Pushing Past Procrastination

Pushing Past Procrastination

Some people are born planners.  They’re organized.  They like order.  When they receive a task to complete, they make a plan, plot a schedule, and follow it through.  No mess, no stress.

              I am not one of those people.

              If you’re anything like me, procrastination has been something of a lifelong struggle.  Finding the motivation to complete an assignment--whether it be homework, chores, or a task at work--has always been hard, but even more so today, when we have so many tasty and easily accessible distractions to choose from.

              Unfortunately, even outside of the obvious results, procrastination can have serious and lingering effects.  Being late to pay your credit card bill not only ruins your credit score, but also can raise your APR—by 30%![1]  Putting off that doctor’s appointment may mean a serious disease goes undiagnosed until it’s too late.  Letting official documents, like passports and driver’s licenses, expire can land you with serious legal ramifications. 

Procrastination can cause you to make mistakes that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

Luckily for people like me, plenty of research has been dedicated to the procrastination phenomenon and how to curb it.  Here are some ways to power through completing tasks that you’d rather put off.


Familiarize Yourself with the Eisenhower Matrix

              It turns out Dwight Eisenhower has a bigger legacy than just his role as the 34th US president.  During his career as a commander during World War II, the burden of prioritizing all of the tasks of war led him to creating the Eisenhower matrix, which is today still praised and utilized by time management experts.[2]

              Here’s how it works: take a piece of paper and draw a square.  Now divide that square into equal quadrants.  The axes of this square are Importance and Urgency.  The quadrants should look like this:

·       Q1: Important and Urgent

·       Q2: Important but not Urgent

·       Q3: Not Important, but Urgent

·       Q4: Neither Important nor Urgent

Place your tasks in each quadrant as you feel appropriate.

Many procrastinators distract themselves by working on tasks that fall in Q3.  Unsurprisingly, this is a trap.  Perhaps more surprising is that Q1 tasks should also not be what you prioritize.

The healthiest work habits come from prioritizing tasks that fall into Q2.  By focusing your energy on Q2, you will eliminate much of the urgency for problems in Q1, balance your capacity to address tasks in Q3, and comfortably take your time to complete those in Q4.


Break It Down Now, Y’all

              Part of the root of procrastination is that certain tasks seem insurmountable.  As Ana Swanson wrote for the Washington Post¸ procrastination “usually happens when people fear or dread, or have anxiety about, the important task awaiting them.”[3]  The key to breaking past this fear is to break the task down into smaller, more manageable segments.

              Have an essay due in 5 days that you think will take you 5 hours to complete?  Great, instead of crushing 5 hours all at once in a last-minute crunch, take the essay apart into its components.  Spend one day working on your introduction, another on your body, and so on. 

If your task is still too large for that kind of breakdown, try turning it into smaller amounts of time instead.  An hour of work is daunting, but 15 minutes is much more doable—even if you repeat that 4 times a day.  Soon you’ll have a completed work—and you’ll feel like you’ve barely spent any time doing it.


Change Your Surroundings

              Our environments have a serious effect on how well we work.  Switching up your surroundings may hold the key to an increase in productivity.

              A 2014 study[4] linked changes in a workplace to increased productivity from the office’s employees.  Specifically, optimizing temperature and light in the workspace improved the workers’ performance and health by over 35%!

              If you’re finding it hard to concentrate, chances are you’re not in an environment conducive to completing work.  Consider leaving your home or workplace and working in a coffee shop or park for a few hours, if your kind of work allows for it.


Reward the Little Things

              Pushing past procrastination requires the motivation to do so, and incentive-based motivation is far more compelling than punishment-based motivation.  A rewards system can be an effective tool in ending personal postponement, but it does have to be done correctly.

              We know that procrastination is caused by fear and stress: we have a task that we need to complete, it causes us discomfort, we distract ourselves by procrastinating, and those distractions reward us with stress relief.  The key here is to turn this narrative on its head: you have to make completing the task the rewarding behavior, rather than avoiding it.

              A good way to reward yourself is through the simple act of practicing self-love.[5]  Do it well and do it often!  This works especially well with the system of breaking tasks down into simpler steps that we covered earlier.  Let’s say you have 3 loads of laundry to do.  You complete the first wash and put that load in the dryer.  Congratulations!  You completed a step!  Tell yourself, tell the whole world.  Tweet it out, text a friend, jot it down in your diary.  There’s literally no negative consequence to appreciating your small accomplishments, and it will create a mental connection for you between productivity and feeling good.


Learn to Be Okay with “Good Enough”

              Did you know that perfectionists are some of the worst procrastinators out there?  Contrary to the image of procrastinators as lazy underachievers, perfectionists employ a very complex form of procrastination that can turn them into their own worst enemies.

              It all goes back to fear.[6]  When faced with a daunting task, a perfectionist wants to do the best job possible.  The fear and anxiety of not living up to high standards can paralyze overachievers and prevent them from completing their work.

              To break the cycle of perfectionism procrastination, take a step back and re-evaluate the weight of the task ahead of you.  What’s the worst thing that happens if you don’t complete it perfectly?  Is that worse than not completing it at all?  (This is almost never the case.)   If you have an essay, it’s far better to submit with flaws and get a B than to not submit at all and get a 0. 

              And remember, just because you hold yourself to impossible standards, doesn’t mean that anyone else is expecting the same from you.  You can produce excellent work without it being perfect, and often, that’s good enough.


Get It on the Calendar

              It makes sense to schedule time for yourself to complete tasks—but what about scheduling time to slack off?

              Workplace journalism shows that applying the structure of a calendar to time spent relazing can be just as productive as scheduling time for work.  When Anisa Purbasari Horton found herself trying and failing to stay on task for an entire work day, she experimented with planned moments of procrastination.[7]  After 4 days, she found that scheduling several short procrastination breaks throughout her work day forced her to relax and increased her productivity.

              By scheduling procrastination into your calendar, you leave room for it to happen naturally and manageably.  Accounting for all your activities—including the ones you do just for fun—will help you stay motivated and meet your goals on time.


Set Deadlines for Everything

              Some tasks, like schoolwork or doing taxes, come with hard deadlines.  But what about the more open-ended tasks?

              Some procrastinators thrive on the time crunch, and one way to activate the energy that comes with performing a last-minute task without making it actually last-minute is to introduce artificial deadlines.[8]  Narrowing the available time you have to complete a task may not work for everything, but it can be a powerful tool when it comes to completing tasks like doing chores and taking care of yourself.

              If your room is a mess, rather than say, “I’ll clean my room soon,” tell yourself, “I need to clean my room before I go out for drinks with my friends tonight.”  If you need to make a dentist’s appointment, rather than say, “I need to see a dentist this year,” tell yourself, “I need to call the dentist before dinner.”

              It’s important to give all tasks an end time, no matter how small they may be.  Without that structure, you will never be able to motivate yourself to see a task through to completion.


Get to Work

There’s no one cure for procrastination, and not all of these methods may work for you.  These are tools to help aid the process, but ending your procrastination habits is in your hands, at the end of the day.  Just remember: if you put your mind to it, it’s just as accessible to do work as it is to do play.

Now get to work!

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