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Procrastination is something we all do. ‘I’ll do it later!’ we tell ourselves, and then we don’t. This is all fairly harmless most of the time, but sometimes it can become like a paralysis.
If we've got to work from home during the virus lockdown, then we can point to all kinds of distractions as being at the root of why we don't finish tasks. But unless these are genuine emergencies (like a small child gluing paper stars to the cat) the distractions are more likely to be symptoms of our disconnect with work, rather than the causes of it.
It’s worth exploring why we don’t want to do something straight away. Imagine you have an afternoon available, and a task to complete. But by the end of the afternoon, you haven’t made a start. Your brain tells you that here is a convenient time where you can get the thing done, whereas some other part of your being is working against that. So what’s going on?
We can probably find that something quite deep within you is driving this behaviour. The job may feel very difficult, and you are afraid that you will fail, or perform it badly. While for some people, doing a rather slapdash job feels perfectly normal, many of us have a big complex about this (see also the article on perfectionism). If the job is not right, we may be exposed as not up to the required standard. The fear of being, in some way, shamed, lurks in the background. So making a start feels fraught with danger.
A second and very common factor in procrastination is where a task may involve confronting some uncomfortable relationships. You may need to call someone, or ask for their help, or speak to someone that you really don’t get along with. In your mind, you might have created a scenario where you feel that this person may think badly of you, or will judge you in some way. These reflections we make about colleagues and bosses are often very wide of the mark, and are often driven by our previous relationships with adults that go right back to our childhood.
And there is a third factor too, which can be outside of our control, and which is to do with how your working organisation is set up. When we go to work we have a job with a role – sometimes written up as a job description, with a bunch of responsibilities and tasks. That’s all very well on paper, but in reality, roles tend to stray from these nice neat descriptions for all kinds of reasons. When a company is full of committed and busy people who are 100% engaged with doing only, say, 75% of their actual job, getting things done becomes complex and we can fear that conversations will be difficult, for ourselves or for others.
The classic ‘cure’ for procrastination is to make a start. Most of the time, tasks are never as difficult as they appear in our wild and catastrophic day dreams. It is worth reflecting on that: why do we think they will be so tricky, or that conversation will be so awkward or difficult? And what does that say about us?
EXTERNAL LINK: An interesting article from the New York Times that also talks about this emotional aspect of procrastination.
Multi-tasking, or just putting it off?