4 Habits That Can Become Sneaky Ways We Procrastinate

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We all have bad habits that we’d like to break, but one that’s almost certain to crop up in any conversation is procrastination. Procrastination is the act of putting something aside until later. If we do this often, it damages our productivity and mental health. It can give rise to feelings of fear and self-hatred that make us judge ourselves harshly.

There is loads of advice out there on how to beat procrastination, from working in focused sprints for a set period to tackling the more complex, difficult tasks on our plate first thing in the morning. These solutions work well, but the problem is that they only do so when we realise we are procrastinating.

There are 4 common habits we have that can become sneaky ways we procrastinate. We fool ourselves into thinking we are acting when in fact we are procrastinating. We start over-planning, strive to be perfectionists, use research to procrastinate, dwell on the negative and ruminate.

Let’s explore each of these in turn, to find out how we can stop them becoming sneaky forms of procrastination.

Over-planning  

Writing a list can be a most satisfying way to plan, but the act of planning may become a form of procrastination, born of uncertainty, fear, and the drive for perfectionism.

It is important to plan because we need a way to prioritise and order tasks so that we know where to focus our attention. Organising stuff, writing checklists, and drawing up a schedule can be comforting and provide clarity, but can become procrastination in disguise.

Some of us plan to combat anxiety and uncertainty, while others may get stuck in the planning phase because they are trying to produce something perfect. It is easier to plan than to dive into a task and work through any obstacles we may face.

The problem is that we only feel ready to begin when we feel our endeavours will be successful and that we will produce something polished and perfect. Thus, we delay starting for as long as possible by doing excessive planning. We can only be productive if we accept that it doesn’t matter if what we come up with isn’t perfect right out of the gate and that the vital thing is for us to make a start and then persevere.

Before we get into what you can do to conquer over-planning and get down to work, let’s investigate the difference between useful planning and procrastination.

Constructive planning vs. hidden procrastination

Planning can be both effective and productive. However, becoming too preoccupied with a plan we made or a spreadsheet we created before getting started on the real work boils down to classic procrastination.

We must all be self-aware so that we can spot the point at which a sensible and necessary degree of planning crosses the line into putting off beginning a task. If we strive to become more self-aware, perhaps by doing some mindfulness meditation, we will be better able to pause, get perspective on a task, and take control of it. We are more likely to know when we are planning to avoid and when we are planning to clarify something. If the planning we are doing falls into the former category, it may be a signal to cease planning, take a deep breath, and dive into the task or project.

Now it’s time to talk about ways to avoid the temptation to plan too much.

Wooden tiles spelling why not today, a representation of our tendency to procrastinate.
Photo by Brett Jordan on Pexels.com

Ways to combat over-planning

To make it less likely that our planning will turn into a hidden form of procrastination, there are several things we can do.

  1. Leave room for improvisation and delays in our to-do lists – Allowing for a degree of improvisation in our day will help boost our productivity because we can account for unexpected meetings, delays in getting somewhere, or unplanned phone calls. We can switch what we are working on if we end up with less time available then we first thought we were going to have. Making sure we have some leeway and can change our minds will also make it less likely that we procrastinate because we don’t want to do the task we planned to do at a specific time.
  2. Use plans as guides -Instead of focusing on reaching an end goal, use plans as a guide, pay attention to the process and change things as needed. Concentrate on learning and moving toward your desired destination. Remember, making progress is more important than being perfect.
  3.  Set a time limit when planning – This will help forestall any urge to plan so much that it becomes procrastination.
  4. Learn to accept fear – If we can learn to accept fear and view it in a different way, we will be less prone to over-planning. If we don’t fail sometimes, how will we grow?
A Planner with the days highlighted  in blue, with a note reminding you to make it happen.
Photo by Bich Tran on Pexels.com

Perfectionism

Perfectionism has many positive labels attached to it, such as conscientiousness and diligence. It can become a fancy type of procrastination. When perfectionism is taken too far, these positive labels are used to justify what has become self-destructive behaviour. According to Taylor Newendorp, perfectionism can lead to people feeling frustrated and disconnected and can damage our sense of self-worth and confidence.

Perfectionists fear being average and set standards for themselves that they cannot hope to reach. They end up never finishing the impossible task they set themselves, or never reaching their goal because they obsess over minutia. They look for weaknesses in their work rather than celebrating milestones reached on the way to their goal. They are hard on themselves and berate themselves for what they lack, or what is missing, rather than focusing on what they have managed to do. They fear that if they stop striving for perfection their goals will be cast aside, and they won’t achieve anything.

