While we’d love to be able to say goodbye to procrastination for good, we’re human, not robots! (in fact, maybe you’re procrastinating right now!).
So *why* do we procrastinate?
Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Puzzle, states that procrastination is a human condition with 95% of people admitting to putting work off (and the other 5% we assume are lying!).
It comes down to procrastination simply being an emotional reaction to something that we really don’t want to do, so the bigger or more undesirable the task, the less likely we want to do it.
The best way to understand – is imagine you have two selves – your present self and your future self. Setting goals (losing weight, writing a book, learning a language) are plans for your future self. Envisioning the slimmer, published, bi-lingual you – your brain sees the value in taking long term actions. While the future self sets goals, only the present self can take action. Your present self is unfortunately totally modern and fully into being gratified NOW. That self wants a packet of chips, to pick up a pen later cos the football’s on and thinks verbs are overrated and accents almost impossible.
You go to bed and your future self is motivated but when you wake, you fall into old patterns. Your brain values long-term benefits when they are in the future (tomorrow), but it values immediate gratification when it comes to the present moment (today).
Rewire Your Brain
The most important thing to do to overcome procrastination and make it work for you is to simply reverse the triggers (boredom, frustration, unrewarding, difficulty, ambiguity).
Procrastination is in no way logical but rather comes from the emotional part of the brain which makes you think that watching another episode of The Stranger instead of tackling that report is a good idea (it’s not!).
But if for example you take writing a report as boring, then turn it into a game to see how many words you can get out in a 30-minute timeframe. Or if you find a task on your to-do list that’s ambiguous, then create a workflow that lays out the exact steps you need to follow to get it done. Make a Trello checklist, register the emotional satisfaction of each tick and line through a completed component gives you – is reassuring you’re kicking ass!
Work Within Your Resistance Level
When the need to procrastinate sets in, it’s so easy to throw in the towel and give in (been there, done that!). However, if you find the limit of your resistance level you will realise that more often than not it will allow you to complete the task to some degree (therefore negating procrastination!). This doesn’t make sense – what are you trying to say – give me some bullet points in real terms and I’ll reframe for you
If the thought of reading for an hour sends a shiver down your spine and inspires an urgent need to turn the TV on, then shorten the amount of time until you find a period with which you are no longer resistant to the task (because 15 minutes of reading is a start!). And a start is not procrastinating!
Making a Start is a Change of Heart!
It’s easier to keep going with a task after you’ve overcome the initial hump of beginning it.
That’s because the tasks that induce procrastination are rarely as bad as we think, so getting started on something forces a subconscious reappraisal of that work, where we often find that the actual task sets off fewer triggers than we originally anticipated.
Research suggests that we remember incomplete or interrupted tasks better than projects we’ve finished.
So moral of the story?
Starting is better than not starting at all!
How many times have you sat at your desk, computer screen blank but phone in hand scrolling through Instagram? (guilty!).
Or started googling something that is definitely NOT related to your report that was due yesterday? (double guilty!).
A sure-fire way to ensure procrastination is minimized (and yes, it is easier said than done!) is to disconnect from your devices or distractions in advance before you sit down to the task.
That way you give yourself no choice *but* to work on the task at hand (and as shown above, once you start, your task is rarely as bad as once thought!).
Reward yourself (accordingly!)
One of the best ways to bring future rewards into the present moment can be achieved through temptation bundling.
Temptation bundling came from behavioral economics research performed by Katy Milkman at The University of Pennsylvania. Simply put, the strategy suggests that you bundle a behavior that is good for you in the long-run with a behavior that feels good in the short-run.
Only listen to a podcast when exercising. Only watch TV when ironing or doing some other chore. Only get a pedicure if you’re prepared to clear work emails. You get the picture.
So now you’ve made procrastination your b*itch? (even if it was for 30 minutes!). Well, that calls for a (well-deserved) celebration, of course! Go on dive in, the next episode of The Stranger is all yours …