I have a confession to make. I'm a procrastinator.
Okay, not always. But often enough that I know what the signs look like for me...
My procrastination usually comes in the form of reading a book when I should be writing, playing a game on my phone when I should be researching, or - and this is when I know when my procrastination is really bad - I’ll do household chores instead of work. Yes, for me, cleaning out my kitchen cabinets is a major form of procrastination.
But here’s the thing… identifying our procrastination patterns is incredibly empowering because it gives us insights into where our productivity starts to go off the rails.
Now, before we continue, I do want to mention one thing:
I do not subscribe to the “Busy” as a badge of honor mentality that touts busy-ness as something to be celebrated. In fact, the research on the subject overwhelmingly concludes that having dedicated time to rest, play, and reset is essential to our physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
So on that basis, let’s separate dedicated time which is intentionally set aside to rest, play or reset from procrastination, which occurs in the moment.
We’re talking about the type of procrastination that takes place during those hours you’ve dedicated toward a particular task or goal… like when your calendar shows that you’re supposed to be writing a client proposal, but instead you’re watching the newest Star Wars trailer for the umpteenth time.
And while procrastination is generally seen as a negative, it can also be a huge positive, serving as a signpost that redirects our efforts when we introspect on our patterns of procrastinating behavior.
Everyone has individual procrastination patterns, and when you take the time to identify WHAT those patterns are and WHEN they typically set in, you're able to arm yourself with strategies to overcome them.
How to Identify Your Personal Procrastination Patterns
Here’s a quick exercise you can do over a day or two to gain some valuable clarity around your personal procrastination patterns. All you need is a piece of paper or the notes app in your phone, and you’re good to go.
Firstly, set an alarm to go off every 2 hours throughout the day. When the alarm sounds, quickly take note of whether you procrastinated at all over the last two hours. If you did, jot down the answers to these three questions:
1) What were you supposed to be doing during the time when you were procrastinating?
2) What caused you to start procrastinating in the first place? (i.e. Was the task at hand too challenging? Too boring? Were there any barriers to getting started that stood in your way?)
3) What was the catalyst to getting back to work on the task at hand? In other words, how did you overcome the procrastination? (i.e. Did you set a time limit - "okay I’m just going to play this game for 10 minutes"? Or did your internal dialogue goad you back to work - “Enough is enough, back to work”.)
Introspecting on procrastination is critical for controlling it. When we start to understand the WHY behind our procrastination, we can develop an arsenal of tools for overcoming the habit.
As an example, let’s say you find yourself repeatedly falling into a pattern of procrastinating whenever a task feels “too big” - which is quite common.
Acknowledging this becomes a great opportunity to recognize that if you break things down into smaller, more manageable chunks then this particular path to procrastination will dissipate.
And just like that, a new success tool is in your arsenal and you’ve just leveraged procrastination to overcome procrastination.
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