6 Lessons FRIENDS Can Teach Us About Procrastination

Procrastination. Could it be any more detrimental to us achieving our goals?

From cleaning out the fridge or sorting through the Tupperware, to reorganising our wardrobes and scrolling through photos on our phones, we all have extraordinary ways to procrastinate.

A bit less Benjamin Franklin,

“Don’t leave that until tomorrow what you can do today.”

And a bit more Chandler Bing,

“It’s Sunday, I’m not running on a Sunday.”

The ultimate question therefore begs to be asked: Why do we procrastinate and how can we stop?

Understanding Procrastination

According to Dr Fuschia Sirois, a psychology professor from the University of Sheffield, procrastination is linked to our ‘inability to manage negative moods around a task.’

Boredom, insecurity, frustration and self-doubt all rear their ugly heads and stop us completing the task in hand. Furthermore, the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Canada, has found that procrastination actually has nothing to do with poor time management skills, but with the inability to regulate our emotions.

Hurrah! It’s not that we’re crap at managing time, we’re just crap at managing our emotions. No biggie then… *screams into a pillow.

In all seriousness though, once we understand what procrastination is, and what it isn’t, we’re then able to find solutions to the problem.

Rooting Around Under Procrastination’s Bonnet

Our pesky emotions are what stand in the way of task completion. When we feel adversely about a task, we immediately want to manage the negativity. We don’t want to feel worried, anxious or bored. I mean, writing that piece of content for your business or finally emptying the loft? It’s a no brainer when you’re full of self-doubt.

We don’t like feeling these negative emotions because we don’t like addressing the many elephants in the room. Instead we want to feel good about ourselves.

Emptying the loft gives you the sense of achievement you crave. Look how clever you are! You’ve now put everything into labelled boxes, using a label maker for extra organisational brownie points. You’ve finally become Monica Geller…

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Feelings of self-doubt are eradicated by feelings of accomplishment. But once the loft is so tidy you could win an interior design award, you start to get that sick feeling in your stomach.

The sad fact is you know you shouldn’t really have tidied the loft. You know you should be writing that blog post. But immediate relief calls to you. You want to feel good…now.

So, is there a way out of the loft-tidying madness?

Yes!

However it’s going to take practice. But you knew that, right?

You need to dig deeper into the root of the problem. You need to think about the real emotions around the task you’re trying to do.

  • Do you dislike the task on a surface level? Is it boring or something you’ve done too many times before?
  • Or is it deeper than that? Do you feel insecure about putting yourself out there? Were you always told at school that you weren’t great at writing or speaking?

Procrastination is a way for our brains to protect us from negative emotions. Find the reason behind the negativity and you’re halfway there.

We’re not hard-wired to think about future planning either, as the here and now has always been so important to us on the evolutionary front.

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We know it would make things easier in the future if we did the task now, yet we still want to remove the present ‘threat’ of actually doing it. Instead of spear-wielding hunters, it’s now the threat of typing on the keyboard or picking up the phone to make that sales call.

Same emotions. Different threat.

Procrastinating with F.R.I.E.N.D.S

Here are some top tips to help you avoid the procrastination cycle.

Episode 1. The One with the Planning

Plan your work the day before. If you sit down with a clear idea of what you need to accomplish, things feel less daunting.

Whatever it is, write a few notes or bullet points that will help you get started STRAIGHT AWAY the following day.

If you know exactly what you need to do, it’s less likely that you’ll find a way to procrastinate. It will help limit the feelings of self-doubt and apprehension, as you’ll feel like you’ve already made a start.

Create space between you and things that make you procrastinate too. Turn off phone notifications beforehand, move into a different room and put your copy of The Shining in the freezer.

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Episode 2. The One with the Manageable Chunks

Big tasks can be daunting. Break them down into bite-sized chunks so that they are more manageable.

When you think about writing a whole blog post, it seems impossible. But what about one paragraph? Or 100 words? That’s more manageable in an instant.

Remember the brain wants to protect us from possible negative consequences. A big task can make us feel worried or afraid. We might not finish it. We might fail. Hence, we procrastinate.

So, let’s flood our brains with positivity and celebrate small achievements. Remember! When you add all the small successes together, they make a finished piece of content or a new business proposal.

Just make sure that breaking down the parts of a task leads you to success – no one wants beef in their trifle!

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Episode 3. The One with the Accountability

An accountability buddy is worth their weight in gold, particularly when attempting to avoid procrastination.

