“I view procrastination as a process problem, not a personality problem,” says Renate Reimann, author of Beyond Procrastination: How to Stop Postponing Your Life. I had the opportunity to interview Reimann about her new book, a practical guide for overcoming roadblocks to completing important tasks. A life coach, Reimann often works with individuals held back by their procrastination. Given that 20–25% of the population now consider themselves chronic procrastinators, she says, it’s important to uncover the reasons behind a person’s delay patterns.
In which areas of life do people procrastinate most?
Big life-changing decisions and long-term projects tend to cause the most procrastination. Both tend to be complex and can cause profound anxiety. To minimize delays,it helps to break down the process into smaller chunks of either small tasks, or 30-60 minute work modules. Schedule those tasks on the calendar if they are in any way intimidating, or put them on the daily to-do list if they are run-of-the-mill.
Aversion can also cause great resistance to doing something. We all have hated tasks. The most important first step is to clarify if we actually have to do it at all. When there is no way around it, hiring somebody or bartering with a friend or colleague who actually likes the job are easy solutions. Besides that, using the “5 minute rule” can get people over the initial hurdle: Work on the dreaded task for 5 minutes. After those 5 minutes, it is fine to stop – no guilt, no shame. Often, though, it makes more sense to just finish and be done with it.
What makes people procrastinate?
Procrastination can have many causes, including medical issues. I usually work with people whose procrastination it not medically induced. But even in cases of everyday postponements, each person tends to have a very specific cluster of reasons for delaying. For some, time management is a crucial issue — some people simply overbook themselves. Others are stopped by fear of perfectionism. And, nowadays, the Internet and smart phones are major culprits in distracting people from finishing, or even starting, important tasks and projects. The sense of instant gratification when surfing the web or following people online is hard to compete with when the term paper is not due until next week.
What are the best ways to get beyond procrastination?
First of all, letting go of guilt and forgiving oneself is crucial. The more we focus on the guilt, the less energy we have for what needs to get done. Next, becoming aware of what circumstances, emotions and desires are getting in the way of achieving goals and completing tasks is key. One client told me that he had taken countless time management courses to help him with procrastination, when it turned out that resentment toward his boss was the real reason for missing deadlines at work. The more precisely we can pinpoint the reasons for postponement, the easier it is find solutions.
What makes your approach for dealing with procrastination different?
Some people think self-discipline and punishment are the best ways to get over the hump and get things done. That might work for some people, but many of my clients already put incredible pressure on themselves and often feel profoundly guilty about not living up to their potential. Adding more pressure only results in more self-loathing.
My approach stresses the fact that since they haven’t been able to get beyond it so far, there must be a valid reason for their procrastination. By applying a more objective and rational approach, clients start to relax and become more hopeful. I view procrastination as a process problem, not a personality problem.
Yes, psychologists have some very interesting insights into the connection between certain personality traits and procrastination. However, that usually doesn’t help in overcoming it.
Looking at procrastination as a rational response encourages creative problem solving instead of endless naval gazing. It inspires people to take action and it puts them back in charge.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=1939195004]