In fact, the reverse is true. If we learn to let go of perfectionism, we can accomplish more.

How to defeat perfectionism  

Here are some tips on what to do when we find ourselves using perfectionism to procrastinate.

  1. Pause and ask ourselves whether we are delaying finishing something for fear of it not being perfect. Is a fear of failure holding us back?
  2. We can try changing our mindset so that we concentrate on making progress over being perfect.
  3. Act and focus on doing something better than last time, rather than making it perfect.
  4. Soon enough, we will be able to achieve what we wish to.

Doing Research

This can be a sneaky one. Research is often an essential part of a project, used to find out if an idea is fresh and interesting and to fact-check our work. But it can easily become a form of procrastination. There is a straightforward way to work out if we are using research to put things off. All it takes is to ask one question.

Am I researching something I need to know to make progress with what I am working on, or am I merely using research as my excuse not to start?

Often, we do more research than we need to for fear that we will not be good enough and because we are facing an uncertain result.

How to stop researching and get started

We have all told ourselves that we will get down to work right after we’ve finished reading a particular book because then we will have all we need to start. We can keep reading books until time pressure forces our hand. To avoid reaching this point and experiencing more pressure than necessary, we can:

  • Be bold and act, even when we are unsure of the outcome.
  • Accept that nothing in life is guaranteed and begin, rather than using that fact as an excuse to procrastinate.
  • Pinpoint the difference between doing the necessary research and using the activity as a distraction, and to get a dose of dopamine.
  • Set clear boundaries between research and other aspects or stages of our work, so that we can tackle each stage of the work separately so and be less tempted to procrastinate.

Next, we’ll discover how dwelling too much on our thoughts can be a sneaky way to delay doing things.

Man ruminating over something.
Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Ruminating

When speaking of habits, we tend to think of things that involve us engaging in physical activity, like walking or meditating. However, habits can also refer to a mental state we maintain, or a pattern of thought we fall into.

It is easy to be unaware that worrying and going over things in our heads ceaselessly may be a way we are procrastinating. We have all had destructive thoughts that damage our self-esteem and make us doubt ourselves. When we ruminate, we choose to actively participate and engage with these thoughts. The way to start breaking this pattern of behaviour is to ask ourselves why we ruminate in the first place. How is it satisfying a need we have? We may indulge in rumination because if we get caught up in thinking, we don’t have to act, and if we don’t act, we don’t expose ourselves to the risk of failure.

Let’s see what we can do about it.

How to stop ruminating and get down to work

The trick is to recognise when we might be getting lost in rumination to the detriment of our productivity. To find out if we are at this point, we should ask ourselves some questions.

  1. Is the way I’m thinking right now helpful?
  2. Is mulling over things helping me do anything or make any progress, or helping me solve a problem?
  3. Is there something I could be doing now to solve the problem in front of me?

If the answer to the third question is yes, the easiest way to stop yourself dwelling on a problem and using it as an excuse to procrastinate is to do it. If the answer is no, then instead of ruminating, try to focus on self-care and being positive.

  • Take time out to read, exercise, or do something else enjoyable.
  • Focus on being thankful for what we do have, rather than dwelling on our weaknesses and what we lack.
  • Use the 3 questions above to disrupt our thought process and stop us worrying too much about the future.

That way, we can learn how to break free from the shackles of procrastination.

Wrapping Up

Procrastination is a part of human nature. It is not a weakness, but a habit. Even when we are aware of these 4 sneaky habits that can become ways we procrastinate, we can still fall victim to them.

When you find that you are putting things off, despite the fact you began the day with every intention of being productive, learn to forgive yourself and move on. Knowing about these habits will help you overcome them faster. Don’t try to break the habit of procrastination, rather, endeavour to outgrow it.

Remember:

  • Replace over-planning with action.
  • Chase progress, not perfection.
  • Get started instead of diving into more research.
  • Focus on the positive rather than the negative and make time for self-care.

Soon enough, you’ll become a master at identifying when you are using these habits to delay things. Therefore, you will be able to get right back on track.

Published by Lizzie

Lizzie here. I'm a freelance copywriter and editor based in the UK. I'm also passionate about volunteering and hold an MA in History from the University of Warwick. I've written for a multitude of fantastic websites and companies, including a legal automation software company, a dog training site, and more. Check out my reviews on Fiverr and Upwork for more info!

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