Continuing our series on procrastination this week I’m addressing two root causes that not only result in procrastination but which can negatively impact our productivity in all sorts of ways.
Before we get started on these though, I’m going to ask you to pick up something near you (like a coffee cup, stapler or book) and hold it up in the air while you keep reading. Don’t be tempted to rest your arm on something – just hold that thing up in the air for now and keep reading.
You’ve probably travelled on an airplane, right? Remember that bit in the safety briefing when they say ‘be sure to fit your own mask before helping others’? That’s what the first of today’s procrastination causes is all about.
So many of us, especially if we are in leadership positions, work so hard at ensuring everyone else is OK that we forget to look after ourselves. The problem with this is that if we don’t take care of ourselves, eventually we get so run down and tired that we begin to lose motivation and focus, which makes it even harder to muster the energy required to take on tasks or projects we’ve been putting off.
How’s your arm doing? That thing you’re holding is getting heavy now, isn’t it. OK I’ll let you put it down for a minute while you read the next paragraph.
The thing is, if you allow yourself to get run down and exhausted you won’t be firing on all cylinders… and if you continue past that point to running on empty there’s a real chance you’ll burn out, or worse, break down altogether... and you won’t be much use to anyone then – so you’re not really serving others when you don’t look after yourself.
OK so pick that thing up again now. It feels lighter now doesn’t it! Perhaps not as light as it did the first time – but if you had taken a longer break it would have felt even lighter. I’m sure you're starting to get my drift: Pushing through without breaks is counter productive – see how much more tired your arm is than it would be if you had put down the item for 5 more minutes before picking it up again?
So the moral of this story is: Take regular breaks. Get enough sleep and exercise. Go for a walk in the fresh air, even for five minutes, and if you spend long hours staring at a screen give yourself some screen-free time in your day (ie don’t go straight from the computer to the TV or your iPad/Phone!) When you get enough breaks your energy and motivation levels are recharged and you’ll power through your workload far more efficiently – INCLUDING having the superpowers required to take on all those jobs you’ve been putting off!
The second procrastination cause we’re looking at today is unpleasant associations. I don’t mean nasty people you hang out with, or questionable clubs and societies. I mean bad things that happened to you in the past coming back and interfering with your present.
Our subconscious mind is a powerful beast, and it is a beast on a mission. That mission is to keep us protected, alive and ‘happy’… but it often goes about executing this mission in some pretty misguided ways. This is a big topic so I won’t go into detail about this here, but when it comes to procrastination this can often be an underlying cause.
The connection is usually not even conscious, but once you stop and think about it you can see where it is coming from. If the thing you are putting off doing reminds you in any way of a previous occasion where something worked out badly, your subconscious can be hell bent on preventing you from putting yourself in a situation where that could happen again.
For example you may have a strong association between studying and being made to feel stupid by a negative teacher or bullying classmates – and this could be preventing you from booking that course you really want to do but somehow never get around to organising.
If this is the cause of your procrastination, once you identify the unpleasant association, you can do something about it. Back when that unpleasant episode happened, whether in childhood or as an adult, you might not have had the skills or resources to achieve the outcomes you wanted in that situation. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have them now, or we know where you can find them!
Remind yourself of your many inner strengths and resources and think of a time you actually did something similar and succeeded. Boost your confidence by reminding yourself there is no reason this should go the way of that unpleasant memory, especially if you take care to give yourself enough time to get working on it. Remember: the longer you have to work on something the more chance you give yourself of a successful outcome.
Did either of these procrastination causes strike a chord with you? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
Alison Rentoul is ex yacht crew with 15 years of yachting experience, and a professionally trained personal development coach working with crew worldwide, helping them realise their highest potential at every level. See www.thecrewcoach.com for more information.