An afternoon binge-watching with a cup of something caffeinated is a better proposition than practically anything on any day of the week. Am I right?! It’s a fairly simple answer to that age-old question “why, oh why am I procrastinating, for the love of Netflix?!
We’re all guilty of it, more frequently than we’ll readily admit to.
Procrastination isn’t just the slapdash approach of submitting a work project at the last minute. It can also cause you to delay important life decisions such as asking for that pay rise they promised you last year, or joining a gym, moving house, starting a business – it’s endless.
Harmless Fun or Long-Term Enemy?
When you don’t learn how to stop putting things off, you risk letting procrastination impact the rest of your life negatively, spoiling relationships, careers, and personal health.
And getting older can instil a stubbornness in us, making it a lot easier to justify delaying tasks whilst feeling completely at ease with our decision to do so.
To put it bluntly, once we hit 50 our attitude towards life has often changed, so we’re more inclined to do what the heck we want.
But here’s the headline: we don’t have as much time left at fifty as we had in our twenties.
I know! It’s a shocker, right?!
The Lies We Tell Ourselves...
The rationale often used when procrastinating is that there’s always tomorrow, so why not avoid the effort, stress and anxiety and just put it off until later? This is the first hurdle to overcome.
Try to determine the stress factor is behind your procrastination. Is it fear of failure, fear of confrontation, fear of not being perfect? Or, as with many of us, is it all three?
Stop right there... You procrastinating self-Critic, you!
You will judge your perceived flaws and imperfections ridiculously harshly, but don’t worry: we all do it. And yet studies show that when you forgive yourself for putting things off or perhaps not getting things done as perfectly as you would’ve liked, you can fend off procrastination.
And more importantly, you’ll have realistic goals rather than beating yourself up.
4 key tips to help you avoid procrastination, once and for all.
1. Put those dreaded tasks on autopilot
We each have enough willpower to get about 3 or 4 tasks done each day. Habits use other parts of the brain rather than the prefrontal cortex associated with rational thinking.
So, when you train yourself to do something out of habit, i.e. put it on autopilot, rather than look at it as a mundane task, you won’t give it as much thought. This means you’ll be using less willpower and therefore less likely to fall into the procrastination rut.
Tasks such as brushing your teeth or making your bed have all become daily habits which you automatically perform without even considering putting them off.
Why not put some work in and turn healthy eating, daily exercise, or submitting reports ahead of time into daily habits too?
Life will be easier, but you still have to keep yourself motivated and inspired. To overcome procrastination, learn to take that dreaded first step.
Easing into it knowing that after a certain amount of time, you’ll have a small treat will give you the push to get it done. For example, “once I’ve finished X, I’ll watch videos on YouTube or grab a cup of coffee”.
Build some pleasure into your daily regime because reward is what the brain will use to gauge your enjoyment level. If you’re happy, then the brain slowly turns this task into a habit which you look forward to, instead of something you dread.
One of the many benefits of being over 50 is that we’ve experienced overwhelm. We know exactly what it looks and feels like. We’ve also seen others conquer their own mountains of overwhelm so we know it’s possible. And it is entirely possible.
2. Small is way more beautiful!
Instead of cleaning out the entire spare room, do the right side first, take a break, then do the left side, take a break, then finish the rest.
Huge cumbersome tasks seem daunting when you look at them as a whole. The answer is to break them down into smaller manageable tasks.
Make an outline of the entire project and then divide it into smaller bite-size pieces.
Working in 30-minute increments creates smaller tasks that are manageable and not as intimidating. After 30 minutes, take a break and assess your work. Seeing how much you’ve accomplished will give you a welcome boost to help see you through to the end.
3. Create a distraction-free zone
Checking your email every 2 minutes isn’t helping you. Nor is it necessary!
So, once you’ve committed to doing the job, limit distractions by putting them out of reach. Maybe not literally; there are apps that help you stay on track, but some will argue that’s missing the point.
The important thing is that you set up a certain time for checking emails or social media, and once you’ve started your task, you avoid the urge to take a sneak peek.
That guy Will Power needs to become your best friend! Seriously though, self-control is what you need and the more you practice it the more it will work for you.
Another disastrous distraction is multi-tasking. Even though it may seem that you’re being productive, the truth is it’s a complete waste of time and energy. You rush around spinning loads of plates, doing nothing meaningful with them.
The brain needs about 20 minutes to focus on a task and give it 100%, so when you bring in another task you your focus halves, bring in a third task and that focus drops even lower.
So even though you’re working more frantically, your end results will always be well below average.
4. When are you at your best?
We all have certain times during the day when we’re most alert, productive and creative. Some of us are morning people, others are night owls, and some will have more energy during the afternoon.
Chances are that once you’ve reached the age of 50 plus you’ll know when you’re at your best. If you don’t however, give some thought to when is your ‘prime time’ and tackle your more complex work then. When your brain is working at its best, you’ll accomplish more and feel deservedly satisfied.
Procrastination is not being lazy
When you procrastinate, you delay doing something in favour of something that’s more fun to do.
But I tell you what’s even more fun: killing off a negative habit that has been holding you back for years.
Go forth and slay that loathsome beast!
Be bold and be brave.
Fill the bulk of your day with what will carry your forward, not hold you back.