How to fight procrastination



Isn’t it funny that nowadays is all about living in the now, but when it comes to actually doing things, is more about doing them later?
I came to this conclusion after I started noticing and listening to what people are saying to me in my practice office: “I know, I should start writing my Master thesis, but I don’t do it”, “I keep postponing that report until the last minute”, or “ I want to spend more time with my family, but somehow I just don’t get to do it”, “I felt in my body that I needed to slow down, but all people around me are working like crazy, how to stop?”

That got me thinking that there is a gap between goals and action.

There are many reasons why this gap exists - like difficulty in accepting responsibility, lacking resources or focus, fear of failure. One other reason is also that most people naturally procrastinate doing things, they rather accept the gratification of the now moment, and in doing so, they procrastinate more important things.

According to Tim Urban there are two types of procrastinators

Those who have a deadline like writing a thesis or a report, finishing a project, going for a medical check; and
Those who don’t have any deadline and this apply mostly to life areas like improving your health, career, social relationships or personal growth.

It turns out that for the first category it is somehow easier to overcome procrastination because you do have to deliver at one point, the set deadline functions like an external pressure. The annoying part is that, unfortunately, it’s often with the cost of sacrificing quality, having unnecessary stress, or even missing advancing in your career.

It is the second type - the procrastinators without a deadline - who suffer the most, and the problem is that this sufferance is not felt in the moment, there is no uncomfortable feeling or pressure bothering you now, but effects appear rather in the long term, through health problems (mental or physical), through losing ties with important persons in your life, not advancing in your career, diminishing of self-esteem by feeling often guilt, anxiety and frustration. And this is the kind of procrastination that is more sneaky and harder to fight against, because you need more will power and discipline to overcome it.

In the first category - procrastinators with deadline - we deal mostly with short-term goals or tasks

That’s why, analysing those goals we see that the more averse the goal ortask is, the more we tend to procrastinate. Author Tim Pychyl identified the main characteristics that make a task procrastination-worthy: boring, frustrating, difficult, ambiguous, unstructured, not intrinsically rewarding, lacking in personal meaning. That means that we can work on how to re-interpret the task in a way that is more accessible for us:

  • you can break-it in smaller parts and set intermediate dead-lines,
  • make a mind map to help you create a better structure, or gain a new perspective by talking to different people,
  • ask around if you need more information and clarification,
  • find something that can make the task more appealing to you, like listening to your favourite music while doing it,
  • be sure to disconnect from things that might distract you (phone, social media, emails) to avoid interruptions and multitasking.

I would also suggest you to involve more emotions in getting tasks done: when procrastination sets in, there is a short argument between your logical part of the brain that says you must complete your task, and your “monkey” (emotional) brain that seeks a gratification, surprise- exactly in the moment you want to start. And this is the part that usually wins. Instead next time, when you don’t give in, praise your logical brain for taking control and not giving in. That might trigger positive feelings like pride and fulfilment, and those feelings you want to keep and gather more.

The second type of procrastinators, those without a deadline, are those with goals that spread on medium and long term

That’s partly why it’s so difficult to deal with, because we generally tend to focus more on the now, and less on the future. Understanding that we should keep one step in the present and one step in the future is the key.

To overcome this kind of procrastination, you need to become a bit of a philosopher and spend some time thinking about your vision of the future, you need to accept your vulnerability and even your mortality. Because when you are young, you think nothing can touch you. Once you grow older you realise how vulnerable you are, and unfortunately, often is too late. When you feel it’s a good time ask yourself:

  • Do you have clear goals for all areas of your life? Usually we set career goals and do not pay so much attention to goals related to family, personal or health matters. Are your goals alligned to your values and beliefs?

  • How long do you want to live, if you could have the possibility to choose? Now jump ahead to the end of your life and try to imagine what are the three most important lessons you have learned?

  • Do you feel that you are mastering your life now? If not, who is doing it for you? Why is that?

  • If something bad would happen tomorrow, what are the things would you regret for not doing? What would others say about how you lived your life?
The clearer your vision about your life is, the easier it gets to stay focused on it, to set smaller goals and achieve them. Again, unclear goals make it hard to take action. And from time to time stop, look around you and correct if you think you are not on the right path.

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