Eat the Frog: Understanding and Overcoming Procrastination
I have yet to meet anyone who has never procrastinated.
Everyone is familiar with the situation in which we are aware of an upcoming critical assignment well in advance and incorporate it into our daily schedules well in advance, but we still fail to do it.
Instead of doing the necessary task, we prefer to distract ourselves with smaller non-essential tasks and think to ourselves,
"Oh, I'd better do all the small stuff first before I get to my big task."
The funny thing is, there are always many tiny things you could be doing instead of the big thing, so you never actually get it done. And if you have nothing better to do, you still may feel compelled to check your email or social media.
Every one of us knows these situations.
Some experience it very infrequently, while for others, it significantly impacts their quality of life. The great majority of individuals are in the middle.
I always have a few jobs that I put off at any given time. I nearly feel that every one of my projects includes at least one item that, although on the critical path and hence necessary, I am mentally unable to approach most directly.
I have the good fortune of being extremely careful when meeting actual deadlines, which creates a pressure to act that always ends my procrastination, at least for the last few feet. Procrastination is a pain in the rear, but it doesn't affect my ability to work.
I suppose that this places me in the middle of the procrastination scale.
I figured out how to stop putting things off.
Recently, I have given a lot of thought to the origins of my procrastination and the strategies I employ to get things done when I know I need to. Although I have discovered a few potential explanations, one significant cause and solution strategy has stood out.
Therefore, I can now provide you with a straightforward solution that you can try to adapt for yourself in this post, along with an explanation of why procrastination occurs.
But let's begin with understanding "The Why" underlying procrastination better.
We procrastinate because of negative emotions attached to a task
The main reason why we procrastinate is due to negative emotions that we associate with the tasks.
This might mean various things to different people in various contexts.
A common source of stress for me is worrying that I won't be able to figure out how to fix the issue.
- When I have a task where I know that if I do it well, it will advance a topic in some unique way, I tend to put it off until the last possible moment.
- It's because vital tasks are frequently also exceptionally challenging to complete: They are diffuse/abstract, complex, and complicated.
- I hesitate to start assignments of this kind because I don't know the solution I would have to implement.
The "Reasonable Me" would rest easy knowing that things would work out. After all, I found reasonable solutions in 10,000 previous cases just like this.
On the other hand, the "Emotional Me" worries that I might not be able to solve the problem and stresses himself about it unnecessarily.
Procrastination is a psychological way to get relief from negative emotions associated with a task
Finally, procrastination arises from the subconscious belief that if you don't even try to solve that challenging task, you can't fail.
There are other reasons and even good reasons too.
From my point of view, negative emotions (like anxiety) are the main reason for the vast majority of procrastination situations. However, there are also other reasons, some of which can even be good and beneficial:
- Lack of interest or motivation for the task at hand. This may be due to a lack of clear goals, difficulty comprehending the job, or the simple fact that the task is not pleasurable or gratifying. Consider a student assigned a research report on a topic they find uninteresting. It may not be easy to see the drive to begin writing the paper, and they may frequently procrastinate by checking social media or watching television.
- Perfectionism is associated with procrastination. Perfectionists tend to be more critical of themselves and their work, making it difficult for them to begin a task or complete it satisfactorily. This might lead to a loop of self-criticism that discourages the individual from completing the task. Consider the situation of an artist who is painting. They may find it difficult to begin working on the painting since their expectations for the final product are unreasonable. They may find themselves continually modifying the artwork, never completely satisfied with the end product, and ultimately postponing completing the painting.
- Procrastination can also be caused by a lack of self-discipline, an inclination to be easily distracted, or a preference for engaging in things that are more fun or rewarding in the short term rather than focusing on the task at hand.
What I have also seen about myself is that, through procrastination, my subconscious occasionally convinces me that a task is not as critical or urgent as I had previously believed. Therefore, I view procrastination also as a favourable indicator of my subconscious.
It is often advantageous to wait until close before the deadline, as you will have more information to complete the assignment under the most current state of knowledge.
The Consequences of Putting Things Off
There are numerous negative repercussions of procrastination on productivity and well-being.
- For one, it can lead to guilt or shame, further discouraging people from working on the task.
- In addition, procrastination can result in poor job quality, missed deadlines, and missed opportunities, which can have significant professional and personal ramifications. Consider an employee with a tight deadline for a considerable assignment at work. They may suffer from procrastination and ultimately miss the deadline, resulting in negative performance reviews or job loss.
- Procrastination can also affect mental health, e.g., by increasing stress and worry or contributing to low self-esteem and a poor self-image.
Strategies for Overcoming Procrastination
So how can we break the cycle of procrastination? The first step is to understand the reasons behind it and become more self-aware of when and why we procrastinate.
