Let me ask you a question: Have you ever had a task or a project that you just kept procrastinating? Procrastinating until you could procrastinate no longer? And when you finally sat down to do it (because you had no other choice), it took less than 15 minutes?
What happened after that?
Did you question yourself as to why you’d waited so long?
Did you wonder if you’d spent more time procrastinating than it took to actually do the thing?
If so, you wouldn’t be alone. I think we’ve ALL found ourselves there before. Me included!
But here’s what I’ve found:
When you procrastinate, you often spend more time and energy avoiding the task than you would spend actually doing it.
And the stress and anxiety that come alongside that procrastination are prolonged instead of acute.
Now, I get it. You may not want to do the thing. You may not think you can do the thing.
But the next time a situation like this comes up, I want you to ask yourself one simple question:
- Do you prefer short term pain, or long term pain?
Because here’s the thing:
You know it’s more painful to avoid the thing and still have to do it, than to just do it. But in the moment, avoiding it seems like the path to lesser pain.
But if you can ask yourself a clarifying question like: “Do I want short term pain, or long term pain?” it’s a little easier to prioritize your future self and do the thing that will cause less pain overall.
Now, not every procrastination situation is the same.
So, let’s break down some reasons why you might be procrastinating, even when you know you’re causing yourself more stress and anxiety by doing so:
- The task is unclear or too vague
- If your task starts with “figure out”, it’s not clear enough. You brain has to do too much work to take action. So it doesn’t.
- The task is too big for a single sitting
- This task will take 3 hours. 3 hours you don’t have today.
- You’re not sure where to start
- You’ve never done this before. So, you don’t know how to get started.
- You just don’t want to do it (it’s boring or tedious)
- Yep, I get that. But what’s more tedious? Confronting the fact that you need to do a boring or tedious task day after day without actually doing it? Or doing it?
- It’s emotionally charged
- Some tasks make you face things you don’t want to face. Maybe putting all your ex’s belongings in a box is just too much.
What can you do to avoid this fate?
First, remember that you’ll experience more anxiety by procrastinating than by simply doing the thing and then, make a plan:
- Use clear language
- Make it easy for your brain to execute. Instead of “contact Jim”, say “email Jim”. A simple tweak, but it doesn’t give your mind leeway. You can’t go down the rabbit-hole of “how should I contact Jim?”.
- Break it down
- Make the next step so small you can’t convince yourself not to do it. Repeat until you’ve completed all the steps.
- Get help getting started
- Sometimes you don’t know where to start. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have options!
- Ask someone who’s done it before or use Google or ChatGPT to point you in the right direction.
- Give yourself a reward
- If you know you’re just not going to enjoy it, add a reward to help you get there.
- Maybe you get 10 minutes of guilt-free scrolling when you’re done? Or something even better!
- Decide not to do it or to delay it
- Sometimes you’re procrastinating on things because you know that you actually don’t need to do them. If that’s the case, you can decide not to do it. And thus stop it from hanging over your head.
- What if it still needs to be done by SOMEONE? Outsource or ask for help.
- What if YOU need to do it, but not right away? Give yourself the grace to push it. If there’s no penalty for delaying, then delay is a reasonable, and perhaps even preferable, option.
So, when you find yourself in a situation where you’re procrastinating something over and over, remember to think about your future self.
Will your future self prefer you reduce your pain and do it now?
Or does your future self like prolonged pain?
Only you can decide!