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Overcoming the Perils of Procrastination

We are all guilty of falling into it. Many of us fall victim to it when we are stressed, or bored, or simply looking for a distraction throughout the day. And while we are all guilty of it, it can take a lot of willpower to be able to overcome it. What is it? Procrastination, of course.

There are literally hundreds of studies, books and reports on why we all procrastinate, and how we can be better at overcoming it. Often we have become so skilled at procrastinating in our own ways that we cannot even recognise when we are doing it. So, what can be classified as ‘procrastination’?

Procrastination – A definition

In short, procrastination is the act of putting of things that should be the focus right now, in favour of something more enjoyable or comforting. According to prominent psychologists, procrastination occurs is when there’s a temporal gap between intended behaviour and enacted behaviour. In other words, when there’s a significant time period between when people intend to do a job, and when it actually gets done.

Recognising Procrastination

Before we can learn how to overcome our own style of procrastination, we need to be able to properly recognise when we have slipped into the habit.

Procrastination can be hard to stop, especially when you may be using less important tasks or low pay-off activities to put you off doing what really needs to be done. Scrolling through the internet for hours or watching 3 hours of television in a row are more obvious procrastination techniques, but less obvious ones may be hidden within the way low pay-off activities meanders their way in front of more important high pay-off activities. Once tasks that should be quick are stretching into whole hour or even day consuming exercises, it is likely this has become a source of hidden procrastination.

Similarly, feeling like there are never enough hours in the day can often come down to recognising where your time actually goes. Being able to recognise the difference between being overworked and being disorganised can be key to flicking the switch, recognising the real issue and addressing it at the source.

Overcoming Procrastination

To help you better recognise and address the source of your own form of procrastination, here are some tips below:

  • Refocus on your high pay-off activities

This is perhaps the most jolting way to get you back on track with the work required day-to-day to reach your own milestones. Although it may like too much to think on in your moments of procrastination, your larger life goals are the source of your strongest motivation. By getting back to the core of why you are working on a task you will subconsciously be activating a very strong motivator: your own self will.

Practice by revisiting your high pay-off activities every time you feel yourself drifting into your own procrastination habits. The act of writing out your larger goals along with positive results that you will achieve from completing them will sometimes be enough to shake you from the spell of procrastination and put you back on track.

  • Know your procrastination habits

As already mentioned, being able to recognise your own procrastination habits can be a major part of the issue. However, learning what your individual triggers are for slipping into procrastination mode can assist in quickly getting you back on track. Here is a list of common reasons people procrastinate:

  • Boredom
  • Difficulty of the task
  • Frustration with the task
  • Lack of personal meaning
  • Lacking in rewards

Sound familiar? Although each person will be different, it is worth having a think about why the task you are avoiding is so unappealing. Once you know the trigger, you can get closer to addressing it.

  • Just start

Often a large task can seem so enormous and all-encompassing that starting it seems near impossible. Similar, a boring task that doesn’t require much thought can seem so mind-numbing that doing literally anything else is more appealing. In both cases, the key to getting it done is just to start it.

By setting yourself a starting time of five minutes to look over the task, better plan it or better yet complete it, you have overcome the emotional, avoidance side of your brain and addressed the task head on. Just like building up to your first marathon, it all begins by taking that first step. You won’t necessarily get to the finish line the first time, but making a start with your complete attention to half the battle.

  • Learn to forgive yourself

Often the negativity associated with procrastination can add to the anxiety of slipping into the habit. Understand that it is not possible to stay completely immersed in a task for the entire day: your brain needs and craves breaks.

Understanding that you are entitled to take a break can often limit the amount of time spent procrastinating around a larger task. Feeling like you have permission from yourself to get up, stretch your legs and get some fresh air away from the task will alleviate much of the guilt that is often associated with procrastination behaviour.

Productivity is never an accident. As a rule, you don’t just stumble across productivity, it takes commitment, planning and effort to remain productive and focused. Print us this poster from LMA as a reminder from the great Paul J. Meyer himself about what it takes to overcome procrastination.