Have you ever sat down to work on an important task only to find yourself spending time on Facebook, checking emails or even cleaning up your desk? If so you are not alone! In fact, March marks the month of National Procrastination Week, a holiday “celebrating” delaying what we need to do. While occasional procrastination can help us relax if we are pushing too hard, it is generally a habit that is destructive and can cause missed deadlines, poor performance, financial troubles and increased stress. Procrastination is the act of delaying or putting off a task that we need to accomplish.
What Kind of Procrastinator are You?
Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D. author of Still Procrastinating has done extensive research on why people procrastinate. He concluded that there are three kinds of procrastinators: arousers or thrill seekers, avoiders and indecisive procrastinators. Arousers need the thrill of the “last minute” to get started. Avoiders fear being judged whether for success or failure. Indecisive or decisional procrastinators struggle to decide and are usually perfectionists. Awareness of what group you fall into can help break the habit. Ferrari suggests:
• Thrill Seekers: for those who need an adrenaline rush to get started, find another way to get that rush. Feel the rush of finishing something way before the deadline. Celebrate and reward yourself for finishing ahead of schedule. Procrastinating causes unnecessary stress and does not enhance performance.
• Avoiders: for those who fear being critiqued and therefore do nothing, keep a journal about your thoughts surrounding avoidance. Challenge destructive thoughts with questions like “what is the worst thing that will happen if I finish this task?” Get to know your strengths and weaknesses and understand that no one is perfect.
• Indecisive: for those who tend to be perfectionists, realize that there is no one perfect decision. Perspective in addition to prioritizing what is most important are essential. If you struggle to complete tasks because you get hung up on making it perfect think “done is the new perfect!”
Feeling Good Now Comes at a Cost
In his book Solving the Procrastination Puzzle Timothy Pychyl Ph.D. also discusses strategies for change. The first strategy is to acknowledge we don’t like the task in front of us and we are avoiding it to get away from this negative feeling. This takes some practice but if we can begin to see what we are doing and why we can begin to self-regulate. So, what do we do with the negative feelings in the moment to get rid of them? Pychyl suggests using a mantra such as “I won’t give in to feeling good now. Feeling good comes at a cost.” Or you can use an “if-then” strategy such as “If I face an unpleasant feeling when I need to do X, then I will get started anyway.” He also suggests self-forgiveness is a critical step in the process because experiencing guilt from past experiences adds to the negative emotion surrounding the current task.
Just Get Started
Often people say that the hardest part of jogging is the first few steps. Or the hardest part of writing a report is the first sentence. Once we get started we realize the task is not as bad as we thought it would be and we can keep going. In fact, research shows that just getting started changes our perceptions of a task. We feel more in control and that can give us momentum. Moreover, this research shows that setting an intention for initiating a behavior can help us move into action. An example would be “If I tell myself to wait until tomorrow, then I will set a timer and do 15 minutes today.” Even if you only do a small part of the task, taking the first step is progress toward your goal. Another strategy is to divide into subtasks and complete one of those. Reward yourself for your progress!
Lose the Distractions
Today more than ever there are so many distractions that can take us away from a project. It’s much easier to check your Facebook page or read emails then to work on your taxes. Knowing this, develop a strategy to temporarily remove these distractions so you are not relying on willpower to avoid the urge to use them. Reward yourself for completing your work with a short break (use a timer) and do something enjoyable.
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