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Why do we procrastinate?

The tendency to procrastinate is a problem for many people. The solution to overcome procrastination can be simple and with practice, the method can become second nature.
Julia Kerr Henkel

People often procrastinate when a task is associated with a negative emotion – a fear of failure, anxiety, boredom or even physical exhaustion. Rather than tackle the task at hand, people tend to look for distractions as a temporary escape. Unfortunately, incomplete tasks or missed deadlines may cause a procrastinator to feel guilt or shame about a situation, or themselves.

Focus on the positive

When procrastinating people tend to focus on the task they are avoiding – they imagine themselves doing the task which leads to a negative mental image and emotion and since emotions drive behaviour, the risk of avoidance is heightened. Instead of focusing on the task itself, focus on the result – the feeling of pleasure and achievement that comes with completing a task. Notice your motivation shift. With enough practice, this change in focus can become automatic and unconscious in a short space of time. You can even get creative and have some fun imagining what you will experience when your task is completed – say a motivational sentence out loud, add physical sensations, visual and sound effects in your mind’s eye – notice how your willingness to take action shifts.

Each morning, spend some time thinking about the top five things you need to do that day that you are not looking forward to. Go through each task one at a time and focus specifically on the feeling you will experience having completed each task. Repeat the process a few times. Very quickly, your brain will learn to automatically give you pictures and feelings of the achieved result, rather than focusing on the perceived negative association of doing the task. These pictures will prime you for the pleasure of the end result and are more likely to cause you to act.

5 tips to deal with procrastination in the home office
    1. Structure

    The home environment lacks the structure of a work environment where there are timed breaks and clear start and finish times. Creating a schedule tailored to the work you want to get done with clear and realistic goals that you can expect to achieve within a given time frame can add that missing structure.


    2. A clear brief

    If you find yourself struggling to start or finish a work task, it may be because you’re unsure about what needs to be done to complete your work. When you are working at home, it can be harder to get quick answers. People tend to procrastinate on tasks that are unclear or confusing and when they are not sure about what they are supposed to do. Since we’re better at giving help than asking for help this may be difficult to do however, taking 5 minutes to ask for clarity upfront can speed up your delivery and ensure tasks are met first time around.

    3. Limit distractions

    Working at home means having to deal with potential distractions that can take you off task. Setting yourself up to work in a quiet space that is likely to have little background noise from family members, flatmates or neighbours is a good first step. Even the best laid plans to set aside time can fall apart when unexpected interruptions appear. One effective approach for closing the gap between intentions and actions is first thinking about the possible interruptions you might encounter, and then enrolling others to support you and rehearsing how you will respond.

    4. Schedule 20 min concentrated task bursts

    This is one of the best techniques for people who struggle with procrastination. Science has discovered that your brain naturally goes through cycles with peaks and valleys. To maximize your output, try balancing concentrated, focused time with relaxation and integration. So, identify a small action, put aside distractions and set a timer for five minutes, spend five minutes working on the task and then see how far you’ve got and then set the timer for another 15mins before taking a break. Research shows that once you start something, you’re much more likely to finish it.


    5. The importance of work

    Remind yourself about why your work is important and valuable to you, especially when you are at home and surrounded by other things that may be even more valuable to you too.
To procrastinate from time to time is normal, shifting your focus from the task to the results, and settling into a good routine will go a long way to ensuring that procrastination doesn’t become a problem. Remember: Small action is still action. Taking just five minutes to start a task can get your momentum rolling and make all the difference.

About the author

Julia runs Lumminos, a full-service coaching and culture change consultancy which dares its clients to lead, learn, live, love and parent with awareness, skills, compassion and humour. She is an ICF PCC-level coach, seasoned change and organisational development consultant and speaker. In March 2019, Julia Kerr Henkel studied with Brené Brown in Texas and is now one of very few fully Certified Dare to Lead? facilitators in Africa, commissioned to deliver work on her behalf. In January 2020, she also launched Dare to Lead #daringclassrooms - an extension of this work tailored for educators - our most important leaders. She runs a program at GIBS aimed at supporting newly certified coaches called Kickstart your Coaching Business. Prior to starting Lumminos, Julia spent 4 years at Goldman Sachs London and was a director for 8 years at College Hill Investor Relations and Magna Carta, comms and reputation management agencies For more information, visit www.lumminos.co.za
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