Tomorrow. Such a lovely word. It kinda rolls off the tongue. To-mo-rrow. Unfortunately, using tomorrow as a crutch and pushing off important tasks and deadlines as a result can have dire outcomes. So why is it that we delay doing things, even when we know there will be negative consequences? What prompts procrastination? And what can we do to curb the habit?

Why we do it

If you've ever re-organized your bookshelf by colour, height, and author name, instead of, say, completing a pitch due Monday, you know that procrastination and laziness aren't the same thing. So why do we procrastinate? Some think it's a coping mechanism, "a way of coping with challenging emotions and negative moods induced by certain tasks - boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, self-doubt and beyond." There's also the behavioural psychology theory of time inconsistency. That is, the tendency of the human brain to value immediate rewards more highly than future rewards. And of course, there's the possibility that it's related to decision paralysis - too many options on offer, which in turn makes it harder to decipher what should be the highest priority. 

The Cycle

Procrastinating is an active process. You're actively putting off doing something that you know you should get to. The more you put it off, the more guilty you feel. The more guilty you feel, the more you start to doubt yourself and your abilities. Your self-esteem suffers, so you keep putting things off and continuing the cycle, sometimes indefinitely.

Some Tips & Tricks to Break the Trend

  • Forgive yourself 

    • Okay, so you should have gotten to that email 2 days ago. Sure, it's not ideal that you didn't. But what's done is done. Forgive yourself and let go of the blame. That will help you move forward productively again.
  • The 5-minute rule

    • You may have heard of this one before. But have you given it a try yet? The approach is simple. That task that you're avoiding, whatever it may be, force yourself to spend 5 minutes doing it. Just five minutes. Often, getting started is the biggest hurdle to overcome. And chances are that once you've started, you'll likely realize it's not as bad as you thought, or you'll get caught up in the flow of things.​
  • Make things easier or Raise the stakes
    • Can't seem to get yourself to go to the gym in the morning? 
      • Option 1: remove as many obstacles as possible - sleep in your gym clothes, pick a closer location, have your spouse drop off the kids in the morning so you're not rushing to get back from your workout.
      • Option 2: heighten the consequences - it's easier to let yourself down than to let others down. So, set up a recurring workout with a friend. Or, alternatively, have a colleague hold you accountable. You owe them $10 for every week you don't go.
  • Reduce distractions or raise barriers of entry

    • Delete time-sucking apps. Or, if you really can't bring yourself to, set complicated passwords to access them, so at least there's a deterrent.
    • Set particular times of day to check emails, notifications, or catch-up calls with friends.
    • Unplug the TV, hide the remote controls, lock up your phone when you get home, limit the frequency of snack runs...Only you know what distracts you most. Do an honest audit and get creative with solutions.
  • Ruthlessly prioritization

    • At the end of the day, write down 5 things you need to get to the following day (alternatively, you could do this at the beginning of each day - whichever garners you more accurate priorities). Be ruthless: only 5 items allowed. Prioritize truthfully (i.e. not in order of what you'd prefer getting done first, or what's easiest). When executing the tasks, approach the list one item at a time. Do not get distracted by the next item, until you've completed the last. At the end of the day, move unfinished items onto your list for tomorrow. Repeat each new day.
  • Break it down

    • You're responsible for the new client presentation deck. Whew, that's a doozy. So let's make it less daunting. What are the pieces that need to get done? Finalizing with the producer and art director which features are ready to talk about, getting the stats and metrics from the analytics team, coordinating with the design and copywriting crew on look and feel, ensuring there's enough buffer time for internal revisions and sign-off. Break it down and take it step by step.
  • Treat yourself

    • Hate actioning bug reports, but love taking a walk in the sunshine? Tie one into the other. Eg. A walk outside every time you've fixed 10 bugs. If little rewards help get you past the tasks you're most dreading, give it a try.
  • Cheerlead

    • No pom-poms or physical strength required. But you do need to be honest with yourself. That task that you're putting off because it feels too complicated, or you think will turn out badly, or you don't have any idea where to start...remind yourself of similar situations that you've encountered in the past and overcame. Focus on the positive outcomes and reactions. Be specific, add context - your boss commended your work, your approach benefitted the team, your idea featured in the project. You did it then, and you can do it again. Now go, start, and know you've got it in you to succeed.

There are likely as many tactics available as there are types of people. The real trick is to question what motivates your procrastination, better understand it, and tailor the solutions to what works best for you. And if you have any tried and tested ideas to add to the list, let us know. The more we can share what we learn, the stronger we are as a Tribe.