5 Ways to Overcome Internal Resistance and Fight Procrastination
Understanding Why We Procrastinate and How to Adapt Behaviors to be Proactive
Have you ever felt like there’s a cinder block sitting on your chest, preventing you from getting up and accomplishing what you need to? Or, maybe you meander throughout your house completing smaller tasks to avoid completing something you’ve been dreading. While it may not be practical to stop procrastinating altogether, there are ways to balance being productive until you’re ready to complete something to the best of your ability.
Procrastinating is Normal
There are many different reasons people procrastinate…sometimes it can even feel so severe that “task paralysis” or “analysis paralysis” occurs.
In these situations, overthinking a task or spending so much time hyperfixating on the obligation makes us freeze up and feel too overwhelmed to actually get it done. I remember feeling this way many years ago early, early in my career, when I needed to solve a large problem at work. I can distinctly remember sitting there and staring at the problem on paper time and again with my mind being completely blank. No matter how many times I tried to pick up the paper and attack the problem, I just couldn't manage to do anything at all with it. There were so many tentacles to the problem that were interrelated that my mind was completely overwhelmed and it felt like it just would stop functioning each time I tried.
Fortunately I had a good mentor at the time who suggested that I focus all of my attention on just one small aspect of the problem first. Then when I solved as much as I could on that aspect, to move on to another aspect, all while keeping the information categorized so that it could easily be referred back to later in a bigger picture way. It worked! And I can't tell you how many times I've used that advise over the years for all kinds of challenges—both in the office and in my personal life.
This is just one example of how stepping back and viewing something a little differently, whether it is a problem to solve or something you dread doing, can help you move forward. Yet there are actually a multitude of reasons for procrastination and we all have experienced this at one time or another.
Sometimes, we might want to procrastinate truly because we'd rather watch one more episode of something or don't want to get off the couch, etc. Who hasn't felt this way from time to time? But the desire to procrastinate and the inability to complete a task can have many underlying causes and uncovering the root issue can help you get moving on whatever it is you want to accomplish.
Procrastination has a negative connotation that can often be interpreted as laziness or under-performing in a role. However, the urge to procrastinate can actually be a signal to reflect and find out what is causing you to avoid something. if you pay attention and recognize this is happening, then spend the time to question why, you can plan to take steps to overcome it.
Overwhelming procrastination can be a sign of:
Increased anxiety- caused not by the task, but external factors such as fear of failure, imposter syndrome, insecurity, a toxic environment and more.
Debilitating depression- depression can have myriad physical and mental symptoms such as severe fatigue, a lack of mental energy to complete something and an inability to see the value or significance in tasks through the fog of depression.
Unchallenging conditions- if you find yourself frequently procrastinating while still achieving deadlines and performing well in your job, you could just be over-qualified or understimulated by the difficulty level of your work.
Lack of energy- maybe you truly feel too depleted to complete some tasks due to how busy you are. Or maybe you lack of work/life balance or an inability to get proper nutrition, exercise and sleep.
After diagnosing your procrastination tendencies, you can begin to brainstorm solutions: if you have a lack of energy because of your diet or activity level, you know you need to be more intentional about prioritizing your physical health. If you aren’t challenged in your job, try finding ways to go above and beyond in contributing to your work in a way that does challenge you, or, consider seeking a new job.
Reconciling Your Procrastinating Habits
Before you can begin to overcome procrastination or find methods to work around it, you’ll have to work to solve it at the root. And, before you can do that, you have to reflect on what is causing it in the first place.
Habits take at least 30 days to make or break. If you have habits that contribute to your procrastination—or if procrastinating is a habit for you—you must first identify them.
Do you have multiple alarms set so that you can snooze through your original wake-up time?
Do you continue to scroll on your phone even after you’re done drinking your coffee in the morning, when your intention was to only be on it while drinking?
Do you set your laundry on top of the dryer so that you can dry the next load without folding the previous one?
