Why You Ride the Procrastination Train, and How to Get off of It
It’s Friday evening and you are working frantically to complete a task you were supposed to finish hours ago. It’s not that you didn’t have the time to finish it on time, you just didn’t get around to starting it sooner. Now, you’re cursing yourself for putting it off till the last moment, and now you are going to have to ring in the weekend with working late night instead of binging on that show you’ve waiting to dive into all week!
Why did this happen? Why did you lose focus? What made you put yourself to be in this situation (again)?
Was it the hours that you spent worrying about how the outcome will turn out, or taking another power nap just to stop fidgeting or stressing over the impending deadline all the while not being able to even start the task, or scrolling endlessly through your social media profile to give your mind a break or time spent on other/non-urgent tasks which should ideally have been taken up days from now?
If so, you’re not alone!
Procrastination is a honeypot that most of us have been drawn to at one point or other. While it may be comforting to know that we’re not alone, it is important to open our eyes to just how much it can hold us back.
PROCRASTINATION ≠ LAZINESS
Often, laziness is blamed for procrastination. The truth is, procrastination is an active means of avoiding undesirable emotions.
To stop yourself from procrastinating, you must focus on making it as simple as possible for the Present Self to begin with the task at hand, and have faith that inspiration and momentum will follow.
1. Make the Reward for Acting Concurrent with The Action
One of the most recommended ways of doing this is using a method called ‘temptation bundling’, which advises you to bundle a behavior or action which your present self will like with a behavior or action that your future self wants.
Essentially you only do XX (something that you like) while doing YY (something you habitually procrastinate on). E.g.: You only watch your go-to series while doing cardio, or you only eat your fav dessert while writing overdue communications to a difficult colleague.
2. Make Use of Commitment Devices
This is one of the most recommended ways to help combat procrastination by psychologists. Commitment devices need you to design your future actions ahead of time to minimize distractions or friction while getting into the task you want to complete.
For example, if you feel drawn to surfing various unnecessary websites instead of working on the task, you may want to use one of the many website blocker tools available which cut off the your access to your online distractions for set number of hours and save you hours of wasted productivity. Or if you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through your phone, maybe try locking your phone up in another room, and only go get it when you reach a milestone in your task.
Sometimes, despite controlling the external stimuli, we end up getting distracted by our internal thoughts and worry. If you are an overthinker or tend to worry a lot; then instead of trying to ignore it (which we know is nearly impossible), try giving it an outlet by writing down those distractions and keep them aside to think about when you are done with the immediate task. This simple act can help your mind put a pin on it and let regain your focus.
3. Restructure the Task to Make it More Achievable
- Small steps forward help you sustain momentum over time, which means you’re more likely to complete major projects.
- The faster and more easily you reach a milestone, the lesser it presents as a threat to your present self and builds confidence to continue.
4. Use Visual Cues to Keep Track of Your Behavior
Whether it is a mood board for the week that shows you the range of emotions before, during, and after you complete a difficult task, or a journal that lists out repeating (desirable or undesirable) behaviors, visually representing your behavior gives you a reality check which can he an effective way to get yourself out of the slump. Not just this, visual cues help display your progress or lack of, and can act as a powerful motivator.
It is crucial to not continue to beat yourself up for procrastinating but to practice self-compassion while using any of these tools.
Instead of having internal monologues like “I am useless. Why do I always do this?” which would only reinforce the negative emotions associated with the task, try being kind to yourself. When faced with a task you know you might end up procrastinating on, try listening to the emotional and physical cues of your body, and schedule it for the time of day when you are at your productive best. Most importantly, forgive your past behavior and focus on the now. You’ve got this!
When there is a hill to climb, don’t think that waiting will make it smaller.
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