Why you’ll never do it later and how to get it done it now
Procrastination is defined as “the action of delaying or postponing something”.
This could be a deadline at work, doing the big food shop or just going to bed on time. We all have something in our lives we regularly put off.
People often blame procrastination and our struggle to stay on task in the digital age. But did you know people have procrastinated since the dawn of time? Cicero the philosopher said, “Slowness and procrastination are detestable in the conduct of most affairs”.
So procrastination is as old as the hills. It’s also not good for our mental health. In 1997, Dianne Tice and Roy Baumeister studied the correlation between students academic performance and their general health. Students who procrastinated had lower grades and higher stress levels than other students. In 2007 psychologist Piers Steele’s review showed procrastinators performed worse in academia. They were also unhappy and put off important economic decisions.
So if procrastinating is bad for us and an ancient phenomenon, why haven’t we cracked it?
One answer lies in how procrastination effects us. Procrastinators struggle with self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is “a person’s belief that they can be successful when carrying out a particular task”. When we doubt our ability to do things successfully, our self-esteem suffers. When you doubt your ability to deliver your product successfully, you put off making your website. If you’re uncertain about how to approach a new client, you delay sending that cold e-mail.
When we doubt our self-efficacy we become afraid to step outside of our comfort zone and we stop taking action. We procrastinate.
If you’re an entrepreneur, you will need to step outside your comfort zone. From the moment you start your entrepreneurial journey you will face challenging tasks every day that you won’t be able to procrastinate about. For the good of your business, you’ll need to get it done.
The good news is when we recognise why we procrastinate we can treat it differently. We can recognise that procrastinating is a signal that we are afraid to leave our comfort zone.
If we can manage our fear of leaving our comfort zone, we can stop procrastinating and start getting stuff done.
With this in mind, I’ll leave you with a practical tool to manage your fear of stepping out of your comfort zone.
Exercise: Throw The Ball Out
Stepping out of your comfort zone can be like getting into a swimming pool on a hot day. You know it will be great when you do it but you don’t want to experience the shock of the cold water. This exercise is about becoming the person in the pool who have braved the water and is enjoying the benefits.
You will need:
• A piece of paper to make into a ball
• A Pen
• Something to journal in or write on.
How it works
• Screw up a piece of paper into a ball.
• Stand on one side of the room and think about something you would like to get done. This could be a project, an idea for a business or a lingering decision.
• Throw the ball across the room.
• Now walk across to the ball.
• Standing where the paper ball has landed transports you. You become “Future You”. “Future You” has successfully moved through the challenge “Present You” is facing.
• Take a moment to stand in this space. What would “Future You,” say to “Present You” about their current situation? What could one thing do or change to gain momentum? Take time to journal any inspiration that comes to you.
• Do not censor what comes to you, write down anything: single words or colours or memories.
Why it works
Physically moving to find new ideas and inspiration engages our embodied cognition. Embodied cognition is the phenomenon of our body “learning” from movement. This goes beyond our normal conscious processing. Research shows movement helps us tap into more ideas and inspiration. A study at Singapore Management University asked participants to debate a topic using the phrase “on the one hand… on the other”. The students who moved their hands to emphasise their points came up with more ideas than the students who had to remain still.
In Throw The Ball Out, physically moving forward helps us to mentally step out of our comfort zone. This helps us to contextualise the fear that’s holding us back. Once we’ve identified that fear it’s much easier to move past it and to stop procrastinating.