You've already read the first half of this blog post, so good job! Now we can come to the actual solution.
Step 1: Atomize your Tasks
One practical technique for breaking procrastination patterns is setting small, achievable goals for yourself rather than tackling an enormous task all at once. Additionally, breaking the task into smaller chunks, and developing a schedule for working on each fragment, can help to make the job feel more manageable.
For example, a student struggling to begin working on a research paper can set a goal of completing the introduction section by the end of the day. By breaking the task into smaller chunks, they can focus on one part at a time rather than feeling overwhelmed by the entire project.
Step 2: Tabula Rasa
Another essential strategy is to create a more conducive work environment. This includes eliminating distractions, such as turning off your phone or closing unnecessary tabs on your computer and setting boundaries for yourself, such as not checking your email during certain hours.
For example, imagine an employee struggling with procrastination while working from home. They can increase their focus and productivity by creating a dedicated workspace that is free from distractions, such as the television or household chores.
Step 3: Take it easy
Self-compassion is also vital to overcoming procrastination. Be kind to yourself when you struggle, and try to reframe negative thoughts about yourself. Instead of beating yourself up for procrastinating, try to understand that it's an ordinary and everyday experience and possible to overcome.
Step 4: Eat that Frog 🐸
Thanks to the "Eat that Frog" strategy, I can systematically handle my procrastination difficulties. For me, it operates as follows (you might have to modify it to fit your regular schedule):
- I make sure to include exactly one "The One Thing" per day in my weekly planning in addition to the usual responsibilities. Without a doubt, this is the sole and most crucial duty I want to finish for the day. "The One Thing" is frequently the one thing I tend to put off.
- In my schedule, I have a daily "Eat that Frog" series appointment that runs from 9:00 to 11:30. This follows my workout before a lengthy walk.
- I rigorously protect this "Eat that Frog" timebox from meetings.
- Moreover, I rely on particular routines as effective "concentration" cues. I get a new pot of coffee. My Pomodoro timer is now activated. I put on some music to help me relax. That prepares my body and brain for the upcoming period of intense concentration.
And then I spend up to two and a half hours working on it. After the first few minutes, I'm in the zone, and procrastination has been conquered for the day.
In the last step, I reward myself for the eaten frog with a walk.
Benefits of eating that frog
"Mark Twain once said that if you have to eat a live frog, do it first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day."
The nice thing is that the day has already succeeded at 11:30 when the frog is eaten. Everything else (minor jobs, meetings, etc.) becomes the frosting on the cake because you've already taken a few steps down the critical path.
This will allow you to begin the day with a much greater sense of independence. And in retrospect, the week's five "The One Thing" accomplishments will profoundly impact your productivity. In this case, the Pareto Principle holds true: even if there are only five actions to take, those actions are likely to account for eighty per cent of the results you achieve.
In this article, I explore the prevalent issue of procrastination and its underlying causes. Through my personal experiences and research, I have found that the primary reason for procrastination is negative emotions associated with a task, such as my worries about being unable to complete it. I have come to realize that procrastination is a psychological way for me to avoid these negative emotions. However, I have also discovered effective strategies for overcoming this issue. By identifying the source of my negative emotions and addressing them directly, as well as breaking down larger tasks into smaller, manageable ones, I can now overcome procrastination and achieve my goals.
Feel free to add your tips and thoughts to this page's comment section, Twitter or LinkedIn!
-- Martin from Deliberate-Diligence.com
Frequently Asked Questions:
What is procrastination, and why does it happen?
Procrastination is the act of delaying or postponing tasks. It happens when we associate negative emotions, such as anxiety, with a task and use procrastination to avoid those emotions.
Is procrastination always a bad thing?
Not necessarily. There are situations where procrastination can be beneficial, such as when you need to gather more information or when you need to take a break to avoid burnout. However, chronic procrastination can negatively impact your productivity and overall well-being.
How can I tell if I am procrastinating?
Some signs of procrastination include consistently putting off tasks, making excuses to avoid doing specific tasks and feeling stressed or anxious about upcoming deadlines.
What are some common causes of procrastination?
Some common causes of procrastination include fear of failure, lack of motivation, and difficulty breaking down larger tasks into smaller, manageable ones.
How can I overcome procrastination?
To overcome procrastination, it is vital to identify the source of your negative emotions and address it directly. You can also try breaking down larger tasks into smaller, manageable ones, setting clear and realistic deadlines, and using time management techniques like the Pomodoro Technique.
Are there any tools or apps that can help me overcome procrastination?
Yes, there are several tools and apps available that can help you overcome procrastination. Some popular ones include RescueTime, Todoist, and Forest.