If you’re thinking of putting off reading this post, perhaps that’s exactly why you should!
Many of us have engaged in procrastination to some degree with varying effects on our everyday lives. Whilst putting off starting that ambitious DIY project in favour of a Sunday afternoon nap might not have an overwhelmingly negative impact in the grand scheme of things, there are certainly some patterns of procrastination that are concerning and may be indicative of bigger problems.
What is Procrastination?
Procrastination, simply defined, is a conscious decision, often for no valid reason, to delay a task or goal in favour of a task of lesser importance. This is done irrespective of the negative consequences of failing to follow through on the original commitment.
‘If however, you notice that procrastination becomes a pattern, or your procrastination starts to negatively affect your life, it’s time to address the underlying motivations.’
We procrastinate for various reasons, to avoid an unpleasant task; to do something more enjoyable; because we run out of time; etc. If procrastination is a rare occurrence in your life with no adverse effects then generally it’s not something to be too concerned about. If however, you notice that procrastination becomes a pattern, or your procrastination starts to negatively affect your life (think failing university courses or frequently missing work deadlines) it’s time to address the underlying motivations.
Often procrastination results when we apply rigid and unhelpful rules or patterns of thinking to the way we approach certain tasks. For instance, the assumption that we must be in a certain frame of mind or particular environment in order to address a particular task. Therefore, when these arbitrary circumstances are not met, an emotion such as frustration, boredom, anxiety, etc. is generated which consequently creates a feeling of discomfort. Avoiding the task is how we deal with this discomfort. The avoidance of the discomfort, especially when combined with the often pleasurable experience of the activity we procrastinate with, is what reinforces this pattern of behaviour.
Essentially what happens when we procrastinate is that we prioritise an immediate, but comparatively much smaller gain: avoiding discomfort, over a more significant and beneficial long term gain: achieving whatever the goal or task may be.
There are a number of strategies you can use to assist in overcoming problematic procrastination.
- The first step is to write down a ‘To do’ list. It’s a good idea to have both a general and long term list, with major tasks to be achieved and then a smaller list, with manageable tasks for each day, week or month.
- Part of this process will involve breaking down your long term tasks into smaller chunks and making realistic estimations of how long each element should take.
- It is also important to prioritise your list and get started on the most important tasks first.
The approach you take to the list is also very important.
- If it’s possible, start with the worst task first and get it out of the way. This will give you momentum to keep working on the more enjoyable tasks and you’ll be relieved to have the task out of the way.
- When you really don’t want to complete a task, try and commit to 5 minutes of working on it at a specific time. You’d be surprised what you can achieve in just 5 minutes!
- Set reminders for yourself to complete tasks at specific times, taking into account the time of day and setting you feel you’re most productive in.
- Wherever possible, you should complete tasks as soon as you get them. The more you delay them the greater chance you have to feel overwhelmed and generate that avoidance inducing discomfort.
- It’s also a great idea to plan rewards for yourself for when you complete tasks, particularly big or unpleasant ones! Pick something you’ll really enjoy as added motivation.
To help with planning, try an organisation application like Wunderlist!