We may get the word “procrastination” from the Latin word for putting off till tomorrow, but some say it also derives from an ancient Greek word for doing something against our better judgment (akrasia). Why would any thinking person behave like that? Not everyone agrees on the underlying reasons why we may behave in ways that are injurious to our own well-being. In this article, Michael Evan Salley suggests approaches that will help you get the important things done.
1. Creating more distress
Psychologists have long believed that those who put things off fail to judge time properly, always thinking they have more than they really do. But the reality of approaching (or passed) deadlines doesn’t change the behavior.
Theories that procrastination is just laziness in five syllables don’t add up. Procrastinators have no problem doing something, just not the critical tasks.
What seems to be happening instead is that we human beings are trying to manage our distress. In this case, it’s distress that comes from contemplating an unappealing task. The problem is that by putting it off, we actually create more distress in our lives.
Procrastination engenders stress, poor performance, sleep problems, and even and even health issues. When we put things off we experience guilt, regret, and shame; all of which can erode our self-confidence, further reducing our ability to tackle important tasks. Avoiding the possibly devastating impact of procrastination on your life and work is as easy as trying the following simple approaches to overcoming this very human weakness.
2. Cut the catastrophe
Making a huge deal out of something you’re facing is a sure-fire way to set yourself up to put it off. The task you face may seem boring, difficult, or even painful, but it won’t be unbearable. It may not be your favorite task, but you can get through it. Keep telling yourself that.
3. Eschew excuses
You don’t need to be in exactly the right mood to take on an unappealing task. That magical break in your schedule you’ve been hoping for may never appear. All those ducks may never get in a row. Waiting for the perfect conditions to appear magically means never completing the important task. Stop with the excuses. Get started.
4. Promise somebody
Making a promise to somebody other than yourself might just help keep procrastination at bay. Set up deadlines. Share them with somebody, e.g., a friend, a co-worker, maybe a life coach. Promise to complete something by a given time, or check-in regularly with your “accountability partner.”
5. Eliminate distractions
Shut off intrusive technology. Social media is the most obvious offender, but texting friends can disable you. That super-advanced smartphone is also capable of old-fashioned phone calls. Put the phone out of sight and ignore the email.
6. Consider the benefits of completion
Imagine how good it will feel walking into a clean bedroom, or having your résumé ready to send out. Procrastination is about focusing on the short-term gains of avoiding the distress you associate with the task. Looking long-term at the benefits of completion breaks the cycle.
7. Block out the time
Forget the “I’ll get to it when I do” approach. That hasn’t been working. Make getting something done important, like a doctor’s appointment (or shopping trip). Schedule your effort in a calendar. Set an alarm to remind you to start and a timer for completing the task. Your smartphone or speaker can help with time management.
8. Set yourself up for success
Any project we take on tends to take on longer than we predicted. And we’re all more productive at different times of the day. Scheduling a task during the Super Bowl game may not be wise for the football fan. Plan to complete a task when you’re at peak efficiency.
9. Break the task down
Complex tasks make perfect procrastination triggers. Break things down into more digestible chunks, until you see parts of the overall job you feel like jumping in on. Like a book with multiple chapters, tasks composed of steps and phases you can take on separately.
10. Reward yourself
Always binging on the latest show from HBO? Fine, just do it after you’ve got that chapter written. The same goes for chatting with friends online. Arrange a celebratory outing with friends. Reward yourself for being so good as to complete that most important project.
While the underlying causes of procrastination, putting today’s tasks off until tomorrow, maybe mysterious, solutions to this debilitating syndrome are readily available. The distress experienced when contemplating unappealing tasks is only compounded by the erosion of self-confidence that comes with procrastinating on them. Use the tips above to help you avoid procrastination.
About Michael Evan Salley
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