Procrastination is not the same as laziness

I have something different to the usual money-oriented content for you today. Having been at home  for so long now, I felt some of my bad habits try to creep back in and had to actively fight them. One of the habits was procrastination.

Simply speaking, procrastination is not equal to laziness. There is a specific difference – when we procrastinate, we feel guilty about putting something off. Laziness does not carry the guilt, it’s just a breezy ‘meh, it’s not important enough to do it’ moment and it is of no emotional consequence. We all have been procrastinating about something or another, and we’ve all been lazy over a thing or two. But while laziness is a jolly state of not doing things, procrastination is the one which I want to tackle… mainly because I don’t like to make myself feel guilty over things that are not worth the guilt.

Hopefully this article helps you too see it in a clear light and if desired, overcome the habit.

Where does procrastination come from?

This strange behaviour can have many sources. One appears to be our childhood – it seems a level of procrastination is something we were conditioned to by our parents, grandparents and teachers, in particular the strict perfectionist ones. If you recall the story of wanting to do something really really well, giving it a try and then being disappointed when your work was judged, deemed not as good as you wanted it to be and then corrected, you might have found the start of it. The second source might sound entirely ridiculous – the fear of success. This one is particularly common amongst people who have no desire being the centre of attention. And the third one? Simple impatience and lack of desire for following a long term plan. The easy example is a student cleaning up her dorm before she sits down to writing an assignment – cleaning EVERYTHING before she touches it. This isn’t because the student is particularly interested in having a clean dorm, it’s because the effects of such a clean are immediately visible and act as a visually validated excuse to postpone the more challenging work.

The self-diagnosis

If you are unsure whether you are falling into the trap of procrastination, take a look at the list of statements below. If more than half apply to you, you might be struggling with a habit of procrastination.

  • I would rather let other people take a task up, they’ll probably do it better anyway
  • I’d rather focus on short, easy to accomplish tasks first before tackling larger projects
  • Prioritisation of tasks is not my forte
  • Dividing a task up into doable chunks is hard for me
  • I often end the day feeling like I haven’t accomplished much or just passed the time away unproductively
  • I often don’t know where to start
  • I feel like now is not a good time to be starting a task because I might have more important things to do. But as a result I end up doing non-productive things like scrolling through social media or news sites
  • Saying no if somebody asks me to help is hard, even if I already have my plate full
  • I have a fear of failure and think somebody else will do better
  • I’d rather get things started tomorrow/another time than now

The reason why I refer to procrastination as a trap is that procrastinating is a really bad, semi-unconscious habit which can result in a long term damage to your quality of life. The fact is, if you keep pushing things out into the future AND you feel guilty about doing so it is a double loss. Not only you are in a perpetual state of guilt, you also end up with an ever-bigger list of looming tasks, difficult deadlines and …stress. We already know that stress is one of the worst prolonged things which can happen to us, impacting our mood, health and our loved ones.

Banishing the habit

The positive here is that procrastination is a habit, and habits can be changeg. Getting a psychotherapist for us all would be lovely, but it’s not exactly practical for most. To be practical, here are some things which can help.

  • Take down -on paper- the tasks you are procrastinating over. Don’t fret if the list is long, the goal here is to get them out of your head somewhere else, so that you can focus on them one at a time. If there are any big tasks on your list, break them up into chunks. Here is an example:
    • I need to change my electricity supplier. Step 1: do an online search for electricity tariffs costs. Step 2: find the cheapest one. Step 3: fill in a form to make the switch happen. There – suddenly an unpleasant task is divided up into bitesize pieces which you can do in order.
  • Only focus on ONE thing at a time. Yes, I know it’s tempting to do your groceries shopping online while you are reading a book while you are on a work call, while you are also typing a message. But it’s not great – us humans are only moderately good at multitasking, and only the physical kind. When it comes to things which require thinking, we’re more of task switchers. So stop switching, and give that one task at hand your attention.
  • Take breaks. WHAT??? No, I mean it. Take breaks between tasks. You cleaned the whole kitchen? Great, take a moment and enjoy the effects of your work. You wrote a chapter of that novel? Super, have a well deserved cup of coffee. You rearranged your whole retirement portfolio? Fantastic, refresh your mind with a few minutes of looking out of the window and thinking of nothing in particular.
  • Finally, make a habit of doing the small things right away. This is probably nothing new, but if it takes less than 2 minutes to complete, don’t even bother putting it on your list, just get it done right away instead.

To wrap up, remember that you can break a habit. It doesn’t have to be painful, it doesn’t have to be challenging. And it definitely can be done.

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