pychyl described procrastination as the intentional and voluntary delay of an action despite knowing the delay isn’t good for you. Essentially, when we procrastinate, we are stealing our time with delay action.
So Why Do We Procrastinate?
You may have used one of these procrastination excuses yourself: “I work better under pressure. I’m so busy, I have so much to do I can’t get to it. I can’t do it because I don’t have time to make it perfect. It’s boring or I don’t know where to start.” If procrastination has become a habit, you’ll need to explore why you procrastinate in order to make changes.
First understand the real reason why you procrastinate. It’s not about discipline, it all starts in your brain. You may have heard about the Lizard or reptilian brain. This refers to the limbic system which exists to pretty much keep us alive. Simply put, it works by pushing us towards pleasure and keeping us away from pain.
Our brains are programmed to scan for threats 3-5 times a second. We aren’t conscious of doing it. This is really important. Back in caveman days, this system would be the first line of defense when the saber tooth tiger came looking for a snack. This system triggers the fight or flight response.
The problem is that once the limbic system is flipped on, our “rationale” brain called the Pre-Frontal Cortex or the PFC for short—can’t take over. The PFC is like the CEO of your brain. It’s the system responsible for things like reasoning, time management, self regulation, problem solving—the skills we need to stop procrastinating.
For example, we think about doing something like working on a big project. We start off excited and at first it feels good. Then we start thinking about all the things we’ll have to do to successfully pull of the project and how much we’ll have to shift our comfort zones, our emotions get involved and the limbic lizard brain kicks in.
It says “Hey, you’re getting pretty worked up over this new idea and it seems to be freaking you out. Your body is acting all scared like when that tiger was coming for you. I’m going to help you out and keep you away from that big idea you just got. Come on, let’s go do something safe and fun” Once the lizard takes over, you need the right strategies to bring it under control.
Activate Your Brain’s CEO to Combat Procrastination
Step One: Calm the Lizard
When you feel panicky, do some deep breathing. This really works to calm that fight or flight response. Take a deep breath in through your nose to the count of four, hold it for three seconds and then slowly exhale through your mouth for about seven seconds. Repeat for about a minute or two if you can. It will make a HUGE difference. (Make sure you’re sitting down on something stable when you do. Some people get light headed.)
This will stop the Lizard from getting carried away.
Step Two: Label Your Emotions
Studies have shown that if you naming or labeling your emotions will help you process them more effectively. To help get us back to the rationale side of our brain acknowledge what you’re feeling:
“When I think of (fill in the blank idea) I feel (scared/excited/worried).”
Now that you’ve been able to calm the lizard, we can let your PFC take over.
Step Three: Explore Your Reasons Why
Finally, ask yourself why you’re afraid.
- What challenges you about the idea?
- What are you scared of the most?
- Do you have the skills you’ll need to tackle it?
- Do you know where to start?
- Are you waiting to do it perfectly?
- Is it going to be painful, uncomfortable, risky? If so, how can you minimize it?
- What’s the worst thing that can happen to you if you take action on this thing?
- What’s the best thing that can happen to you if you take action on this thing?
- Who do you have in your corner to support you?
Step Four: Get In Action
The last step to stop stealing your time is to actually get into action by planning your work for the project you’re delaying. List out all the steps that you’ll need to do to successfully complete the project. Estimate the amount of time it will likely take to complete each step, making sure you are building in cushions for delays, approvals, etc. Finally, schedule time on your calendar to get the work done.
Leverage a peer or mentor to keep you accountable by sharing your planned schedule and committing to following up with them on your progress. When you get the urge to delay, delay procrastination!Trying to move out of the procrastination? Schedule a Strategy session and walk away with action steps to get you on the right path!