Let me check my things to do in the last two weeks: Read this book while on train; Fill out a loan application; Read personal emails in detail; Listen to an interesting podcast; Write 2 blog posts over the weekend…the list goes on. At least I have done 20% in one of them. Arggh.
As we are talking about procrastination, let us not wait further to do something about it. Ask yourself- which one important work have you been dragging week on week and not able to successfully tackle? Keep that in mind and we will use that for this exercise.
Everybody is guilty of procrastination in one form or another. Why do we keep postponing things?
A recent study from the Brooklyn College of City University of New York identified characteristics associated with procrastination among students. You may have guessed what are these- disorganization, poor impulse and emotional control and distractability- to name a few. What I found interesting is this- ‘reduced use of meta-cognitive skills.’ Woah!
Meta-cognitive skills are those that help a person ‘know about knowing’. That is, being able to examine one’s efficiency in learning. That made me think- though we are not students, do we also try to understand how effective we are in doing things and what is pulling us down by delaying things?
So how can we relieve ourselves of some procrastination? Part of the solution is understanding what could be the reason preventing us from doing what we ought to do. Find out which one is yours and pick up your relief:
When we are overwhelmed with too many things to do such as a particularly complex task or an act that requires a lot of detail, we tell ourselves, “This will require more time” or “I am too tired”. However, the underlying truth could be because you are afraid of not being able to do it correctly, or having no confidence to do it. Instead of confronting the issue head on, we delay.
Solution: Divide the task into several portions.
Overwhelmed with duplicating a 200-slide presentation? By starting one, at a time, you accomplish something. 10 slides at first, 20 more next, and so on.
Apply this in another complex task. You can reap low-hanging fruits once you are done with a fourth of it!
2. Lack of self-regulation.
Faced with a daunting task, we tend to panic and do first the most important and urgent matter. Masked by this project, we have been granted a license to delay all other important tasks. We shun our will-power and get carried away by our emotions.
Solution: Establish fixed daily routines.
If you fix a schedule to do small stuff, it works like your small lamp posts that guide you during the day. It gives you your own internal criteria what you ought to do and must do by end of the day. They are your time to stop and do something important.
Faced with two important tasks- a big and a small one- you can easily tell yourself or your team mates for the big task- give me five minutes to do this. And voila! You do two things in a matter of time.
If we fix a schedule for some bullet time for small tasks, we will be able to exercise a little more self-control and not be carried away by emotions.
3. Short span attention.
In the middle of a very detailed job, we gasp for breath and think we will not be able to take another minute on what we are doing. Why? We want to take our coffee, we want to check our email, we want to check our Facebook, we want that cigarette break.
Some attention deficit disorder has infected many of us due to the growing technology of ‘distractions.’
Solution: Cut off distractions.
Just simply shut off your social networks while working. Find a way to focus on what you are doing.
Stick your pants on your chair while finishing a proposal. Set a time to finish what you are doing and do not stand up until you finish it. Carrying on another 10 or 15 minutes to finish something is better than carrying the thought of a pending task over your sleep.
4. Lack of purpose or motivation.
This happens when working on some extra sideline or spending quality time with your family. By the time you get home from work, you could be so tired you do not want to do anything. The only thing that will keep you from physical breakdown is the motivation to keep going. Being there physically is one thing, being there whole-heartedly is another thing.
It is valid to say your mind is tired, your body is weak. And although these symptoms are more often the creation of our minds, it is brought about by our lack of purpose or motivation.
Solution: Practice implementation intention
Just like goal-setting, you have to be determined to do what you want by applying the SMART way: Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound.
Example: “I will spend 2 hours of my time playing with the kids and talking to them about what they did during the day”
By doing this detailed plan, you have etched in your own mind what you ought to do and so there is no excuse what ‘quality time’ could be.
5. Lack of accountability.
When there is no one chasing us to on this task and we are totally responsible for our own, the more we lose grip of our project. It is so easy to think, “I can delay this for next week since I have more pressing needs.” No matter how important a matter is, without any pressure, there is no taking responsibility.
Solution: Exercise peer or partner motivation
Be thankful if someone is nagging you about a task undone. Maybe it’s your wife or your boss. They are your instruments to be responsible. Take this into the positive light and make it work.
If you do not have any, find one. Ask him or her to remind you.
When trying to accomplish a personal goal where only you will face the consequences, find a partner or a buddy who can help you remind or do it with you.
For example, If you want to run a marathon, find someone to run with. And for sure you will endure it.
So what was this task you have delayed for weeks now? Can you pick one of the five root causes and solutions?
Participate by commenting below. By doing so, you are joining our community to co-grow.
Interesting resource: There is a treasure of articles about procrastination in Don’t Delay by Timothy Pychyl in Psychology Today. Check it out!
Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver