The Perils of Procrastination

Everybody procrastinates sometimes but there are a large number of people who chronically avoid difficult tasks and look for distractions which in this day and age are increasingly available. Once procrastination strikes it can be very difficult to shake off. We all know highly productive people who seem to get more done in an hour than most people do in a day. The truth is that these people face the same procrastination challenges that we do but they are able to beat procrastination using a calculated approach. Psychologists have also found that increased procrastination levels can be problematic as it can magnify stress levels, reduce performance and lead to poor health (Case Western Reserve University).

What exactly is procrastination?

According to psychologist Professor Clarry Lay ‘procrastination occurs when there is a temporal gap between intended behaviour and enacted behaviour’. Put more simply, when there is a significant time period between when a person says they will do something and when they actually do it.

How do we overcome it?

In order to stop procrastinating you have to understand why you procrastinate in the first place. Recent research from Joseph Ferrari at DePaul University shows that procrastination is more complicated than most people think and that procrastination can actually stem from negative emotions that hijack your mood. Rather than being lazy, people put off doing certain things because they aren’t in the mood. Having come to the conclusion that you aren’t in the right mood to work you distract yourself with other tasks such as checking email, cleaning your desk or chatting to a co-worker. By the time you finish you begin to feel guilty for wasting time which only worsens your mood and as deadlines begin to approach you feel worse than you did when you first delayed the task. Dr. Travis Bradberry, in his article ’11 ways tyo beat procrastination’ calls this the procrastination doom loop.

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He sees beating procrastination as being as simple as taking control of your mood. When you employ the right strategies you can take back control and get yourself in the mood to get things done.

  1. Figure out why

When you aren’t in the mood to work procrastination is telling you something. Instead of beating yourself up for procrastinating take a moment to figure out why. This simple step could end up being the most productive one you take in completing your task.

  1. Remove your obstacles

Before you start a task, take a moment to consider any obstacles that might get in your way. Once you have done this develop a plan to ensure that they don’t. it’s much harder to regain focus than it is to maintain it.

  1. Jump right in, no matter what

It can be hard to get started on a task, even one you enjoy doing. The first step is difficult but once you get going your mood will drastically improve. When you focus n how difficult it is to get started you discourage yourself. When you jump straight in your mood improves which helps you stay on task.

  1. Cut holes in your project

Another cause of procrastination intimidation around the volume of work that needs to be done. To minimise this find smaller pieces of the work that you can complete quickly and easily.

  1. Work in the right environment

Working in the wrong environment can make you succumb to distractions- ensure that you are set up away from distractions such as the TV, electronics, friends or loud places.

  1. Enjoy small victories

There is nothing like the sense of accomplishment gained from ticking something off your to do list- to keep from procrastinating you need to experience this sense of accomplishment by tracking your progress carefully. Be aware that it I s not about doing small tasks to avoid big tasks, it’s about building small tasks into your daily checklist to build confidence and momentum.

  1. Get real

Setting unrealistic goals for your day is a fast track to becoming discouraged and to succumbing to the negativity that begets procrastination. Set realistic goals to keep things positive which in turn keeps you in the right mood to work.

  1. Take control of your self talk

Instead of telling yourself that you are not going to procrastinate (which will virtually ensure that you do) think about what you will do and how great it will feel to have it done. In this way your mind fixates on the action you want to take instead of the behaviour you want to avoid.

  1. Don’t be a perfectionist

We tend to freeze up when it is time to begin something because we know that our ideas aren’t perfect and what we produce may not be any good. Author Jodi Picoult aptly sums up the perils of perfectionism: “You can edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page”.

  1. Focus on results

While it may make you anxious to begin on a challenging task, don’t focus on that. Think about how you will feel when you complete the task and how much worse you will feel if you leave it until the last minute.

  1.  Forgive yourself

Don’t beat yourself up when you slip up and procrastinate- it sends you right back into the procrastination doom loop.

In summary, the key to beating procrastination is to remember that it is rooted in emotions. Considered use of the strategies above will help you to curb your procrastination tendencies and achieve greater productivity.

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