Burning in the Procrastination Pattern

One of the reasons you procrastinate is because you have burned in a pattern of procrastination. But there’s good news: once you become more aware of how few days you have and how fast they disappear, you will value your minutes, hours, and days far more— even poor Monday. 

To be fair, you didn’t intentionally waste the most precious resource you will ever have, and one over which you have zero control. But it’s easy to burn in a pattern or a habit without even knowing you’ve done so, and negative habits can be incredibly difficult to break— even for those who have self-discipline. Let’s start with the first way you permit yourself to waste time instead of doing purposeful, meaningful work. 

Burning it In

To develop the habit of procrastinating, the first thing you need to do is to explain to yourself why it’s okay. This rationalization lets you agree with the part of you that is already trying to avoid your work, something I’ll have more to say about later. So, you tell yourself lies that you want to believe, in this case so you can do something other than what you need to do—or so you can do nothing at all. 

A hundred different rationalizations can do the trick: “I can start working on that tomorrow.” “I’ll catch up on this over the weekend.” “I’m not in the mood to do this now.” The small part of you that knows that you are not telling yourself the truth is overrun by the part of you that seeks comfort over effort, passivity over self-discipline. 

Incidentally, lying to yourself is another habit that you should work to avoid. That pattern can plague you for a lifetime and ruin your relationships— and your life. Occasionally, you might be able to lie to other people without them catching on. But you know yourself too well to pull that off, and your resistance to the work you need to do will be no weaker when tomorrow rolls around. 

Why You Resist

Resisting necessary work has its own set of justifications. You might put off a large or complicated project because you don’t know where to start or you aren’t sure how best to succeed. You might also procrastinate because the work is going to require your very best creative energy and psychic RAM, something that can feel overwhelming given a bad night’s sleep, a poor diet, or too little time managing your stress and your energy. You could be suffering from “not feeling it.” 

Some of those circumstances may change, but the root cause of your resistance will still be there in the morning. Putting off a large, complex project doesn’t do anything to make it simpler, easier, or faster to complete. The only way to do that is to actually do the work— and keep up enough progress that you complete it. 

Left unused, both your creative powers and your self-discipline will atrophy, but using that energy creates a greater abundance. Getting started often means developing a routine to maintain your health and your energy, starting with a good night’s sleep, hydration, diet, and exercise. You need to strengthen yourself for the battle, so you can overcome your resistance and refuse the lies you tell yourself. 

Breaking the Pattern 

The very best way to break the habit of procrastinating is to prioritize the worst, most awful, totally fearsome task on your list, each and every day. Whichever task causes you to start telling yourself a fairytale about how easy it will be for you to do it later—that’s the one you should run towards instead of trying to hide. By embracing the task you most want to avoid, you train yourself to do the work without negotiating with yourself. 

I started this practice by making my most difficult client call first thing in the morning, often before I even arrived at work. If I had to deliver bad news, I only allowed myself a cup of coffee first. The same was true if I had an angry client or a serious money issue that required a hard conversation and an immediate resolution. The best way to build up an immunity to avoiding unpleasant things that must be done, as well as the propensity to lie to yourself, is to do what needs to be done first thing, without fail and without complaint. 

Toughen Up

Once you tackle what you would prefer not to do at all, all your other tasks, todos, and difficult conversations will be easier to handle. Be proud of yourself, not just because you handled one task but because you are replacing the pattern of postponing what needs to be done with the habit of doing what needs to be done without hesitation. 

It may take you some time to build enough willpower to crush your tendency to procrastinate, and to build a new habit of doing the work you need to do to reach your goals. But the effort is worth investing your energy, as it will improve every part of your life, often in ways you’ll discover only after you begin to develop self-discipline and take consistent action to accomplish what’s important. 

Filed under: Productivity

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