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How to Deal With Procrastination

  • Amruta Bhaskar
  • Jan 22, 2021
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Everyone has put off a task at some point in their life. But have you ever wondered why you—or others—procrastinate? While some view it (in themselves or other people) as laziness, there might be something else at play.

In psychology, it has long been believed that people who procrastinate have a faulty sense of time—that they think they will have more time to get something done than they do. While that may be true for some, more recent research suggests procrastination is linked to difficulty managing distress. Specifically, it seems that task aversion is to blame—that is, when people view a task in an unpleasant manner (“It will be tough, boring, painful...”), they are more likely to put it off.

While procrastinators may be trying to avoid distress, this approach can ironically cause more distress in the long run. Procrastination can lead to increased stress, health problems, and poorer performance. Procrastinators tend to have more sleep issues and experience greater stressful regret than non-procrastinators. What’s more, procrastination can also hinder your self-esteem with guilt, shame, or self-critical thoughts that can result from putting off tasks.

Procrastination is extremely common. 75% of students consider themselves procrastinators, with 50% doing so regularly and to a level that is considered problematic. The three most common ways that students report procrastinating? Sleeping, playing and watching TV. Researchers have found that procrastination is associated with low self-esteem, irrational beliefs, a fear of failure, depression and poor study habits. Furthermore, those who procrastinate have been found to be more stressed and likely to be ill nearer a deadline, often culminating in lower exam results.

Here are ten tips for overcoming that daunting task you've been avoiding, based on science:​ ​

1. Pick Your Poison

The key to beating procrastination is focus. We often give ourselves too many things to do and become overwhelmed. Start by choosing just ONE thing that you’ve been procrastinating and make a commitment to complete that task in the next week.

2. Start today

Once you’ve narrowed it down to one task, you must take immediate action. Today. If it feels daunting or you don’t think you have enough time to complete the task, do the Five Minute Miracle below.

3. Five Minute Miracle

This is one of the best techniques for people who struggle with procrastination. The Five Minute Miracle involves asking yourself; “Hmm, what action can I take in less than five minutes TODAY that moves this forward even the tiniest bit?” Once you’ve identified a small action, set a timer for five minutes and spend five minutes working on the task. Research shows that once you start something, you’re much more likely to finish it. This is due to a psychological phenomenon called the Zeigarnik effect, which says that unfinished tasks are more likely to get stuck in your memory. (This is also why our mind gets stuck in a loop thinking about all the things we haven’t yet completed.) Remember: Small action is still action. Five minutes can make all the difference.

4. Do a Power Hour

A Power Hour consists of putting away all distractions and working in concentrated chunks of time (to begin with I suggest no more than twenty minute intervals) followed by short periods of rest, to harness the optimal performance of your brain and body.

Science has discovered that our brain naturally goes through cycles with peaks and valleys. To maximize your output, it is important that you honour these peaks and valleys by balancing concentrated, focused time with relaxation and integration.

5. Kill It With Kindness

Research shows that the more you can forgive yourself for past procrastination, the more likely you are to overcome your current procrastination and take action. Practice self-compassion when thinking of your experience procrastinating.

6. Have a Procrastination Power Song

Pick a song that gets you energized, and play it whenever you want to tackle something you’ve been procrastinating. The brain likes to have a trigger to create a new habit, plus you’re more likely to follow through when you’re feeling good in your body.

7. Get under the hood

Sometimes, it can be helpful to understand exactly why you’ve been procrastinating a specific task. Are you afraid of something? Maybe you feel overwhelmed and don't know where to start. Fill in the sentence; “I’m avoiding this task because…” or “I’m avoiding this task because I’m afraid that….” And see what shows up. Identifying your fears can help you realize the monsters in the closet aren’t as bad as you think.

8. Let It Go

Most people put way too much on their To-Do list. One way to stop procrastinating something is to decide you’re never going to do it. What can you take off your to-do list? Try crossing something off your list simply because you realize you don’t need to do that thing...ever. Give yourself permission to let it go.

9. Make a bet

It can be very helpful to have an accountability buddy. One fun way to take this a step further is to have a bet with your buddy. Choose a day and time within the next week that you will complete this task and then tell your friend or colleague; “I’ll give you $10 / take you out to lunch / buy you coffee / watch that awful movie you’ve been wanting to see / etc. if I haven’t completed this task by next Wednesday at 10:00 am.” Give your accountability buddy a date and time within the next week and tell them to redeem the agreed upon prize, they must check in with you at that appointed day and time. If you haven’t completed your task by then…you owe them whatever you bet!

10. Make it fun

Another way to motivate yourself to complete a task is to create a reward that you will give yourself once it’s been completed. What can you treat yourself to once you’ve finished this task? Research shows the human brain responds to reward stimulus and this can be a good way to create habits.

Breaking the procrastination habit isn't easy. After all, if it was simple there wouldn't be a large number of students engaging in procrastination on a regular basis. The urge to put things off can be strong, especially when there are so many things around us to provide fun and entertaining distractions.

While procrastination might not be something you can avoid entirely, becoming conscious of the reasons why you procrastinate and how to overcome those tendencies can help. By implementing these strategies, you might find that it is easier to put your nose to the grindstone and get started on those important tasks.

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