How procrastination helps you
Do you ever find yourself procrastinating? Waiting until the last possible moment to get something done, or maybe to even get started?
Does this drive you crazy?
You know it has to get done.
You know you have to do it.
And yet… you don’t start.
Maybe it’s even something you really want but yet you still don’t do it (exercise, losing weight, going back to school, volunteering).
What if I told you that procrastinating helps you? Would it change the self-deprecation into excitement?
First, it is important to note that procrastination IS an action: not an action of scrolling through social or cleaning out your junk drawer. It is an action of avoidance.
(Please don’t say “duh”- I have a point, and this is crucial to it.)
Every action we take is the result of something we are thinking and feeling.
Every. Single. Action.
So what are we feeling that would cause us to take the action of procrastinating?
Drum roll please…….
Stress. Stress is what we are feeling.
(Again, please hold the “duh”.)
I know it’s not news to you that as nurses, we carry a lot of stress. I know it’s not news that we procrastinate because we are stressed. But what you might not realize is that this is exactly why procrastination helps us, that it is a coping mechanism for stress, not a personal failure, inadequacy or generalized sucking at life.
Procrastination is not a character flaw, it is a habit we have developed as a coping mechanism.
Frankly, procrastination would be totally fine if it didn’t ultimately keep us from other things in our lives that we want.
So are you ready to make a change? Are you ready to stop compounding work stress with the stress of not getting things done in other parts of your life?
Good. Let’s do it.
Step 1: Acknowledge that procrastination is a stress response. Save yourself from all the negative self-talk and show yourself some compassion. Of course you’re stressed, look at the work you do. Sometimes acknowledging the stress and giving yourself some understanding (instead of loading on more stress) is all that it takes to let some of it go.
Step 2: Now that we’ve saved all the time we usually spend on beating ourselves up for not moving forward with our goals or responsibilities, let’s figure out a way to deal with the habit of procrastination.
This is pretty straightforward once we know procrastination is just a habit, we can just apply the science of habit change.
For habits to develop, there are 3 things that happen; a trigger, an action, a reward. Changing a habit is based on changing the PATTERN, not changing the trigger.
For procrastination, the trigger is work stress, the action is putting off action, and the reward is that we get to feel some control and self-determination. This makes total sense when you think about your day to day experience at work.
Let me explain.
At work, we can’t really use procrastination as a coping mechanism, there isn’t time. Sure, we prioritize things but everything needs to get done without much delay and without spending a lot of time on how we FEEL about it. We push any negative feelings down and get on with doing our work. This sounds terrible, but only if we don’t process those emotions another time. I mean, let’s face it, we can’t have all the nurses crying and taking a break every time something difficult comes up (more on processing our emotions in a different post).
We use our resilience at work to be emotionally flexible and get the job done no matter what.
When you think of it this way, it makes total sense that we would want to get some procrastination in at home. It is ONE way to control our environment and our emotions.
But, if you don’t want to procrastinate, if you want to break the habit, you just need to do 3 things.
Acknowledge the trigger (stress).
Take action. This is 2 fold. First, since we know stress is the trigger, brainstorm some other ways to cope with it (now that we know it is just a habit and not a personal failure). Sure, delaying action can give us some control but there are lots of other ways to release stress. A few minutes of deep breathing or journaling may be all it takes; maybe listening to your favorite song and moving your body. Second, take one action, ANY ACTION, toward the goal that you were previously putting off. Here’s the crazy thing, both procrastination AND taking action can make us feel better in the moment. (But in the long run, only taking action gives us satisfaction.)
So how DO we take action? We just start, we commit to taking action for just a few minutes…maybe even just 3. It’s not the action that is the problem, it’s the getting started. Procrastination is just NOT getting started. Once you start, the procrastination is done.
Let that sink in: once you start, the procrastination is done. You don’t have to complete the whole task for procrastination to be done. The relief (aka reward) comes WITH STARTING.
I know it sounds too good to be true, but take it from me, a champion, yet partially recovered, procrastinator. It works.
Your goals ARE achievable.
Procrastination is not a character trait, it is a coping mechanism. Like all other coping mechanisms, let’s not criminalize it or shame ourselves for using it.
Now you know, and knowing is literally half the battle.
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge all the help I’ve gotten from Mel Robbins and James Clear on the problem of procrastination and habits. No, I don’t know either one personally (yet), but their work has been instrumental in my own recovery of work stress and self-sabotage.
It is easier with help, we don’t have to figure this all out on our own. If you want me to help you, just reach out and schedule a time to talk. I have done this work and I am so much happier because of it. You can be too.