Procrastination. From time to time, we all do it. When we procrastinate, we convince ourselves something isn’t a big deal or can “wait just a little while longer” and then we end up in a huge rush and under a mountain of stress.
The easiest way to avoid that discomfort? Don’t procrastinate. But, no matter how many times it’s been said, it’s not as easy as it sounds. It can be tough to summon the self-control to do something for a number of reasons. Maybe we’re scared, maybe we just don’t want to do it, or maybe we’re feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes we truly don’t believe we have the skills to complete the task at hand successfully. So, composed with the help of Reverend Deborah M. Nutt, LPC (licensed professional counselor), here’s a list of several tips to help make not procrastinating a little bit easier.
This might be one of the hardest rules to enforce, but it can also be the most effective.
One of the reasons people often don’t start things is because they’re nervous or afraid to do so. Facing those unhelpful thoughts and beginning to complete that task lets your brain know that those thoughts don’t get to be in charge. You get to decide how you want to live your life! One way to help process your unhelpful worries is to use “May-or-May Nots,” a therapy technique often employed for people with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), who often struggle with constant worrying. Employing this management method is simple. Start with repeating to yourself, “this may or may not work out, I may or may not do this exactly as I should, I may or may not be able to finish this on time, etc.” This trains your brain to become comfortable with the uncertainty that is a part of everything you do. Once you’ve done this, let yourself know that you’re making a choice to start the said task because it’s important to you that you see why it’s important or necessary to do.
When tasks seem too big to even start, or you don’t know where to start, at least start with something, and break the rest into chunks. Take, for example, writing a paper. Thinking of writing the whole paper might send shivers down your spine, but what about starting (see rule #1) with the introduction? Well, now that you’ve got that, you can revise your thesis and start writing the first body paragraph! Rhodes College explains that the fact that this method encourages monotasking and uses scientifically approved “focus blocks” is part of what makes it so effective. Instead of just working on tasks, these factors make it easier to see yourself completing tasks. In this way, chunking can help tasks seem much less daunting.
When you notice that you’ve made a mistake with your time management, it can be tempting to spend time beating yourself up or just generally being mad. It’s great to recognize that something went wrong on your end, but instead of wallowing in self-pity (or worse yet, hurting others for no good reason), go ahead and pick yourself up and start that task. After taking a moment to recognize it, you can go ahead and start moving toward correcting your mistake. Rev. Debbie points out that “our last mistake can be our best teacher.” She explains that “we can use our mistakes to move forward.” We don’t have to stay stuck. Instead, using mistakes as learning opportunities gives you something productive to do with the frustration you may feel.
This tip goes hand-in-hand with rule #3, in fact, it’s an essential part! There’s a reason why some life coaches or therapists will ask their clients to take up journaling, we can learn a lot from reflection. In fact, Harvard did a study in 2014 that, at its core, concluded the following: reflecting on your work can improve future performance. This isn’t to say that the next time you procrastinate, a five-page essay is in order. However, taking the time to examine a mistake and what you’d like to do differently in the future can really help put some perspective on the situation and eliminate some factors that might cause you to procrastinate. “Being able to reflect but simultaneously not being so focused on the mistake…that can be a huge turning point for us,” says Rev. Debbie.
We all have temptations, those sweet spots it’s hard to say no to. If you’re worried or just know your productivity is going to be affected by something less important than the task at hand, put that thing away. “Our phone is a valuable piece of technology, but it also really feeds those distractions,” Rev. Debbie clarifies. She makes a valid point-social media hasn’t been called addictive for no reason. So, if it’s your bestie trying to show you the dresses she’s looking at for an event, for sure tell her you’ll help AFTER you finish your work for the week. If your friend wants to throw a football around for a bit, it’s fine to say you can for 20 minutes, but stick to your word and go get your work done after.
Remember Your “Why”
Getting distracted or falling into the procrastination trap can be a lot easier when you just don’t want to do your work. Chances are, though, if you know you need to do it, it fulfills a value for you. For instance, say you’re committed to a new workout regimen in the hopes of being ready to run a marathon in the spring. If you’ve already lifted weights that day, but not ran, it might be easy to say you don’t have to run. Convince yourself that you WANT to run because running today will get you one step closer to your goal of running that marathon and achieving your goal! Rev. Debbie suggests, “remember what you want and what you want things to look like.” This solidifies the vision of what you want to see for the future in your mind and helps keep you more focused on your goal.
Create A Workspace That Works
The thing about everyone is that we’re all different. We all learn differently and we all work differently. Some people have to sit still while they work, while others like to move around. Some people like to work to music, while others don’t, and Rev. Debbie has seen that with her clients. Some work better in coffee shops, while others need silence. Some perform better in solitude, while for others, being in a group stimulates them to do their best work. Some people prefer a workspace that’s fun and functional, while others would rather have the bare basics. Creating a workspace that meets your specifications will maximize your productivity and make it easier to focus on your work. However, no matter how or where you decide to work, make sure it’s in a way that prioritizes your health and leaves you feeling prepared, productive, and efficient. In fact, Rev. Debbie reminds us to give our bodies grace. “Sometimes things come up with our body, like we need a drink of water or we need to go to the restroom, and that’s ok,” she says. We just need to get back to our work when we’re done.
One of the biggest hindrances to productivity can be incorrect prioritization. There are many ways to prioritize, but here are some main ideas according to Rev. Debbie:
- Try to-do lists!
- Put tasks that are due sooner (like school or work assignments) closer to the top of the list, don’t try to push them back in favor of tasks you think you’ll like better.
- Creating a schedule can be a great resource, but it’s important to have some flexibility as change is inevitable.
If you have something you have to do, make sure you want to do it, and then have confidence in yourself! Rev. Debbie recommends making a “wins” list reminding yourself of the things you’ve done right or similar tasks you’ve completed before.
“When I see the things I’ve done right,” she adds, “it’s easier to say, oh, I got this!”
Even if it seems big or daunting, chances are you’ve been given the resources you need to complete it, or you’ve got the brainpower. Confidence is everything! Even if something doesn’t/didn’t work out the way that you wanted it to, you will DEFINITELY learn something that you can use to better yourself and create a more successful “next time!” And when that next time comes, then you’ll have another win for your list-and the cycle continues!
These aren’t even all the ways procrastination can be reduced-but any start is a good start! Speaking of starting, how can you use these tips to get some tasks out of your path to success?