Most of us tend to think that procrastination is just about avoiding doing work that we don’t want to do… When I procrastinate I feel like I’m being lazy and a bit crap – that there’s something wrong with my attitude to work, that I’m being a bit of a dodger. I tend to beat myself up over it.
However, ‘The 5 Second Rule’ by Mel Robbins makes a really interesting point about procrastination. Robbins states that research shows that procrastination actually has NOTHING to do with our attitude towards work. Statistically, the people who tend to procrastinate the most are actually those who work really bloody hard – PhD students, engineers, teachers, entrepreneurs etc etc…
Research shows that instead, procrastination is actually the result of FEELING STRESSED… Stress about whether our work is effective or ‘good enough’, stress about money and finances, stress about our ability to support our family and sustain a business, stress about friends and family, stress about health, stress about relationships etc. The times we procrastinate the most are not when we have the most work going on… They are the times when we feel the most stress in our lives for whatever reasons.
Therefore, procrastination is not about avoiding doing the work per se, it’s actually a form of stress relief. It’s our brains looking at the work we have to do and saying, ‘Oh no, I’m already overwhelmed, I really can’t deal with this too.’ So we procrastinate and look at YouTube videos or go online shopping or water the plants or do something that temporarily lifts the heaviness from our minds and eases the feeling of stress. It’s our mind’s way of trying to give us a little break. The stress is the trigger and the procrastination is just a habit that you use to respond to the stress.
The problem is that it doesn’t work… Because of course, procrastinating just actually adds to the stress. Procrastination is not a solution, it’s just a HABIT. A habit that you mistakenly believe will relieve the stress, a bit like smoking a cigarette. Procrastination relieves the stress temporarily but a couple of hours later, you’re back to square one and actually it’s even worse because the stuff you’ve just avoided doing is now adding to the stress you already had.
1) Accept that you are procrastinating because you are stressed. At the risk of sounding cheesy, forgive yourself for this – we all get stressed, and it takes its toll on us. Procrastination is a very normal and very common way of dealing with stress, so stop beating yourself up about it.
2) Identify the source of the stress. What are you REALLY stressed about at the moment? What work really does need doing right now? Are there in fact things other than this work that are stressing you out? Note down what you can do, if anything, to help with any of these situations. What could you do that would help you to feel less stressed about not just your work but other sources of stress in your life?
3) Replace procrastination with another form of stress relief. The next time you feel stressed and want to procrastinate, remember that procrastination is a HABIT, a response to the stress trigger. Now when you get triggered by stress you’re going to replace it with a new habit. Instead you’re going to immediately spend FIVE MINUTES doing something that will help to ease the root cause of the stress – either starting some work that really needs doing (if a heavy workload is causing the stress), or doing something that will help if there’s a different root cause of the stress (e.g. phoning your bank, contacting a relationship counsellor, planning a healthy dinner etc). It might only be 5 minutes and you might not get it all done, but you’re starting to rewire your brain, making it deal with stress by ACTING rather than procrastinating…
Plus we all know that it’s far easier to carry on with something that’s already started than it is to start it in the first place. Just spending 5 minutes starting something will make it SO much easier to come back to it and carry on with it next time you feel stressed and want to procrastinate.
Does this resonate with you at all? Have you been procrastinating and focusing on your lack of productivity when actually you’re stressed out about other things?
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