A Coaching Power Tool Created by Nadejda Anguelova
(Transformational Coach, BULGARIA)
While we waste our time hesitating and postponing, life is slipping away. Seneca
When it comes to procrastination, we all have been down that road. Whenever we have a task to fulfill – no matter if it is at work or home, we choose whether to do it or not. Procrastination has an active nature – a person chooses something else instead of what they set as a task, which is usually important but unpleasant.
We all have delayed or avoided doing tasks, and we have ended up not doing important things. Procrastination can become a strong barrier to achieving the goals that we set for ourselves and ultimately to prevent us from achieving the meaningful things in life. Research shows that people tend to regret more what they have not managed to do, rather what they have done, and this regret stays with us much longer than regretting something that we did and failed.
The term procrastination comes from ancient Greek where “akrasia is the state of acting against your better judgment. It is when you do one thing even though you know you should do something else.”(Clear)
The science behind procrastination
We live in a world, which offers ample opportunities and distractors in every area of our lives. People become overwhelmed by the choice that they have and by the need to decide what is the best option for them. It can lead to demotivation, boredom, and incline to do whatever is easiest and closest, and ultimately to procrastination and delay of the things that really matter.
Another reason stated by researchers is that we all have 2 persons inside us – one lives here and now, in the present, while the other is in the future. When a person sets a goal, they set it for themselves self which is based on the future and they envision what their life should be in the future. Research shows that our brains see it easy and beneficial to set actions in the longer term. And while our self in the future is setting the tasks, the one in the present is taking action to achieve them – while our future self sees the long term benefits, the present self prefers instant gratification and consequences seem far away in the future, which leads to a constant dissonance between the two.
Procrastination can also be caused by different mind traps or underlying automatic commitments:
- need to be perfect – perfectionists will delay tasks if they feel they do not have the skills to do them
- fear of success – some people think that if they are successful, it will be required much more from them
- fear of failure
- fear of being judged
- boredom, etc.
While we procrastinate a task, we feel guilt and worry, that we are not doing it. If it continues over a long period of time without being addressed, procrastination can lead to different negative consequences for the person such as not achieved goals, which are not achieved, missed opportunities, frustration, personal dissatisfaction. It also affects negatively our relationships both at home and at work.
The biggest challenge is not to do the actual work but to take an action and start it.
Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Being willing is not enough, we must do. Leonardo Da Vinci
Action is defined as “an act that one consciously wills and that may be characterized by physical or mental activity”. Our whole life is made of many small actions and one small action can change your whole life in a completely new direction. It is rarely easy to take any action, but it is key to the achievement of our goals. Taking action creates momentum, where there is forward movement, accomplishments, and achievement of results.
There are several actions that we can take that will help us to stop procrastinating:
1. One of the key things is to set our personal vision of what is important for us and what we want to achieve. It will help us define our goals and create further self-awareness in terms of what drives and motivates us. Knowing our personal vision and aligning our tasks (yes, even the unpleasant ones) with it will help to keep us on track with what we want to achieve.
2. Reflect on our current habits and how they are serving us. To change any area of our life, we need to let go of some of our habits and build new ones. Questions that we can ask ourselves to reflect on habits:
- What are the benefits/consequences of this habit?
- How does it make me feel?
- How does it fit in my life right now?
- What new habits do I need to put in place?
3. Develop a system for productivity. There are different techniques and tools, that can be used to create a robust schedule that will help us manage our work and personal life, as:
- Eisenhower Matrix for identifying urgency and importance of tasks (see references)
- The Ivy Lee method (see references)
A first step to evoke action is to support clients to increase their self-awareness. When a person develops self-awareness, they begin also to change their perspective, thoughts, and aspirations. Several directions can be explored to create this awareness:
1. What is the goal of the client – Goals are what we want to achieve and focus our thinking. Supporting the client to clarify their goal and how it links to their personal vision and values will set the direction and will increase their motivation to achieve it.
2. What are the reasons for procrastinating – there can be a variety of reasons and clarifying them is key to define the next steps. Is the task boring or unpleasant or is the client has some underlying believes that support this behavior?
3. If there are limiting beliefs or mind traps involved, explore further to understand what triggers the client to procrastinate. If the client does not understand their fears, they are most likely to grow and complicate further the situation.
4. Explore the consequences of procrastinating, as questions that might be used here are:
- What is the impact on your work/personal life?
- What is the impact on the people around you?
- How does procrastinating affect you?
- What stops you from getting things done?
5. Creating structures to overcome procrastination. Structures are an important part of the action planning stage of the coaching process. They would support and remind the client about the goals and the vision, as well as the actions they need to undertake to fulfill them. In addition to the coaching process to create structures, below are listed several techniques, which can be used to deal with procrastination.
6. Bring future benefits and consequences into the present. One strategy is the so-called temptation bundling, which offers to bundle two behaviors together – one which is beneficial in the longer term and one which pleasures the present, e.g. we can do sports while we watch our favorite tv programs, doings chores while listening to music, go for a run while listening to our favorite podcasts. This concept is derived from behavioral economics research performed by Katy Milkman at The University of Pennsylvania.
– Create future actions – psychologists use a tool for overcoming procrastination, called a commitment device. These commitment devices support us to stop procrastination in a way that creates future actions in the present. Commitment devices can help to put restrictions on certain areas which we voluntarily impose on ourselves –pay for your language course so if you want to postpone it there will be costs now, keep small plates in the house if you want to avoid overeating, etc. Bringing the consequences in the present can push us to start performing a certain task and once we start it, it is much easier to continue working on it.
Baily, C. (2017), 5 Research-Based Strategies for Overcoming Procrastination
Clear, J., Procrastination: A Scientific Guide on How to Stop Procrastinating
Clear, J., The Ivy Lee Method: The Daily Routine Experts Recommend for Peak Productivity
Jaffe, E. (2013), Why Wait? The Science Behind Procrastination
Lombardo, E. (2017); 11 Ways to Overcome Procrastination