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Hey Rebooters! Oh, what an ironic episode to be writing up when it’s 1.5 days before release and I’ve been procrastinating horribly… the universe does have a sense of humour occasionally! So, this week is procrastination. We often talk about it and we sure as shit suffer from it – but what is it and why do we do it? Can we find any way around it?

We’re Carla Watkins & Sarah Wayte, procrastinators (sometimes) extraordinaire.

What is procrastination?

In its simplest terms, probably avoidance.

It can be productive avoidance, like doing housework when you are trying to avoid doing something else, but needs to still be doing something that looks useful. And telling yourself that it’s very important to have a tidy working environment…

Carla may or may not have caught herself cleaning her keyboard with a paintbrush at one point in her old job, which was a definite indicator of trying really hard not to do whatever she was supposed to be doing at the time.

For Sarah, it’s something like cleaning the toilet – something she really doesn’t want to do, but there’s something else that she really doesn’t want to do.

We think there’s quite a lot of pretence involved in procrastination, too – telling yourself something so you can keep procrastinating!

Procrastination jobs are often the jobs that you also don’t want to do, but which get shunted up the list when something else rears its head that you need or want to avoid starting. Or finishing!

Games and doom scrolling

Social media is pretty much designed to enable procrastination. See also: games on your phone, scrolling through the news, forums – essentially your phone in general.

Smartphones, while wonderful tools, are a terrible timesuck. It’s not always bad – sometimes it’s because you’re avoiding something, but sometimes it’s a good way for your brain to switch off, and be mildly entertained without having to think about anything in too much detail.

But phones can also aid procrastination at bedtime, which begins to stray into addictive territory and/or having a detrimental effect on your life.

Try looking at your phone and seeing how often you unlock it – it can be a very short sharp shock to the system! iPhones can also tell you how quickly you respond to notifications – how fast you are distracted when it pings?

Carla has oddly specific procrastination – like fountain pen hospital – while Sarah tends to do more useful things like housework when she’s avoiding some work. Or sometimes rearranging the notebooks on her shelf…

We are both agreed that time spent with your pets and loved ones is never wasted, and is never classed as procrastination in our book!

What causes it?

Fear is a big one. It can be around our own fears of not being good enough, or if it’s a client that’s different or harder than usual, worry that we can’t do something, fear of not meeting our own standards or even a bit of imposter syndrome.

Facing that fear is hard, so it’s often easier to do something else, if not necessarily more interesting.

Self-sabotage is another huge procrastination factor. It ties in again with the fear of not being good enough, but almost gives you an excuse for any possible bad reactions, because you procrastinated and rushed it. So self-protection, but also not very sensible because this can interfere with you doing your best work.

If you produce good work but don’t give yourself time to finish it properly, it becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But it can be much easier to not procrastinate in this way when you have momentum and you’re doing your creative thing regularly. When there are big gaps, it’s easier for self-doubt to creep in. Sometimes a quick-fire client demand can help to fix this.

Another form of self-sabotage is taking on too much work, so you have too much on to be able to do it all to the best of your ability.

More mundane reasons can be putting off boring tasks, big tasks, stuff we don’t want to do.

Project managers tend not to do this, which we find intriguing – is it that organised people become project managers, or do they get organised when they take on that job?!

Procrastination can also sneak in when your to-do list is big tasks that aren’t broken down into small things that are actually achievable tasks.

By “achievable”, we mean something that can be done start to finish in probably an hour or less. Otherwise, it becomes overwhelming and hard to start… and yep, you guessed it, procrastination sneaks in!

Recognising it in yourself

Look for patterns – watch what it is you’re doing and what might seem a bit counterintuitive. Like anything new, if you’ve never really thought about it before, you might surprise yourself with what you spot and become aware of.

With caution, ask someone you trust if they have noticed any tendencies or patterns in your behaviour – but do make sure you’re primed not to be upset at what they say.

Remember to also be gentle and forgive yourself – don’t add to the shit in your head, don’t judge yourself for it, just notice what you’re doing so you can then tackle it if and when you want to.

Ways to beat procrastination

If you’re working on a project and it’s possible to leave your stuff out or open on your desktop, then as Cynthia Hauk suggested in her episode, you can do a few minutes here and there, which helps to fend off avoidance.

You can apply this to your boring stuff too – five minutes a day adds up over time.

Another tip that has worked for us is setting a timer and doing the thing you’re avoiding for just seven minutes. By which time you’ll either have done the bulk of what you needed to do, or you’ll be in flow enough to keep going, or you’ve done some of it so you can stop again.

Accountability can be a great way to manage this too – if you can find a buddy who has a task to do that will take a similar amount of time (it doesn’t have to be the same kind of task necessarily), then you can check in with each other, commit to what you’re going to do and arrange a check-in time.

We do this quite a lot, and both of us also do it with other people too. It works especially well for bitty jobs like admin, emails, filing. The key thing is setting a time limit, and having the other person – those seem to be the key things that get us over the hurdle of starting whatever it is we were procrastinating about doing.

Rewards can also work – what you choose as a reward will depend on what you love, but this sometimes works for us.

And finally, someone who can ask you about the true importance of whatever it is you’re avoiding, particularly if you continue to avoid it. Does it really need to be on your list?

Deadlines – we are both deadline-driven and tend to do, or at least finish, things at the last possible moment. The way you work at school is often a good indicator of how you’re going to work in adulthood too, so we are often more aware than we think we are of our working style.

What we’re not totally sure about is when the deadline panic kicks in and when something becomes urgent 😂

Communicate, communicate, communicate!

From a business point of view, if you are struggling with procrastination and it’s impacting your client work or delivery times, we can’t stress enough how important it is to contact your clients and let them know.

Most people will totally understand, most people won’t kick up a fuss and will be absolutely fine about it if they hear from you first that there will be a delay. If they have to chase you and then find out it’ll be late, they’re likely to be more irritated.

A bonus to this communicate-first approach is that it has a built-in deadline, to beat procrastination!

Sarah runs an accountability group, and Carla is part of one, and in both cases what we’ve committed to the previous month often gets done or finished the night before the meeting. Which is a great way to make sure that something important does get done.

Can you avoid procrastination entirely?

We think probably not – it can be your mind’s way of ensuring you switch off and get some thinking time not just doing time, so sometimes it’s a form of self-care. (Ooh, this feels radical!)

There’s a fine line between it being useful and using it as an excuse. But if you don’t make time for your wellness, your body will make time for your illness. And a version of this can be applied to productivity and procrastination too. Your brain needs some downtime!

Links we love

Tim Urban’s TED talk on procrastination

Jay Foreman’s “The Procrastinator” song – we didn’t mention this but it’s the soundtrack to Carla’s university days and well worth a listen (and then go and see Jay’s newer stuff, he’s still brilliant!).