To Do or Not to Do? That is the Question

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The Art of Avoiding Procrastination

Procrastination is the habit of putting off tasks to the last minute. It is the seemingly never-ending battle to get things done on time. It is also about things being completed late and the agonising you may go through to get them done at all. Procrastination is about the promises you make to yourself to change, but not being able to for reasons that may not be understood, not accepted or that you just don’t know what to do about.

Most people tend to assume that the reason they procrastinate is because they lack the willpower to control their own actions. The idea that some people have been preordained with this elusive commodity or trait that is hard wired, while others are left to ponder their own deficiencies, is spurious at the best of times.

People procrastinate because they experience emotions that they don’t want to feel when they attempt to do tasks. These emotions may focus on the feelings of being overwhelmed, a powerlessness or a fear of being evaluated, uncertainty about the task, unrealistic expectations and insufficient prioritizing.

The reason we have these feelings are not addressed by procrastination, but by procrastinating we avoid these feelings, at least for a while. The positive news is that procrastination is entirely normal and by following some simple strategies it can be managed.

J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973) once said that ‘It’s a job that’s never started that takes the longest to finish.’ Procrastination is quite common in society and most people procrastinate at least occasionally.

Indeed, while writing this blog post I found myself cleaning my desk incessantly, filing papers that simple had to be ordered, alphabetized and slotted into their corresponding folders. I also found myself gazing at the black and white cat in the neighbour’s driveway, wondering whether the bird that was perched on the letter box was safe or doomed to a short life – yet I digress, again. In short, procrastination affects nearly everyone.

Although procrastination may serve to relieve stress in the short term, studies of procrastination find that it also causes stress (Ferrari, Johnson and McCown, 1995). In his book The Now Habit, Dr Neil Fiore suggests that making time for fun can be an effective way to overcome procrastination.

Decide in advance what blocks of time you will allocate each week to family, entertainment, exercise, hobbies and work. Your priorities will determine the order of these blocks of time but making time for them all is the essential balance required. Benjamin Franklin advised that the optimal strategy for high productivity was to split your day into one third work, one third play and one third rest. Hold your work time and your play time as equally important so one does not encroach on the other.

Ultimately, overcoming procrastination involves the ability to establish priorities, manage time, set goals, break tasks into manageable pieces, set false deadlines and also reward yourself. When this happens, the body releases endorphins- the feel-good hormone.

Over time, with repetition, you will come to associate feeling good with completing a task or project. However, before you can do these things you have to identify your saboteurs.

Managing procrastination is a gradual process that takes time and a conscious effort to change what is not working for you. No one ever overcomes their procrastination with just one attempt at doing things differently. It takes repeated efforts and determination to continue and not become discouraged.

In the end, procrastination is normal. Motivation follows after you have done the work. So start now! Be aware of your thoughts and behaviours and know which anti procrastination strategies work for you.

Acquiring and understanding the possible reasons why you procrastinate will, at the very least, mean you will not have to punish yourself for procrastinating. There are rational reasons why you procrastinate and there are rational strategies to address them.

Ten Ways to Deal with Procrastination

  1. Challenge self-defeating beliefs. Use positive self-talk. ‘Doing something is better than nothing’ or ‘things get done one step at a time’
  2. Just start! Action leads to action
  3. Get something down on paper. Write quickly, brainstorm, use mind maps and edit later
  4. Jot down distracting thoughts. Set aside time to deal with these concerns after getting something done
  5. If you could get one thing done today, what would it be?
  6. Be assertive, set time limits on distractions such as phone calls, social media and emails
  7. Work in your ‘high energy’ part of the day
  8. Identify what energizes and motivates you into action (music, exercise). Combine this with trying to work
  9. Don’t keep doing the same ineffective things. What have you tried in the past? What helped, what didn’t?
  10. Set realistic goals. Chunk large assignment and tasks into smaller units of work. Use the motto ‘Chunk don’t clump.’

And just keep going!