Or, maybe at work you complete another task you’ve been putting off to avoid responding to an email or completing something else on your plate. I've noticed that I often allow my focus to be drawn back to email because it is easy and it makes me feel like I'm accomplishing something, when truly I should keep my attention focused on the task I set out out to do, even if it is not one I enjoy.
Once you recognize these behavioral ways that enable procrastination, you can begin to find solutions to break these habits. For a more detailed discussion on how to break habits, check out this blog.
The thing is, you need to take some time to really think about why you do these things. Do you set multiple alarms because you’re prioritizing other things over getting enough sleep? Do you sit on your phone long after you meant to because you’re dreading going to a job that doesn’t fulfill you? Honestly, putting off laundry is just one of those many of us do, so maybe with that you just try to do better at folding it as soon as it’s done drying.
Regardless of what it is, reflecting to find out why you procrastinate can help you change your behavior and live a life with more ease and productivity.
Methods to Overcome Procrastination & Unproductivity
While you might not be able to completely eradicate procrastinating, you can set a goal to minimize it and maximize what you get done in the process.
1. Give yourself options
Time spent with my soon to be two-year-old grandson recently reminded me of how useful this is. I was remembered that one way to avoid a battle of wills when attempting to overcome his reluctance to do something (like picking up toys to get ready for bed) would be to give him two options; such as, do you want to roll the balls into their basket first or toss the legos into their basket? This way, cleaning up is not an option, but rather a focus on choice A or B. The reluctance to the main task has been dissolved as a focus by shifting attention to the choice of which option to take.
So, for an adult, this might look like, “do I want to set myself up to begin this project in my office by making myself a pot of tea, adding a couple of drops to essential oil into the diffuser and turning on some music for focus?” Or, “do I want to head to the local coffee shop with the intention of only working on this product when I arrive?” This way, you can still shift your attention to beginning and fight task paralysis by focusing first on something simple you can do to get you moving with the understanding that you will be continuing on to the one thing you don’t want to do. By beginning with a productive momentum, you can easily shift from your first choice to the other task.
2. Create a checklist
When procrastinating because of how intricate a task is, feelings of unpreparedness or not knowing what you need to do or because it seems so large and overwhelming, break it up into parts in a checklist. This actually takes the method I described above from the project at work years ago one step further, by allowing you to visualize all the aspects of a project or task, helping to keep things organized in your mind. In addition you have the visual satisfaction and record as you get closer to completing it, and you are putting yourself in a productive mindset directly related to the task before you start truly working on it.
3. Set timers
The pomodoro method is a study method in which you study for 45 minutes and then take a 15-minute break. You can adapt this as needed for your own preference, but I have found that designating a certain time and amount of time for work really helpful. I've also found it helpful to set reminders for tasks that I need to check on/complete each day so that easily forgettable things do not slip my attention. I’ve also seen people make an intention to exclusively get work done after lighting roman candles that burn for a specific amount of time and get work done as the candle burns. The candle also serves as a visual reminder that you’re working and how long you’ve been working for based on how much of it has melted.
4. Adjust your environment
Just as I recommend you curate a space for journaling or meditating, your environment can also contribute to reluctance to get work done. Maybe if you’re surrounded by too much bright lighting, stimuli or not enough stimuli, consider making changes to transform your space into a place you want to work. Sometimes, I switch it up by working outside, at a coffee shop or adjusting the lighting and decor of where I’m working.
5. Use a reward system
Whether it be a short walk for a little break, a favorite drink from a coffee shop or a night of relaxation, set a reward for yourself in advance that you will only indulge after the task is complete. Not only is this an additional motivator, but it also allows you to luxuriate in the satisfaction of a job well-done.
If you often struggle with keeping track of tasks or want to work from the root to solve procrastination habits, the JMB Living Journal doubles as a planner and a journal with daily prompts and wellness features like a monthly habit tracker to help foster a mindset shift to positivity while making it as easy as possible to become your best self one day at a time.