People who procrastinate are often mislabeled as lazy. Many of us even engage in self talk about how lazy or unfocused we are when we engage in procrastination. But procrastination is not a reflection of someone’s work ethic or their ability to focus. There’s more to it than that.
When we procrastinate, we typically put off something that we find difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable in favor of something easier or more appealing.
Chronic procrastinators know that waiting will cause more harm than good. We know that this choice will ultimately lead to a worse outcome for us physically, emotionally, and otherwise, but we do it anyway
Dr. Tim Pychyl is also a professor of psychology and a member of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa. He said, “Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem.” Sirois and Pychyl teamed up in 2013 to research the notion that people place a priority on their immediate emotional needs over those of their future selves via procrastination. Here’s what they concluded.
People engage in this irrational cycle of chronic procrastination because of an inability to manage negative moods around a task.
When faced with an “aversive” task, i.e. something that we find “boring, frustrating, lacking in meaning and/or structure,” we react with negative feelings and moods. Then we have a choice. We can get through those feelings and moods via “self-regulation” or we can succumb to the immediately protective choice of procrastination.
We believe that when we sit down to work tomorrow, or next week, or next month before the big deadline, we will feel like doing it. But we are wrong. When we choose the temporary reprieve from boredom, frustration, or challenge and kick the can down the road to our future selves, we are only making matters cumulatively worse.
We aren’t dismissing our future selves as being unimportant or anything. We are just absolutely convinced that our future self will be better able to handle the given task.
For one thing, a constant current of anxiety and tension will be along for the entire procrastination ride. This nagging looming deadline will be churning in the background, coloring our daily mood and impacting our health and well being. The negative feelings we have about the task itself make us procrastinate. That, in turn, leads to ruminating negative thoughts about the act of procrastination itself. It’s a cycle that has a snowball effect, gathering more self blame, shame, anxiety, and stress along the way.
Make a list of 3-6 things that you want to get done during the day. Put them in order of the most important or time sensitive to the least important or time sensitive. Start working on the first task until it is finished. Check it off, mark it out, and move to the next item. Keep going until your the end of the day. Move any tasks that are left undone to the new list you will create for the next day.
Remember to start the day by reading the current list of tasks and update it if it is needed.
Let’s face it. Distractions are very easily found these days. If you tend to wander into social media or headline news or your personal inbox instead of working on the more pressing task at hand, it’s time to digitally declutter your workspace.
The idea here is to make it harder to get distracted by removing the devices that hold those distractions. So, let’s say you need to create an outline for an upcoming presentation and you plan to work at the breakfast counter in the kitchen. Take only your laptop into the workspace. Put your phone, tablet, and any other devices you may have in another room and make sure they are on silent.
Close all tabs other than the document you are actively writing into. If you find that you cannot stop opening new windows to browse online, go old school and pull out an actual pad of paper and pen to write your outline in ink.
To take this a step further, declutter your actual devices so that distractions are not as easily accessible. Remove social media apps from your devices, delete games, and create folders to organize essential apps.
Remember to keep a specific workspace based on your task in order to avoid distractions
We all love a package deal. Bring the bundle up benefit into your life to get things done. This technique works very well for self care and health habits as well as household chores and responsibilities that we all find so easy to put off.
We are generally only accountable to ourselves for things like working out, mowing the grass, cleaning the house, cooking healthy meals, or doing the laundry. Make these tasks less tiresome and more appealing by bundling them with something you really love.
If audiobooks are your jam, only listen to them when you are cleaning the house. Catch up on your favorite podcasts only while you cut the grass or cook dinner. Watch the latest binge-worthy show only when you are on the treadmill.
Find the trick to do annoying chores in a funny way.
People can accomplish staggering volumes of work simply by committing to show up and do the work for a set period of time, no matter what. Writers past and present have found success with time techniques but it works with a wide variety of tasks. Here’s how it works.
Pick a task that you want to get done. This can be a routine, daily responsibility or a special project or work product you need to produce on a particular deadline. Decide how much time you have to work on the task each day or in this particular work period. It could be 15 minutes, 2 hours, or 60 seconds...pick a time period that makes sense for the task at hand. Set a timer for that time period and don’t stop until the timer goes off. No matter what!
But, what if your kid comes in the room and needs help with their lesson? What if you need to take a bathroom break? What if the doorbell rings or your mom calls or the dog starts barking madly to go out? Look, life happens. We know that. Hit the pause button on the timer, take care of the immediate need, and get right back to it.
Remember to start the timer each time you pick a task.
This is a little psychological trick that is both effective and super rewarding. Think about all the things you want to do today or that should happen everyday. Take care of the task that is the least appealing as soon as humanly possible. Get it over with and move on to the things that are more engaging, easy, and fun, or just less frustrating, dull, or challenging.
Once that “worst thing” is finished and done, there will be an immediate lift in spirit and a real sense of accomplishment. Ride that wave of success forward knowing that things will only get better from there! Worst Thing First is motivating, rewarding, and really works.