Do you find yourself thinking any of these things?
‘I just need to clear my desk before I get started.’
‘I’ll start by dealing with my email, ease myself into the day.’
‘How on earth did it get to 6pm and I haven’t actually got anything done?!’
If so, you probably already know you’re prone to procrastination. This habit of putting things off until the last minute can be a minor irritation for some people, and a major problem for others, but we all do it to some degree.
Probably the main reason is something called ‘present bias’. The human brain is wired to prioritise what we need (or think we need) now, over what would be better for us in the long run. This is why it can be difficult to save money, or eat healthily, or exercise. We perceive all these things as benefiting our future selves more than our present selves.
We procrastinate for similar reasons: the effort or discomfort of doing the job now is greater than the worry about not getting it done- until it isn’t and we stay up all night to get it finished. The extent to which you procrastinate is likely to depend on how uncomfortable the task makes you feel. If it’s really dull or difficult, you’ll be more inclined to put it off. But it also depends on you. If you are secretly worried that you might not do a very good job, that’s also a good reason to procrastinate.
This fear of failure is very common, and, especially if you consciously know that you are actually pretty good at your job, you might only be half aware of it rumbling away in your deepest psyche.
However, if we don’t fully look at this kind of fear, it tends to get bigger and more powerful. It grows in the dark like mushrooms do.
Ask yourself: Why am I avoiding this task? What am I afraid might happen? Once you have some idea, then question how realistic this thought is. Have you failed at tasks like this before? More than once? If you actually do have good reason to expect that you can’t do it, then decide what you are going to do about this. Maybe you need to ask for more training, or clearer instructions, or more time. That said, the chances are you actually have no real reason to expect failure.
Once you’ve got to this point, force yourself to just get started. Don’t think about how long it’s actually going to take you to complete the whole task. Just decide what you can realistically do in, say 15-25 minutes, and do that. You could try the pomidoro technique– it works for me when I hit resistance. After you’ve done a few short bursts, review how it’s going, and get help if you need it. If not, just keep doing short bursts and with any luck you’ll soon be in the flow, and making progress.