How long is your ‘To Do’ list? More importantly, how long do the items on your ‘To Do’ list remain incomplete? That’s a pretty tough question to answer honestly. Our lists are only as useful as our ability to use them as an effective tool. When we continue to add items to our list, rewrite them, categorize and recategorize them, but never accomplish our goals, it’s a problem. As our list grows, stress and pressure tend to show up and take over; often unannounced and uninvited. And that’s never a good thing. As the tension mounts, we can become master procrastinators who have a very large chest of creative time wasters to avoid facing the stress.
If we dissect the actual word procrastinate, ‘pro’ means forward, and ‘crastinate’ means tomorrow. It literally means favoring tomorrow as a better time for doing something. When procrastinating getting to important responsibilities and tasks, we often fill our time with doing busy work. An endless array of seemingly ‘urgent’ things need to ‘get done’ before we get to the work at hand. Have you ever justified that something must be urgently done before beginning your ‘real’ work? Things like cleaning a filing cabinet, desk drawers, running an important errand, going through email, or if you work from home, the endless call of housework can all produce the illusion of productivity. We are deluded into thinking we are getting so much done because we are busy. We try to convince ourselves that mindless activities and being busy equate to being industrious. But, who are we kidding? We can be very busy checking social media, but it is by no means productive. So what keeps us ‘busy’ and procrastinating, instead of being truly productive? There are some very strong underlying issues behind putting things off, and it’s important to identify and understand them in order to move beyond them. In working with women who face procrastination issues, I’ve identified four recurring themes: fear, indecision, boundary issues and feeling overwhelmed. Let’s explore.
Fear is the most aggressive promoter of procrastination. When a sizeable or high-profile project, presentation or campaign lies ahead, it can be daunting. Fear creeps in our heads in the form of ‘what if’s’. What if I don’t know how to do a certain part of the project and get stuck? Some women fear that asking for help may be a sign of weakness, and poorly reflect on her leadership skills. Fear also rears its ugly head when we can’t completely envision the finished product. When the end game is out of focus, sometimes we fear we will miss something important, or make a lot of mistakes getting to the finish line. The ultimate ‘what if’ fear is, ‘what if the job I do isn’t good enough?’ This is a fear of being ‘found out’ that we are really a fraud, or not quite the talented individual others believed us to be.
Together, these fears grip our psyche and can crush our spirit. If we allow fear to overtake our thinking, the daunting feeling can paralyze us into oppressive procrastination. The only thing that seems to shake people into action is a looming deadline or a worse fear of being perceived as incompetent. However, these are negative motivators, and while they may force action, they also cause enormous stress. Over time, that type of repetitive cycle can be harmful to our health, careers, and mental well-being.
Indecision often goes hand in hand with fear as an underlying reason for procrastination. Every facet of our lives requires so many decisions, often on a daily basis, like ‘what am I going to make for dinner?’ Financial choices; spouse, family and children issues; health care; how we will spend our free time; and of course work and career decisions continually present themselves. If the decision has potential life-changing implications, it can be a complex process to think through. For example, if deciding between a career change, going back to school, or starting your own business; the decision factors and possible outcomes are almost innumerable. You could almost ‘what if’ yourself to death under the weight of the decision. The ultimate ‘what if’ many people fear is ‘what if I make the wrong choice, and the outcome is less than perfect. Then what?’ Some people think the wrong choice is almost worse than not making any change at all. When the pain of our current only slightly uncomfortable, we can become complacent and rather than taking a risk, we remain indecisive. The problem with indecision is that it can be a perpetual or very long term form of procrastination, and typically results in a fairly mediocre existence. When you are inactive or stuck in an indecisive mode, you remain stagnant due to a lack of opportunities to grow.
Boundary issues can also really compound procrastination. When we allow others to impose tasks upon us, or we feel obligated to help (when it’s not our job, or because we are a people pleaser), or we have trouble saying ‘no’; our to-do list can grow much bigger than our capacity. Taking on others’ work is different from pushing ourselves to accomplish our own goals in that an outside force is now creating additional pressure. Our own pressure, we can control to some degree. However; when we take on the responsibility of others because of our own doormat-like behavior, the stress of it decreases both our capacity and our self-dignity. Instead of holding our own, and owning our outcomes, not maintaining boundaries makes us beholding to others. Being beholding is different than reporting to or answering to your manager, which is a relationship of give and take. No, in a boundary-less situation where we are beholding to another, we give and give, but receive no benefit in return. On the contrary, we receive only negatives; no affirmation, no formalized recognition, a decreased sense of self-worth, and less time for the things we need to accomplish. This cycle lends itself perfectly to procrastinating doing the things on our own to do list or desk.
Lastly, the problem of feeling overwhelmed triggers one of two responses. People either leap into action when their plate is full or feel paralyzed because they don’t know where to begin. You’ve probably sat on each side of this table at one point or another. People with organization or motivation issues frequently struggle with feelings of being overwhelmed. The messages in their mind say “I don’t know where to begin,” or “I’m so far behind, I’ll never catch up. Why bother?” This type of procrastination is one of the most difficult to overcome because it breeds anxiety. The cycle can then become vicious; feeling overwhelmed – anxiety – depression – inaction and procrastination.
And to bring it full circle, when we procrastinate, we engage in time wasting activities that make us feel productive or busy, but which ultimately do not help us achieve our goals. Granted many procrastination activities are not bad in and of themselves; it’s just that when they consistently take over as a top priority, it becomes a time waster and a problem.
In this issue of the newsletter, Kay’s Corner offers some actionable steps to assist in combating procrastination. I have worked with many women on this issue. If you feel you need to dig deeper on this issue, I’d be happy to work through it with you as well. Please give me a call at 513-561-4288 or connect with me via email at Kay@highheeledsuccess.com so we can make a plan to move from procrastination to productivity together!