Find someone you trust and ask them to hold you accountable for a task you’re trying to achieve. Arrange to send them a progress update – why not start a WhatsApp group for like-minded business owners who want accountability too?

Just don’t choose a soft touch! Your friend will need to have high expectations of you and challenge you if you don’t deliver.

Someone just like Monica Geller would be perfect…

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Episode 4. The One with the Habit Loop

In her book, The 5 Second Rule: The Surprisingly Simple Way to Live, Love, and Speak with Courage, Mel Robbins states that procrastination is just a habit. Research has proved her right.

When a habit is formed, it creates a habit loop.

Image: Laxmena, Medium

Carleton University research suggests that to break the habit of procrastination, we need to find a new reward. A better reward than the activity we choose to procrastinate with.

In his book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change, Charles Duhigg suggests that, ‘once you have diagnosed the habit loop of a particular behaviour, you can look for ways to supplant old vices with new routines.’

Experimenting with different rewards can help you break the negative part of this habit loop, of sitting down to work and then procrastinating with another activity instead. Identify which exact part of the habit loop causes the procrastination. Is it the sitting down? Opening your laptop? Seeing the item on your to-do list?

When you’ve identified the part of the routine that causes the procrastination, you can try and change the patterns of behaviour. What would happen if you changed that exact part of the loop? If sitting down in your kitchen to work causes you to get up and wash the dishes instead, change your environment. Does working somewhere else help? Do you find you work better in short bursts? Use the Pomodoro technique or start a timer for twenty minutes.

Duhigg explains the habit theory expertly in this article.

And, no, I’m not suggesting you do anything extreme like moving to Yemen…

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Episode 5. The One with the Self Compassion

As procrastination is so closely linked to our emotions, it seems fair that we’d need to consider how we deal with it on an emotional level.

Procrastination can be a vicious cycle. We’re constantly flip-flopping between emotions. Feelings of achievement when we successfully bathe and blow-dry the dog, to feelings of self-loathing when we realise that we’ve put off the strategic business planning yet again.

We tell ourselves we’ll do it tomorrow. Tomorrow will be better. Maybe you’ll even save it until Monday. Monday will be a good day.

When we procrastinate, when we move things until the next day, we need to show ourselves a little compassion. A little understanding. The more we berate ourselves for giving into procrastination, the more damage it’s doing to our self-esteem and wellbeing. It might be that our brains are telling us to take a break. To do something different.

It can also be argued that procrastination can be beneficial. Some of the best ideas come when doing mundane tasks. Often, our brains need space to think about something before we commit to completing it. Constructive procrastination as opposed to destructive.

If you keep putting something off, address it. It might be that you don’t need to do it at all. Could it be delegated, outsourced or just dropped from the list? Pay attention to how you feel about things and only do things that spark joy – Marie Kondo style.

Just like Phoebe when she tries to knock on the door of her father’s house but keeps running back to the taxi with Chandler and Joey in the back. It takes that procrastination on her part to realise that she’s just not ready to meet her father yet.

Bam! Yet again, an underlying emotion masked by procrastination.

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Episode 6. The One with the Reframing

If you’ve ever read The Chimp Paradox: The Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness by Prof. Steve Peters, you’ll know that all our thoughts and ideas go through our ‘chimp’ brain first – the emotive part.

That’s why you’ll find yourself saying, ‘I don’t feel like doing this today…’ or ‘I didn’t feel like going for a run this morning…’ How we feel about activities and decisions has a massive impact.

That’s why habits can really help – but that’s another post.

Reframing how we feel about a task can help us to stop procrastination in its tracks. If we sit down with a negative emotion, it’s likely we’ll find something else to do instead. By positively reframing the task, we can start to feel differently about it.

Try asking yourself:

  • How could I reframe my thoughts about this task?
  • What are the benefits of completing this?
  • How will I feel when it’s done?

When Rachel has to cut up the credit card her father pays for, Monica tries to positively reframe the situation by telling her, ‘Welcome to the real world! It sucks, you’re gonna love it!’

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Procrastination can be a difficult thing to live with. It makes us feel frustrated and annoyed with ourselves. Hopefully, by realising that it’s linked to underlying emotions, you’ll be able to address it more constructively using some of the strategies suggested.

And just think, when you’ve done the task you’ve been putting off, you can put your feet up with a cuppa and head on over to Monica and Rachel’s for a bit of light relief.

How do you try to stop procrastination? What’s worked for you that might work for others?

If you want help with procrastination when creating content, check out my Blank Page to Blogger Course – available now!

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