26 October 2016Last updated

Features | People

Ask the expert: Procrastination is ruining my life

The first step is working out what’s at the heart of your behaviour

Russell Hemmings
21 Jul 2016 | 04:44 pm
  • Source:ShutterStock image

I’m middle-aged and have been increasingly looking back at my career and feeling like all my hopes have failed to materialise. I feel this is because I procrastinate and do tasks at the last minute and then am not impressed with the results. I’m just not enthused about work. How do I stop procrastinating?

The adage, procrastination is the thief of time, often rings true only when we look back, rather than forward. It can become a major worry when we get to our middle years and begin to reflect on the purpose of our lives. It’s natural, so instead of using it as a stick to beat yourself, why not see it as an opportunity to change?

You’ve said you find it hard to get enthusiastic when it comes to your job. Perhaps you should consider the bigger picture and ask yourself if it’s time to move in a new direction career-wise.

We all put things off until the last minute from time to time, but if it has become an entrenched behaviour, it can be a sign that you need to shake things up a bit.

The first step is working out what’s at the heart of your behaviour. It could be that you divert yourself with low-level tasks to avoid the main one because you are anxious about not doing a good-enough job. Avoid setting out very public expectations that you worry you can’t meet. Keep your cards close to your chest in future when it comes to sharing your ideas on a project. That way you can surprise rather than disappoint, and not feel the burden of expectation.

Often, procrastinators lack the skill to break down tasks into achievable parts. This can be due to poor organisation abilities, so a key step is to understand whether you fall into this category or whether you are bored of your job.

If it’s the former, then the habit can be broken. Try this. At the start of each day, rank your tasks into four categories: Urgent and important; important but not urgent; urgent, but not important; and not urgent and unimportant. Start at the top and work your way down. Set specific times for each task to be completed, then reward yourself when you each one off.

Break each task down into smaller steps to power through. Avoid distractions by only checking emails in the morning, for example, and before the end 
of the day, and devote a set amount of time to answering them. Many procrastinators overestimate how unpleasant tasks are going to be, so if you start to work in this ordered way, you’ll get through the most challenging things early on when you’re at your best.

But if you feel things are getting stale, then now might be the right time to explore your passions, and find something that uses your talents in a new way. It’s important to look back and learn, but it’s equally vital to move forward and see what the future holds.

Russell Hemmings

Russell Hemmings