The thief of time

Procrastinators unite - tomorrow. In the meantime, it's probably best to get on with the task at hand, writes life coach Jan Aitken.

Having decided on our goals and intentions for the year (The Weekend Mix, January 16, 2016) and figured out that we can deal with the fear and doubts that come along for the ride (The Mix, January 30, 2016), we can then find good old procrastination trying to hitch a lift as well!

Procrastination: the ability to put off beginning something that we know needs to be done.

It's reasonable to assume most of us have put things off at some stage because they are boring, hard, messy, even overwhelming.

Rather than start sorting the taxes, writing the essay or tackling some other job, we suddenly find it's the perfect time to clean the windows, trim our toenails, defluff our winter jumpers or any one of a thousand other things that suddenly become much more urgent!

At one end of the scale a little occasional procrastination probably isn't terribly harmful, though others might find our delaying and dithering really annoying.

However, at the other end serious dodgers can procrastinate so much that the results can be devastating to themselves and others.

For example, they become incredibly stressed, projects fail, they are fired, or let other people down. All of that can have far-reaching effects that impact on their relationships, friends, families and careers.

If you're looking for the perfect life/job that releases you from ever having to do some boring or unpleasant tasks you are not going to find it (unless you have a large budget and lots of staff to do your bidding!).

It's useful to accept the fact that there will be some boring/unpleasant tasks we all have to do.

So what do we do when faced with such a task? For those of us who are occasional procrastinators, here are a few steps that can help us get going:

• Break the task down into steps. One big overwhelming task can be really off-putting. It doesn't have to be done in one marathon session, just put aside an uninterrupted hour or half-hour and make a start. Then continue devoting some dedicated time to it until you're finished.

• Brian Tracy, a personal and business development guru says "eat the frog first!'', by which he means, get the unpleasant task out of the way first. That way you eliminate a conscious and unconscious source of anxiety and stress that can interfere with your health and wellbeing. Do it first and the rest of your day is free for the more enjoyable things.

• Focus on the feelings that you'll have when the job is done, a sense of relief or accomplishment. Avoid getting stuck in the "it's going to be awful, horrible, I really don't want to do it'' groove. That approach will only encourage the procrastination.

• Get someone to give you a hand if it's appropriate. It might make the job more fun.

• Reward yourself for getting the job done, or if it's a big project over days and weeks then reward yourself for progress along the way.

• Identify what your procrastination hotspots are. Is it always the same task you dally over? If it is then ask yourself why? Do you have the right equipment/tools? Do you have the knowledge required to do the job? Is there something you need to do first to make the job a bit easier? If so, do it!

Procrastination isn't simply about being lazy, it goes much deeper than that.

If you're one of life's more serious procrastinators, simple steps can help.

However, it's worth looking a bit deeper. Serious procrastination can be linked to fear of failing and, paradoxically, fear of success.

Procrastination can serve as a complex protection mechanism for your self-esteem.

If your procrastination is severely affecting your life and relationships then it's probably time to seek out a professional to help you deal with the causes and to be able to move beyond it.

• Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach

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