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How To Deal with Procrastination

There’s a certain irony in my delay writing a post on procrastination.

Procrastination is the act – some say ‘art’ – of delaying or postponing tasks or jobs. It’s often linked to akrasia, which means a lack of self-control, or acting against one’s better judgement.  Aristotle even called a “weakness of will.”

Why do we procrastinate?

It’s not hard to find reasons why we procrastinate. Here’s a few:

  • People value short-term rewards (for our ‘Present Self’) over long-term benefits (for our ‘Future Self’). Often the two Selves are in competition, meaning the Future Self mostly loses because the long-term outcome is not relevant to our Present Self. For example: “I know I need to go the gym, but gee, that muffin looks good to eat now.”
  • An inability to organise or prioritise, or to prioritise the right tasks, which leads people to feel overwhelmed
  • Self-talk: a person isn’t in the right mood to complete the job, even if they were in the right mood – which only makes the in-action worse
  • Perception of the task as low value, often based on the belief (usually true) that the task itself is unpleasant
  • A need for perfectionism. “I don’t have the right skills or resources, so I will wait to do them when I do.” Also, people create high expectations of themselves or the outcome, so better to not do anything and be frustrated in the process
  • An inability to deal with distractions
  • Personality issues, such as an inability to deal with impulse or fear of failure

Whatever the reason, it’s important too to know procrastination is learnt behaviour over time, which means …

  • It’s extremely difficult to fix procrastination. Change won’t happen soon or easily.
  • Typically a person needs several tactics to beat procrastination, not just one magic answer.
  • Like many personal issues, it’s key to understand what is causing the procrastination as much as having a plan of action.

Here are some suggestions and tips to deal with procrastination based on the problem

1)  An inability to organise
  • Pre-commit, publicly.
  • Develop to-do lists, plan schedules. More so, select only three tasks each day to minimise feeling overwhelmed. Do less better.
  • Find a mentor, preferably a family member or close colleague who you can accept constructive feedback with resentment.
  • Most procrastinators know they procrastinate, so it may be appropriate to get similar procrastinators together – by email, by Zoom – so you can leverage and help each other.
  • Use the Urgent/Important Matrix from Time Management (also called the Eisenhower Time Management technique).
2)  Being overwhelmed
  • Break a project down into smaller, more manageable tasks.
  • Start with quick tasks so you gain a sense of momentum or accomplishment.
  • Many people are more productive at different times of day. For many, it helps determine or reinforce when your most productive hours are. And, once you know, you can make better decisions when to attack big jobs vs. small tasks. Also, work on quick tasks at the start of the day to get them out of the way, again for feeling of momentum or accomplishment.
3)  Unpleasant Tasks
  • Given that the procrastination is good at thinking of unpleasant things, for balance you should also consider the unpleasant things that’ll happen if you don’t get started.
  • Improve the environment. Some people need to get away from temptations and distractions. Local coffee shops, a local library branch, even McDonald’s or Starbucks with free WiFi are options.
  • Sometimes the task isn’t as bad as you think.  For balance, is there anything good about the task?
  • Enjoy small victories by removing obstacles.
  • Plan out rewards – even small rewards – for different tasks. Big rewards for big milestones, smaller rewards for smaller tasks.
  • Pre-commit, by writing down when and where the task will be completed (and how, if necessary). Make a public announcement by sharing with family, friends, others.
4)  Perfectionism
  • For most people in this category, the key is to start. Author Jodi Picoult has the perfect quote:  “You can edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page.”
  • Focus on the results, not on the steps.
  • Call out negative self-talk for what it is. At the same time, help the procrastinator focus rather than focus on the negative aspects, think about what are the negative aspects of not starting.
  • Break down the tasks into macro goals with micro quotas. For some, create hourly specific quotas.  (Writing 500 words in 60 minutes, for example.)
5)  Distractions
  • Remove the distractions.
  • Most computers have a Focus offering, or if not, there are many apps now which can also help..
  • Some people need distractions, but the key is giving yourself a specific period of time. For example, use a timer for 15-20 minutes to read or do a certain task, but then set the timer for 60 minutes to work on a specific task..
6)  Inability to Deal with Impulse

How else have you beat procrastination? 😊 Don’t delay! Add your comments below.

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How To Deal with Procrastination