Procrastination

Ironically I have been putting off writing this assignment for a few days. It started as a joke to say to my husband “I probably have to start working on my procrastination assignment. I have been putting it off long enough” but before I knew it, three days had gone by and I still only had a few paragraphs written down. It is actually quite unlike me to procrastinate. 

When I was in high school, my Dad instilled the habit of just getting on with things in me by repeatedly saying “Just do it now. What’s done, is done”.  When I received homework, I did it the same day even if it only had to be handed in the next week.  My Dad explained, and I soon saw the logic, that if I do my homework on the day I get it whatever the teacher had said in class would still be fresh in my mind, and more importantly, I don’t know what other homework I would be getting in future. What if I am assigned a complicated, time-consuming piece of homework? I would then kick myself for not doing my homework when I had time.  According to Timothy Pychyl, you are not a procrastinator; you are in the habit of procrastinating. Dad’s good advice had prevented me from getting into the habit of procrastinating.

Neenan and Dryden identify three causes of procrastination: anxiety, low frustration tolerance (“LFT”), and rebellion.

  • Anxiety – when we perceive there to be a threat to our self-esteem as soon as we engage in the task, we will rather put off taking action. For example, not applying for a job because the fear that you might perform poorly in the interview is causing anxiety.
  • Low frustration tolerance – the inability to endure boredom, frustration, hard work or uncomfortable feelings. The core of LFT is the unwillingness to experience present pain for future gain. An example of this would be to delay starting an exercise regime or not going on a diet.
  • Rebellion – using inaction as a way of expressing anger towards someone for telling you how to behave or what to do. For example, deliberately missing a deadline set for you by your boss.

To write this assignment, I didn’t have anxiety, LFT or a rebellious streak. What I often do is to let something “sit” with me for a few days especially when it is something that requires a bit of creativity like writing or creating a featured image for a blog post. The danger is that I can sit with the idea for too long. Luckily Dad’s “what’s done, is done” motto then chimes in my head and I tell myself that I’ve had enough time to play around with the idea in my head; it’s time to buckle down and put pen to paper. Once I start writing, the ideas always flow.

What drives me further to get started, and complete, a task is the nagging thought that it still needs to be done. The task seems to loom bigger and bigger the longer I wait to get started and continues to be at the front of mind until I have completed it. This is called the Zeigarnik Effect.  It postulates that unfinished or interrupted tasks create a task-specific tension, and the unfinished task will continue to occupy the mind until it is completed. Therefore as long as I can force myself to make a start, my brain’s desire to finish will take over.

I am most effective in the mornings and I use this to my advantage. If I have unpleasant tasks to do, I try to get it out of the way first thing in the morning.  I leave the more enjoyable things as a reward for having completed the unpleasant task. Even if I only get around to my reward-task in the afternoon, it doesn’t matter because doing something pleasurable energises me.  (It has to be noted that some experts advise you to start with the pleasurable part of the task you have been putting off, as the release of dopamine will encourage you to continue and complete the job.)  If I am tempted to procrastinate on something I don’t find particularly interesting, I use rosemary and citrus essential oils in an aromatherapy diffuser to help me stay focussed and give me a boost of energy. 

People generally delay in three major areas of life:

  • self-development (realising goals e.g. career progression, finding a life partner);
  • personal maintenance (tasks that will make life easier e.g. paying bills on time, car repairs etc.); and
  • honouring commitments to others (keeping promises).

I generally don’t procrastinate in personal maintenance or honouring commitments, but I have delayed taking action in the self-development area, specifically a situation at work that I was avoiding. The problem had been building up since Summer 2018. Instead of speaking up and dealing with it, I rationalised keeping quiet, by saying “let sleeping dogs lie”. I didn’t want to cause trouble by complaining about my colleague, but the situation eventually got so bad it was affecting my mental health even outside of work.

After more than a year of putting up with her behaviour, I finally spoke to Human Resources (HR). It was anxiety caused by the fear of confrontation that led me to procrastinate (see 3rd paragraph above).  Immediately after finally taking action – even though at that point nothing had yet changed; I had only spoken to HR – I felt an incredible sense of relief.

Once I stopped procrastinating and raised my concerns, I could see how foolish I had been for putting up with her behaviour for so long. If I had only spoken up earlier, I would have received confirmation that her behaviour was indeed unacceptable and that I had unnecessarily kept myself in that unhealthy environment for much too long. I suddenly also understood the importance of asking for help, assertiveness and stress management. I didn’t want to find myself in a similar situation again, and I also wondered how many other secretaries suffer in silence like I had.  A few days after my meeting with HR, I enrolled in this coaching course. Ending procrastination was the catalyst for commencing my journey towards becoming a coach and helping others not make the same mistakes I had.

*This blog post is based on the assignment I completed for Module 12 of my Integrated Resilience & Wellness Coaching studies. Citations were included in the submitted assignment.*