Psychologist Sandy Peace offers 7 steps that will help you kick procrastination in the ass!
The big deadline is coming and you haven’t started working on that project yet. You’ve been putting it off: catching up on TV you’ve missed, keeping busy with low priority projects, socializing, sitting and staring into space instead of working. You’re stuck, and the initial apathy you felt toward the project is turning to panic as the deadline approaches. You know you can do it, and can’t figure out why the hell you aren’t! Then, in the final hour, you bust your ass, pull an all-nighter, and get it done. Not your best work, but it’s done. Or, perhaps you don’t do it at all, opting to give it up rather than go for it.
If this cycle sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Procrastination is a phenomenon that affects most people at some time or another. Here are 7 steps to help you kick procrastination in the ass instead of having it kick yours.
1. Understand Your Type of Procrastination
Most people who procrastinate feel at a loss to understand or control it. In her book “Productive, Successful You!,” psychologist Jenny Yip, PsyD, describes three types of procrastinators: perfectionistic, perplexed, and overworked. Respectively, they have overly high expectations, don’t know how to break tasks into manageable pieces, and try to do more in a day than is possible. The first step to change is knowing the problem.
2. Find Your Optimum Level of Arousal
No matter your flavor of procrastination, the underlying factor is physiological arousal. We all know the fight, flight, or freeze response to perceived threat. The Yerkes Dodson law describes the relationship between physiological arousal and performance, noting that a certain level of arousal is necessary for motivation and productivity, but when hyperaroused productivity decreases. Learning how to modulate your level of arousal is key to productivity. If arousal is low, pump yourself up. If arousal is too high, practice some diaphragmatic breathing to calm yourself before starting.
3. Adjust your Expectations As Needed
Lowering your standards to excellent/good rather than perfect and reducing the number of tasks you try to do in a day can help keep you on track. Transforming an “I have to” to an “I want to” mindset can help build intrinsic motivation for extrinsically imposed tasks.
4. Challenge Your Cognitive Distortions
When we procrastinate we often beat ourselves up. “Negative self talk” and other “cognitive distortions” can lower our morale and self confidence thus feeding procrastination. Engaging in “Positive self talk,” challenging negative beliefs about yourself (“I’m lazy”) and the task (“this is impossible”) will help you get moving.
5. Make A Plan – And Stick To It
Yip recommends throwing out the to-do list in favor of a schedule of tasks. Break large tasks into smaller achievable goals and get them on your calendar. When you reach your time limit, move on to the next task whether or not you finished.” Build in some catch up time for unfinished tasks as well as for self care – eating, exercise, rest. Start to get a realistic sense of how long things take and adjust accordingly.
Yip also recommends taking time to visualize going through your day completing what you want to do with ease. Don’t just see it – use all your senses. Practice your steps to success, like an athlete practices their winning performance.
6. Discern When It’s a Behavior You Can Change or A Larger Issue
Understanding the root cause of procrastination, challenging it, and sticking to your plan might be all you need. But sometimes prolonged fatigue and lack of motivation or chronic hyperarousal and worry are indicative of depression or anxiety not a personal failing. If this is the case, you may benefit from consulting a psychologist or psychiatrist as part of your strategy to beat procrastination.
Utilize the Premack Principle and do a less desirable task before you do a more desirable task. Reward yourself when you complete a task. Hold on to the feeling of accomplishment and evoke it the next time you feel stuck. Take time to rest, celebrate, and build motivation to kick procrastination’s ass!
Illustration–Nessima El Qorchi