Procrastination is a non-specific symptom. This means it is a general indicator that there is a problem, but gives no direct signal of what the problem may be. Please note there is no connection between procrastination and what might be called “laziness”. A blocked or stalled working process can result from a number of different directions:
- not having enough motivation to match the intensity of the specific task,
- not wanting to do the task because you do don’t like it or because you don’t feel able to do it well enough,
- resisting doing the task because you don’t agree with it or because you are avoiding the consequences,
- or it could be secondary to another condition like depression, anxiety or fatigue.
Three Levels of Treatment
The first and simplest level of intervention is the use of “Activation Techniques” to change habits and behaviours. This is helpful when you have shifted into ineffective working patterns and they have escalated into a cycle of demotivation. An external structure and scaffold are applied to reboot your working routines and unravel the negative spiral to procrastination. This is also the treatment strategy when your work has stalled as a consequence of fatigue, for example. This is the “Breaking Cycles” strategy.
The second approach is to address your motivation: to understand what motivates you generally, for the task in question and why your motivators are not working now. This is a deeper process of understanding who you are, what you want to achieve, what success looks like for you (at this time of your life) and what feels like fuel – what translates into motivation for action. There are a number of motivators with none being more important or effective; everybody is built differently and so is motivated differently. This is the “Personal Drivers” strategy.
Psychologically we understand motivation to be two dimensional: on one axis is extrinsic (direct rewards like payment, prestige or even new skills) or intrinsic (personal meaning and accomplishment), then on the other axis we find moving away from pain (motivated to get away from something bad) versus moving towards pleasure (motivated to get something good).
The core internal drivers are:
- Belonging: the feeling of belonging to a group or cause with aligned values and social status
- Personal Power: the sense of freedom and independence
- Meaningfulness: your efforts have meaning according to a personal value system
- Safety: the feeling of being able to control your own safety and stability
- Curiosity: a sense of being stimulated or challenged by something new with the aligned excitement
- Achievement: the satisfaction of completing a goal or doing something well
The final level of intervention for your procrastinating when the first two have not been successful is to investigate the ways in which you might be blocking the recovery. You might ask why would l not want to do a task that I really want to do? Tasks have meanings and consequences, simply put. You might want to do your job to get paid, but it means to you that you are giving up your dream of doing something else: singing, getting a degree, travelling, etc. You might be happy to do a task, but resent the way that your boss has made you do it. You may enjoy your work, but are scared of success because a promotion means a role that you wouldn’t like or don’t feel able to perform at the advanced level. The consequence of being successful could be feeling exposed or overwhelmed. This is the “Breaking Barriers” strategy.