French novelist Victor Hugo famously thwarted procrastination by writing in the nude.
As recounted by his wife, Adele Foucher in her memoir, Hugo faced with a looming deadline for his now classic Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), resorted to desperate measures “so that he should have no temptation to go out.” He locked away his clothes. Wrapped only in a knitted gray shawl, which “enveloped him from neck to toe… he left his desk only to eat and sleep.” Mme. Hugo, not surprisingly, described her husband’s disposition as “very melancholy.”
How many of us would strip down to our birthday suits to avoid procrastinating? Not many I wager. How many of us procrastinate? Alas, we all do.
Why do we procrastinate? Whether it’s an unfinished novel, blank canvas, work report, job application, studying for an exam or something as mundane as cleaning out the garage; our individual reasons for deferring a task generally boils down to fear, boredom, or sheer laziness. For big-ticket items like pursuing a dream, fear is often at the root of our procrastination. Fear of failure. Fear of the unknown. Fear of change.
We all procrastinate from time to time, and as research shows, it may well be that we’re naturally hardwired to do so. A pioneer in the study of procrastination, psychiatrist and behavioural economist George Ainslie, discovered that if given the choice, people would choose instant gratification over a delayed reward. According to Ainslie, procrastinating may be as natural to us as breathing.
“…while conspicuous temptations can be identified and subjected to personal rules, a preference for deferring effort, discomfort, or boredom can never be entirely controlled. It is as fundamental as the shape of time, and could well be called the basic impulse.”
We may not be able to stop procrastinating altogether but when it matters; there are strategies that can keep our “basic impulse” from sabotaging a meaningful, productive life.
Declare your intention or goal. Write it down. Say it aloud. This takes it out of your head and puts it front and centre. Post it somewhere as a daily visual reminder.
Break down your goal into small, manageable steps with specific deadlines to keep you focused, organized and less likely to feel overwhelmed.
Visualize your future success. What would it look like? How would you feel?
Reward yourself. Celebrate your progress with a self-indulgent treat or fun outing.
Establish accountability. Set up a support system of family and friends or hire a coach to keep you on track.
Create a positive workspace or environment by eliminating clutter or distractions.
Focus on progress not perfection, which means less overall stress.
Make friends with your fear or discomfort. Moving forward in life means stepping out of our comfort zone and confronting the reasons why we procrastinate, especially when it comes to tasks that matter most to us. Self-inquiry calls for courage and importantly, self-compassion.
Are you ready to tackle procrastination?