Maybe you read the title of today’s post and thought ‘I don’t want to think about procrastination right now.’ I know that it can feel like addressing procrastination will somehow make it worse even though addressing it can actually make it less daunting. This post will address common feelings associated with procrastination and give you some tools to beat it. You’re definitely not alone on this one, Marauder!
Before we get ahead of ourselves, I’ll share where I’m coming from. I have struggled with procrastination for a long time and I’m still working to build better habits for how I approach my work. I am very prone to convincing myself that I will be more prepared to start my work at a later date, so I often put it off. At the core of these thoughts is my fear that starting an assignment is simply too overwhelming a task. For this reason, I have found it really helpful to acknowledge what is specifically worrying me about my work, and then specifically addressing this instead of ignoring it. This is one reason why I strongly suggest starting with some reflection to know what is at the root of your procrastination. Are you noticing a theme yet? I think reflection is key in finding balance.
Why do we procrastinate?
“We believe that we will be different tomorrow; but in doing so, we prioritize our current mood over the consequences of our inaction for our future self” (Sirois and Pychyl, 2013, p. 116).
So what? If you know that procrastination is often more about your feelings or mood and less about your ability to manage time, you can address the root of the problem. This means that instead of over-scheduling while still being stressed about your work, you can probe deeper about what has you stressed in the first place and then address it!
Now what? Avoid perfectionism! Know that starting your work does not mean being perfect the first time around. Give yourself the space to start small, make messy drafts, and not judge yourself. I would say that I am almost always more likely to do more work than I thought I would once I let myself start working.
“[…] aversive tasks lead to anxiety and worry, and […] task avoidance is a strategy to avoid this negative mood” (Sirois and Pychyl, 2013, p. 116).
So what? We procrastinate not only because a task itself is daunting but because we believe that the task will bring on feelings of stress, worry, or boredom and we want a way out of this.
Now what? Name what worries you about your work! Do you not know where to start? Is there an overwhelming amount of work to be done? When you are aware of what you need to do and how you feel about it, you will be more prepared to address your procrastination.
“Procrastination is the self-regulatory failure of not exerting the self-control necessary for task engagement” (Sirois and Pychyl, 2013, p. 116).
So what: When we procrastinate, we are giving into the impulse to avoid our work. It is understandable that we want to escape the pressures of our work, but we still need to build up our ability to start things even when it is easier in the moment to avoid it.
Now what: Practice self-control! When you know what your work entails and you know that you are worried about it, there is still the task of starting. With time and diligence you will find ways to work through the stress!
What can we do about it?
I know that this might turn some of you off right away, but bear with me for a second. When I first heard about mindfulness, my first thought was that it couldn’t actually be helpful to just acknowledge my thoughts and feelings without judging them or trying to change them. I thought it sounded a bit condescending because they’re already my thoughts—of course I acknowledge them! The important piece here is that in order to beat procrastination, you need to address both your time management and mood management. When you are mindful of what you need to do and how you feel about it, you will set yourself to have more control over your work than procrastination does.
Divide and conquer:
“Starting to study” or “starting your essay” are, understandably, scary things to ask of yourself. If you can break these tasks down, you might find that you don’t feel like you have to put them off quite as much! I personally make small promises to myself like “today I will think about my essay for 30 minutes and try to come up with my narrowed topic, but I can develop my thesis tomorrow.” This takes the pressure off and gives me a specific task to work on in a specific time frame. I am personally much more likely to start my work if I break things down in this way. With your deadlines in mind, try to give yourself the time to approach your work in chunks so that you do not continue to feel the burden of an entire project all in one session.
If you haven’t already, check out Tuesday’s post for more tips on how to plan your time. This might sound like an obvious one, but I swear blocking off my time actually made me more likely to do work. It helped me to see value in time that I would have otherwise wasted in favour of procrastinating and allowed me to take more breaks closer to deadlines instead of working an way too much in a really short period of time.
Sirois, F. and Pychyl, T. (2013), Procrastination and the Priority of Short‐Term Mood Regulation: Consequences for Future Self. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7: 115-127. doi: 10.1111/spc3.12011
Join the conversation: Was there a time when you beat procrastination? What made it possible?
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