“Everyone procrastinates, but not everyone is a procrastinator,” says Joseph Ferrari, a psychology professor at DePaul University in Chicago and leading expert on subject of procrastination.
We all procrastinate from time to time. Putting off things we know we ‘should’ do but just can’t seem to get them done: annual tax, exercise, finishing those home renovations or cleaning out that one drawer that is overflowing with important, unimportant and downright bizarre ‘stuff’ — nevertheless procrastination rears its ugly head and seductively whispers in our ear, “You can do that later.” But when exactly is ‘later’? And if ‘later’ is always in the future does it ever arrive?
What is Procrastination?
The dictionary says procrastination is: the action of delaying or postponing something. With that definition, we are all procrastinators!
According to Joseph Ferrari there’s a big difference between delaying something and full-fledged procrastination. A true procrastinator involves “the purposive and frequent delay in beginning or completing a task to the point of experiencing subjective discomfort, such as anxiety or regret.”
Researchers have found that 1 out of 5 people are chronic procrastinators. Are you one of them?
5 Ways to Know if You’re a Chronic Procrastinator?
1. Do you procrastinate in multiple areas of your life — work, personal, financial, social?
2. Does your procrastination undermine your goals and producing shame or anxiety?
3. Do you often delay making decisions until it’s too late?
4. Are you continually telling yourself, “I’ll do it tomorrow”?
5. Has putting things off until the last minute had an undesirable consequence in the past year? (late for important appointments, paid extra because of a delayed decision, missed an opportunity because you procrastinated. Does your inability to make decisions or complete tasks often frustrate your loved ones? Do you have multiple items on your to-do list that never seem to get completed and therefore cause a lot of stress and negative consequences?
The ‘Magic’ Percentage of Procrastination
20% of men and women are chronic procrastinators. They do it at home, at work, in relationships, on the plane, on the train (thanks for the inspiration Dr Seuss)
This ‘magic’ 20% is all over the world. It’s not merely an Eastern or Western trait. There’s not a difference between cultures or countries. For some unknown reason researchers have discovered that it’s an average global percentage. Whether you’re in England, Japan, Germany or Australia — the percentage of chronic procrastinators commonly falls around 20%.
“This isn’t just putting off a task or two; it’s a lifestyle,” clarified Dr Ferrari.
Stephan Förster, a psychologist at the University of Münster in Germany backs up this statement, he adds, “When it’s really procrastination, it’s more like a psychological disease.”
Experts who treat chronic procrastinators consistently highlighted the devastating consequences of long-term and chronic procrastination. What initially appears as an innocent personality trait often results in life-altering consequences, from broken marriages, lost jobs, empty dreams, financial mess and self-esteem issues.
The #1 Myth About Procrastination
There’s a notorious myth that lurks insidiously in the mind of serial procrastinators and often their loved ones. Many people erroneously believe that procrastinators perform better under last-minute pressure.
But Dr. Ferrari, who has published more research articles on this subject than anyone else calls it out a big “myth”. Research backs this up. Don’t fall for this myth!
So, if you can’t use that excuse anymore, what can you do?
Dr Piers Steel, leading author and researcher in procrastination said, “The ironic thing is that procrastinators put off dealing with their procrastination.” Good point Dr Steel. That’s the ultimate ‘method’ for them to use.
What Can a Chronic Procrastinator Do?
The first thing written on a serial procrastinator’s list should be to GET HELP TODAY (not tomorrow)! It’s hard to overcome this condition on your own.
Yes, I’m talking to the 20 percenters that have this psychological condition.
If there’s something procrastinators should never procrastinate about it’s getting help with their ‘expert’ procrastinating. Get a therapist, get a coach that understands procrastination, get HELP with ending procrastination once and for all.
If you feel this condition is getting to you, then I urge you to reach out. Feel free to contact me personally via our website for a free coaching session — it could be to get your business going or to finally write that book you’ve been ‘thinking’ about for the last 10 years. The most critical thing to face it head-on. Be honest. Be courageous.
Just say, “Hey, I’m a chronic procrastinator and I can’t tackle this problem alone. I need help.” This may sound simplistic but it works. You need people to help dig you out.
For the other 80% of the population, procrastination still bites us in the butt now and then but it’s not a chronic problem. What can the majority of us do to tackle procrastination when it arises?
Use the 5 Minute Rule to End Procrastination Forever
Much of what we add to our growing to-do list is general ‘stuff’. But this general stuff builds on top of our important stuff and leads to overwhelm.
To avoid overwhelm — which just makes us more unproductive — here’s a strategy I personally use that takes me out of overwhelm instantly and thrusts me head-first into productivity:
Most people write lists. However, my list is a little different. It’s interactive, so I can keep my list dynamic and growing as things change or evolve. This saves me time in the long-run as I don’t have to re-write lists. Here’s what to do:
X1/ Whiteboard or blank wall. You can also use big sheets of A3 art-board paper.
X1/ Pad of Post-it-notes.
1. Draw one vertical line down the page or whiteboard. And one horizontal line across the page or whiteboard. So, you’re left with four equal quadrants as below. Write the headings as shown.
2. Take your Post-it-notes. They can be different colours, such as; blue for business, yellow for personal, green for bills to be paid. Get everything, and I mean everything out of your head and into one of the four categories. Categorise everything, from paying bills to booking flights or making calls to your clients. Is it urgent and important? Or important but not urgent?
The benefits of this method are instant. It enables you to get everything out of your head and avoid the demons of mental overwhelm. It also helps to see what to focus on first. You can also easily re-categorise tasks in mere seconds by moving your post-it-note. Completed tasks can be screwed up or shredded (this is rather satisfying I must admit). Adding to your list is simply a matter of writing it on a post-it-note and adding it to your board. Presto! You have a list already sorted.
What to Do Next?
1. Grab your first task from the urgent and important quadrant and put it on your desk.
2. Spend the next few minutes only focused on this task. This allows you to focus on one thing only and dedicate time to what is most urgent and important.
Tip: I often put my sticky-notes in order so I can plan out my day.
My publishing team and I use online versions together, such as Trello or Teamwork PM. These are great for our team to organise our tasks and set deadlines and plan our projects.
But when it comes to my personal planning method, when it’s just me and my whiteboard, some sticky-notes and a good ol’ pen — procrastination gets kicked to the curb and momentum builds in a matter of minutes. If you want to carry it with you, simply take a photo with your phone and it’s immediately portable.
This tiny but effective 5-minute method ends procrastination forever.
If you use it, by the end of the week you’re no longer overwhelmed. The small steps build momentum post-it-note by little post-it-note.
Why does five minutes work? Because doing something stops inertia and makes you feel like you’re making progress. Because you are! Bingo. Every human being needs to make progress in order to feel successful.
Give it a go and find out! Discover the power of momentum, of getting stuff done in minutes!
Momentum, no matter how small, is the kryptonite to procrastination!
Often, it’s not the tasks that are overwhelming, it’s the lack of action and momentum in getting a step closer to their completion.
Try the 5-minute challenge for 1 month. Then feel free to contact me direct and tell me your outcome. We will be writing an entire book on the Power of Momentum in the near future and we’d love to hear your success tips, stories and solutions. Let us know if implementing the simple 5-minute solution gave you momentum and ended the habit of delaying.