It’s a natural human instinct to avoid pain and discomfort of any sort … mental, emotional, spiritual or physical. As a result, we put off doing things we don’t enjoy, rather than get on with them.
Procrastination is a tendency most of us are familiar with, and one which makes us feel uncomfortable. That’s because things end up getting done badly, in a last minute rush, or not at all, or we end up filling our days with small, boring activities rather than things we enjoy or that really move us forward.
By procrastinating we can even store up bigger problems for the future – like putting off visiting our GP, or not taking proper care of our finances.
For some people procrastination actually becomes the default setting, so they choose delay over action every time. This can easily become a life-limiting habit that means they can never get close to achieving their full potential.
This of course is the downside of procrastination. But there’s an upside too. If you think of procrastination as an early warning indicator of something not being quite right in your life, then that sense of misalignment, that urge to do something else, can be a positive tool for personal development.
So here’s what procrastination could be telling you.
1. You are not ready to take certain decisions
If you constantly delay addressing issues in a part of your life – health, money or career for instance – it may be a sign that you are not ready or that you’re afraid of taking important decisions, hoping than somehow by ignoring or postponing them they will go away. However, procrastination is often also a sign that you are over-thinking what needs to be done and are suffering from ‘analysis paralysis’, unable to make a decision because you can no longer see the wood for the trees. Or conversely it could imply you haven’t gathered enough information to make a properly informed decision about the best course of action.
2. You feel unskilled or unprepared to deal with certain tasks
‘Procrastination clusters’ can reveal that you lack a particular skill, or don’t yet have the ability or resources to deal with a particular circumstance or situation effectively. Lacking confidence, you just dodge doing anything about it because you worry you may not do it well.
3. You’re under time pressure
Doing something you would rather not do, tends to take longer than it should, so you end up prioritising other, quicker tasks instead. In reality, once you make a start, tasks are generally easier and take less time than you expected.
4. You’re not being realistic
Of course, procrastination may be an indicator that you shouldn’t be doing something at all. If you really feel emotional and mental pain at the thought of doing something, rather than beating yourself up, it may actually be time to ask yourself whether you’re the right person to do it.
5. You’re not sure it’s the right thing to do
If you are being pushed by others or circumstances into taking action or making a decision, procrastination could be your inner voice warning that you’re heading the wrong way.
While procrastination can shine a light on your inner thoughts and mental processes, to overcome it you need to build your decision-making muscles. Start by making more small, faster decisions in every aspect of your daily life, until you feel more confident in your ability to take action.
Practise saying ‘no’ when you’re asked to do things you don’t want to do, and force yourself to delegate tasks to those better equipped to deal with them when you have the option.
Over time, you’ll find it easier to make more significant decisions and to take action faster, and you’ll be on your way, if not to eradicating procrastination from your life, to keeping it in check.
Maite Barón is the multi-award winning author of Corporate Escape: the Rise of the New Entrepreneur. Passionate about courageous leadership, wellbeing and lifestyle, she is also co-founder of The Corporate Escape™, which specialises in helping professionals escape the rat race, rekindle their passion for life and reinvent themselves as new entrepreneurs and business owners. She’s an international speaker and a regular contributor to the influential Huffington Post, Global Banking and Finance Review (GBFR) and Entrepreneur.