The Thief of Time

October 19, 2016

A pretty hot topic in performance situations; think exams, decision making, efficient training, sticking to weight loss programs… let’s focus on the  concept of procrastination.

It’s highly likely that you’ll give yourself a bit of a telling off for the amount of it you do… you have a million and one things that you should be doing…. or think you should be doing… you have a deadline to meet and yet, there you are scrolling your social media feed… eating something you shouldn’t… and at the back of your mind you can still hear the ticking clock… deadline… deadline… deadline… or gym class… gym class… gym class… or revise… revise… revise… or homework… homework … homework.


The word procrastination comes from the Latin – Procrastinare meaning …. Defer ‘till morning

– Neenan


Procrastination might seem like a minor irritation but in the world of behaviour change we know it’s a major force which can prevent you attaining the things that you want. When you think about procrastination, when is it that  you are more likely to do it? When you perceive a task as difficult or challenging. Usually something that’s going to make you initially feel a bit uncomfortable, but it is also that this “thing” is personally important to you or you simply wouldn’t care about it. It wouldn’t have any place in your nagging brain circuitry.


If you and I were to have a conversation about this my first question would be “what are you avoiding?” It’s very hard to know. There is not always a clear, tangible “thing” that leads to procrastination, but we do know that it is your body and your mind trying to communicate something to you. It’s saying “that thing that I need to face… I don’t want to face it…  I know I will face it eventually …. but for now it feels better not to”. This is where it starts but since the feeling of relief you get by procrastinating is initially good it has the added disadvantage of being a little bit addictive… (think how hard it is to get your head out of that social media feed sometimes!).  Overcoming procrastination is then linked to our ability to put off what feels nice now in order to complete something that we know (or think we know) we won’t enjoy, and this turns into a habit (one that’s hard to break).


As for me… I’m a pretty seasoned procrastinator. I don’t think I can get through a project without factoring in a bit of procrastination time. Mental strength, will-power and resilience are but a few areas in which scientists have discussed this seemingly universal phenomenon. It makes sense that procrastination rates are higher when people don’t spend time evaluating the demands of the tasks they need to complete and plan times that work in terms of their available resources.  That’s why so many of us end up procrastinating late at night rather than start what feels like a 1-million-word assignment or get our gym bag ready for the morning workout. When you’re tired and stressed your will-power is low, you opt for the easy fix rather than getting into the tasks that brings you closer to achieving your goals. Even thinking about these tasks is unpleasant and if you look into the future it is easy to see how procrastination blocks progress (you don’t get your assignment started… you don’t complete it on time…. you don’t get your certificate). There often comes a secondary problem when facing procrastination. You get annoyed with yourself about it. This annoyance further prevents you from getting on with the job that needs to be done. You spend much needed brain power giving yourself a good telling off about it and around and around it goes until we reach this inner agreement that we need to procrastinate by repeating to ourselves thoughts like…“I’m not ready”; “I’m exhausted”; “I need to feel the pressure before I can get the work done”; “I’ll do it later, tomorrow, some other time”


With all this information in mind how can we manage procrastination- Here are a few tips.

Tip 1


Ask yourself a couple of questions


Is this thinking logical? What does being ready look like?  Why do I need to feel pressure before I can get work done? Will having this added pressure really help my performance? Is it going to help to postpone things? Does that decision make sense? Does thinking like that help me?


“You guys like to tell jokes and giggle and kid around, huh? Giggling like a bunch of young broads in a school yard. Well, let me tell you a joke: Five guys sitting in a bullpen, San Quentin. Wondering how the f**k they got there. What’d we do wrong? What should we’ve done? What didn’t we do? It’s your fault, my fault, his fault. All that bulls**t. Finally, someone comes up with the idea, wait a minute, while we were planning this caper, all we did was sit around and tell f**king jokes. Got the message?” 
― Quentin Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs


Tip 2


It’s “normal”.


We all do it, but at the same time challenge your habitual thinking. Do you really need to feel pressure, stress, anxiety to perform as well as you need for the task that’s bothering you? … get the job done.


“Just do it”- Nike


Tip 3


Plan your time, factor in breaks. (the most important tip in my view)


Think of planning your work like a set of interval training. Planning for an hour of highly concentrated, focus task progression with planned recovery. Give yourself some time to do absolutely nothing…. If you’re undertaking a highly demanding task, you will benefit from a break, but people tend to forget this and end up at desks for hours on end, no breaks no time to do nothing at all. Switch off in that time, maybe don’t hit your favorite web page. Go outside or change your environment. This becomes something different. It’s no longer bad, terrible, a battle. You don’t feel guilty about the rest because it is an important part of the plan and process of generating ideas, enhancing motivation and recovery for your next session of task completion and leads to better performance outcome. In this respect procrastination becomes a functional and positive part of your strategy to complete your jobs.


“…the best possible way to prepare for tomorrow is to concentrate with all your intelligence, all your enthusiasm, on doing today’s work superbly today. That is the only possible way you can prepare for the future.” 
― Dale Carnegie


Tip 4


Identify the the “high risk of procrastination” tasks.

Plan the tasks that you know you’ll end up procrastinating over  at times when you have energy to tackle them and when the conditions are going to give you the best chance of success. This might be why so many successful people get up early and get things done at the start of the day. If an opportunity arises to complete a task that you know you’ll easily end up procrastinating over, jump up and take it…. If the sun comes out, go for a run right then, give yourself the best chance of enjoying the thing you’re avoiding…. The sun did actually come out here so I’m off for my run!


“Procrastination is the thief of time. Collar him.” Charles Dickens

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