Why do people procrastinate. Some of it is your personal history and experiences. It may also be a safety mechanism. But often its a habit. And habits can be changed. It takes time to change a habit, and procrastination is a habit that requires a little bit of effort to overcome.
A review of over 800 legitimate studies of procrastination identified 4 key issues that make procrastination more likely; low confidence, aversion, distractibility and impulsiveness And they are easy to overcome. In fact, if you can master the following 5 step approach to overcome procrastination, you will become a productivity and homework machine. You’ll feel good about yourself and good things will happen.
So you’ve got a task you have to complete; homework, some office drudgery, filing taxes (a little late!) and you keep putting it off. Why? Because it’s difficult to see the benefit of doing the work. The reward is too far off- “if I can just get this work done, my boss MIGHT give me a raise in a year”. Or perhaps you can’t even connect the reward (your diploma or degree) with the homework assignment.
Perhaps there are too many distractions. A thousand thoughts whirling around in your mind like a hurricane “if I don’t get my taxes done, I will get a penalty, maybe even a fine. I could go up jail. Oh, that would be awful, I wonder what jail is like….”. Or too many outside distractions. The TV is on, new posts on Facebook, you’re getting texts, someone walks into the room to talk with you. So many distractions.
It’s time to take control. You can do it. And you’ll be so happy when you’re successful. So here is my 5 step prescription to overcome procrastination.
1. Remove distractions
Tell the people around you, that you’ve got something really important to do, and you need 2 hours (or whatever amount of time you can handle, but start with a reasonable amount). They will understand, if you ask them.
Now it’s time to manage the distractions you control. Shutdown all the apps that send you notifications, they can rob you of your focus. Turn off the music, turn off the TV. Close the door.
2. Calm your mind and get uber focussed
Okay, just how do you do that. How do you turn off the thousand different thoughts running through your mind. This is where a little mindfulness comes in. Perhaps a some meditation. I know, you’re not THAT flakey. But hey, trust me, it works for thousands of people, it might work for you.
Personally, I get some mindfulness help. A great FREE app called Insight Timer. It provides access to free guided meditations. I usually listen to one of the many from the Mindfulness category. After I listen to one, I become super focussed. Alternatively, you might go for a walk, play an instrument, listen to some soothing music, do some simple deep breathing. Whatever it takes to help you get focussed. But believe me, if you want to get laser focussed, 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation will do it
You’ve eliminated the distractions. You’re mind is clear and focussed. But you have to have a plan. And it needs to be reasonable. Take baby steps. A plan isn’t “I will study the whole course in 1 hour.” Some procrastinators are a tad unrealistic about the amount of time needed to finish a task. A realistic plan might be; first an outline, then a draft, then the final. Of course it might more complex than that. Just try to identify discrete tasks that can each be done in about a half an hour.
4. Work the work
People who really excel at what they do, appreciate the nuances in a task. They get a high from being in “flow’. An Olympic swimmer might swim thousands of lengths of a pool to build muscle. But they are constantly aware of the nuances in their swimming style. Making micro adjustments to their strokes to see if it makes an improvement. This is incredible focus. A concert pianist may play a single bar or phrase of music over and over, hundreds of times, to get it “just right”.
So begin writing your draft, and enjoy the nuance. Enjoy the ride.
5. Reward yourself
It’s critically important that you acknowledge each accomplishment. You need to be able to say to yourself, “look what I did, I finished the draft. And it’s pretty good!” Don’t seek acknowledgement from others yet (there’s a risk they might not appreciate your witty prose, and that could throw you off your game.). Give yourself a hug, a cookie, or a simple smile. Stand up and stretch.
Move on to the next stage of the plan. Each stage broken up with a little personal celebration of success.
If you can follow this discipline, and build on each little success, you will be amazed at what you’ll be able to accomplish. Remember, studies show it takes 12 weeks to change a habit. You will have to be disciplined to make this kind of change work. That’s why the little celebrations are so important.