Three things in life are certain: death, taxes and you putting off work that you know you should be doing. It isn’t just you though, with every human being suffering from the disease of procrastination from time to time. Maybe it’s ‘work work’ that you always put off and hate showing up for every day. Maybe the ‘work’ is keeping up with that positive habit you have been trying to start this year. Whatever it is, if you don’t want to do it often, then it is likely that there are some underlying reasons that you can weed out and fix. Here are the three main reasons you are putting off your work and how to work when you don’t want to:
You don’t want to work because you don’t ‘feel’ like it
The solution: when it comes to doing the work that you know you need to do, ‘feelings’ should be ignored.
Whether you feel on top of the world or you really can’t be bothered to do your work today, it doesn’t matter. Feelings might be important in some areas of life, but not when it comes to work. If I only wrote articles when I felt like it, there would probably be less than half of the number of articles on this blog as there are now. As Joe Rogan put it: “If I only worked out when I felt like it, I would be a fat piece of shit.” (but he isn’t a fat piece of shit, because he works out even when he doesn’t feel like it.)
In order to help overcome the need to feel like doing something before actually doing it, it’s worth training your ‘mental override’ muscle. Cold showers are easy after the first few seconds. Writing articles is much easier once you have your first sentence. Building habits is much easier once the first day is out of the way. If you don’t feel like starting, just force yourself to take the first steps and you might be surprised that you can keep going.
Remember: action usually precedes motivation, not the other way round.
You don’t want to work because you are afraid of failing
The solution: use either a ‘promotion focus’ or a ‘prevention focus’.
It might be the case that you don’t want to do your work because you are afraid of failing. You might be pursuing some risky new business venture or you might be afraid of failing something much more mundane, like an essay or workout routine. Whatever it is, being afraid of failure usually comes from viewing the situation in the wrong way. Anxiety and doubt probably lead the way while you ruminate on all of the bad things that might happen if it goes wrong. There are two ways to get around this:
Promotion focus – Seeing your work as a means to becoming a better person than you are now. If I get this workout done, I will feel better about my body. If I get this essay written to the best standard I can, I will be proud of my achievements, whatever the outcomes are. Using your work as a stepping stone to a better version of you – someone you can be proud of – can take away much of the fear of failure.
Prevention focus – Taking your negative thoughts and making them work for you. Whilst promotion focus involves the mindset of becoming better through your work, a tactic that can be just as effective is avoiding getting worse through your work. If I get this workout done, then I won’t be ‘letting myself go’. If I get this essay written, then I won’t think of myself as a master procrastinator.
Some people prefer the carrot and others prefer the stick. Either method can be effective for overcoming the fear of failure and doing what you need to do.
You don’t want to work because the work is unpleasant
Solution: Use if-then planning.
This can be a tough one to get around. Unpleasant work might include work that is boring, difficult or just outright disgusting (cleaning a dirty bathtub for example). If your work is unpleasant every single day, then it might be time to look for work that it isn’t making the majority of your life unpleasant. Otherwise, you can use the if-then planning method to help you get moving.
If-then planning helps to decide in advance what you are going to do in certain situations as well as helping you get through the unpleasant emotions that you might encounter.
If I can get through the first 30-minutes of work, then I’ll reward myself with a tea break.
If I can start planning my new side-project this evening, then I’ll cut myself some slack tomorrow with other work.
Although you need to be careful with this sort of transactional relationship with yourself (don’t beat yourself up if you don’t do the first conditional part), it can be an effective way to get started and complete everything that you want to do.
Go Forth and Conquer
Although these aren’t the flashiest methods on the internet for getting stuff done, they are certainly amongst the most effective and get to the root of some of your procrastination issues. Being productive doesn’t have to be so difficult and if you implement these tactics, you can go forth and conquer your work, whatever it is.