Why Do You Procrastinate When You Have All The Time In The World?
Your boss handed you a big project to complete.
You avoided it as long as possible.
Maybe you didn’t know where to start.
Maybe you thought it wouldn’t take very long.
Then you made the mistake of waiting until the last minute, and severely underestimated how long it’d take. So now you are frantically racing to the finish. Everything else is pushed aside.
When the dust settles, and the deadline has arrived, the project is done but you aren’t quite satisfied with it. You know you could do better. Way better. But it’ll have to do.
Then out of the blue, your boss emails you,
Take the rest of the day to finish that project
How do you feel?
Relief? Excitement? Excessive celebration?
Instead, what if he said, take two extra days to finish it.
An extra week…
An extra two weeks…
An extra month…
An extra two months….
Can you begin to feel the pressure release?
Does the feeling of urgency and drive start to dissipate with more time?
Maybe it even begins to feel tempting to put it off again.
It’s an interesting paradox. For some people, when they have all the time in the world, they are more likely to procrastinate.
So why do we do it?
Here are three big reasons:
1) Lack of Pressure
Ever heard the saying, when the going gets tough, the tough get going?
Maybe you’ve seen people who operate like this. They spring to life when the pressure is on. They can pull off all sorts of feats of productivity when things get tough. Cranking out pages of writing… pulling all-nighters… whatever it takes.
But what happens when it’s not tough?
When there is no pressure?
For some people, not much happens.
It’s as if when the pressure is off, there’s no need to work so hard.
They slow WAY down. But once the pressure is back on, it’s GO TIME.
One belief that keeps people in this sporadic cycle is:
I work better under pressure:
It’s true that urgency ignites action.
But what about the quality of work?
For one, working under pressure can crank up our stress response.
This is not optimal for the brain.
This survival response was designed for fight-or-flight.
Not logic. Not strategy. Simply keeping you alive.
This stress response jolts you to action but makes it much more difficult for the brain to problem-solve and be creative. Plus, research even shows you’re more likely to make mistakes while working under these conditions.
According to research published in the European Journal of Personality, people under time-pressure make more mistakes. These mistakes include forgetting something or not doing something they needed to (omission mistakes) and doing something incorrectly or poor quality (commission mistakes).
2) More Time, More Difficulty
Parkinson’s Law states:
“Work expands to fill the time available for its completion”
Here’s how that plays out:
If you have a day to complete a project, you’ll probably use a day.
If you have a week, you’ll probably use the entire week.
If you have a month, you’ll probably use the entire month.
The task swells to the time allotted for it.
But something else happens.
When people are given a longer amount of time, they tend to perceive it as more difficult as well. They assume it must require that additional time (even though it might not).
In fact, in a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, found that longer deadlines led employees to believe an assignment is more difficult than it actually is, causing them to use more resources to complete it. Plus, it increased their likelihood of procrastinating and quitting (even with different deadline lengths).
Pretend you doubt your writing ability.
If you write an article and it flops – two things can happen:
1. Crush your self-esteem
Your self-esteem can be crushed like a boulder dropped onto a pop can. Because then you’d have to come to grips that your writing skills may stink. Or that you’re not a good writer (even though it’s a skill that can be learned). As you can imagine this can be painful.
2. Find a scapegoat
You can put off writing the article… and keep putting it off… until the last minute so then if you fail you can blame it on:
“I didn’t have enough time”
“I had too much going on”
“I was too busy”
Then you don’t have to blame it on your writing skills, you can put the blame elsewhere. This way, your self-esteem is safe and sound. It may sound strange, but it does happen. (Usually unconsciously)
Whatever the reason for procrastinating long-deadlines, there are dozens of ways to break through it.
Let’s look at one way:
The Grass Is Greener Technique
Have you heard the expression, the grass is always greener on the other side?
Usually, this refers to our tendency to be dissatisfied with our own situation. We believe others have it better than we do. Or the tendency for things to look better when we don’t have them.
Well, this tendency emerges in work too.
Have you noticed that when you’re faced with a daunting project to work on, that all the sudden, other projects look much greener? All the sudden projects you didn’t want to touch before, have become much more appealing. And then it becomes tempting to work on those projects instead.
This is partially because by contrast that task doesn’t seem so bad anymore.
So instead of fighting this tendency, let’s align with it.
Make an agreement with yourself that you are going to work on that important project (the one you’re avoiding) for two hours… one hour… half an hour… before you indulge in anything else. Even other seemingly “important” work.
Even if you’re not motivated to work on it.
Even if you don’t feel like it.
Even if you don’t know where to start.
Start with the daunting task.
Wrestle with it.
Then reward yourself with the work you are more motivated to do.
This way, you’re gradually chipping away at the important project well in advance, instead of scrambling at the end to finish it. Plus, you may find something else happens.
You may find once you get started, you’ll hit your stride, feel momentum, and want to keep working on it. Either way, you’ll start making progress though.
Do that day after day, and you’ll cover some serious ground.
The Renegade Life Coach
P.S. Check out more Procrastination and Productivity articles by clicking here.
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