Searching for tips to reduce procrastination may be another way of procrastinating (…yep…I’m onto you…) but at least if you are going to procrastinate, make it a productive use of time!
So…let’s get to it…Now!
Procrastination: The Basics
Let’s be clear: there are times when completing something at the last minute is actually good planning! For example, if you know that you will waste hours fussing over the recipes for a dinner party, it may be a good strategy to create the menu the day before.
However, I’m guessing that you found this blog because you look at your friends/roommates/classmates/colleagues/etc. and envy that they are able to get things done when they want to, or at least when they should or need to?
In contrast, you seem to find yourself coming up with *anything* to delay starting or completing (even very important) tasks? (“I can’t finish this job application…I definitely have to go buy a few more rolls of toilet paper even though I already have a huge pack from Costco…”).
If so, you are not alone. Over 50% of college undergraduates report procrastinating at least 50% of the time!!
But just because one is no longer in school does not mean that he/she/they is immune to procrastination! There are many other ways that people engage in procrastination, including planning events, preparing for holidays, making appointments, having difficult conversations, or making difficult decisions.
Procrastination: The consequences
Many books and articles aim to help reduce procrastination. Clearly, procrastination is not particularly desirable.
It is easy to see the negative external consequences of procrastination, lower quality work, late fees, missing enjoyable events, poor performance ratings.
The emotional/physical consequences can be equally costly and include embarrassment by low quality work, self-criticism, guilt, shame, disappointment, frustration, and physical illness/exhaustion.
With all of these downsides to procrastination, why do we continue to do it? Why don’t we learn??? We procrastinate for many reasons, including difficulties with time management, and uncomfortable internal experiences, including thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations.
1) Time Management difficulties:
- Difficulty setting priorities
- Underestimating the time required to complete tasks
- Inadequate structuring of time
- Failure to account for last minute problems (e.g., broken printer)
2) Unpleasant Thoughts:
- Perfectionism (e.g., “My work must be perfect or else I am a failure”)
- Self-doubt (e.g., “I am terrible at this”)
- Boredom (e.g., “Writing is boring”)
- Desire for alternative activity (e.g., “I’d rather be out having fun with others”)
3) Negative Emotions:
- Fear of failure (e.g., “I may not have a good idea”)
- Confusion/Frustration (“I have no idea what the person wants from me”)
- Boredom/Apathy (e.g., “I don’t care about this task”)
- Sadness/Anger/Disappointment (e.g., “Preparing for the holidays brings up bad memories”)
4) Physical sensations that arise when thinking about the unpleasant task:
- Stomach pain
- Tightness in chest
- Tension in neck/back/jaw
- Difficulty sleeping
- Poor appetite and/or strong desire to overeat
What can we do?
The strategies for reducing procrastination will depend on the cause of the difficulties:
1.Time Management Strategies help individuals plan their work schedules: anticipating time needed for work and potential last-minute problems and then scheduling and spending adequate time to complete tasks
These strategies include:
- Deadlines (e.g., “I will choose my essay topic by Monday”)
- Self-monitoring (e.g., “Wow, I checked email 20 times while studying for an hour!”)
- Intention implementations (e.g., “If I get up to get a drink, then I will neaten up one corner of the room”)
- Priorities (e.g., “I will spend more time studying for the exam that is worth 60% of my grade before writing my extra credit paper)
- Study habits (e.g., “I will leave my phone in the other room while I take this practice test.”)
2. Cognitive-Behavioral Strategies help individuals cope with the unpleasant thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations that pose barriers to completing tasks as desired or planned
These strategies include:
- Challenging negative cognitions (e.g., “This is a hard assignment but I have always come up with essay topics in the past.”)
- Identifying costs of procrastinating (e.g., “If I put off grocery shopping until the last minute, the store may me out of what I need, requiring an extra stop at another store.”)
- Setting realistic expectations (e.g., “I will likely need to review this material more than once before the quiz.”)
- Thought monitoring (e.g., “What comes to mind when I contemplate discussing my concerns about our recent interaction?”)
- Reducing experiential avoidance (e.g., “It is expected that I am anxious before the final exam. Anxiety is okay.”)
- Increasing values-consistent behavior (e.g., “I am dreading cleaning the house but I really want my friend to feel comfortable when she visits”).
Be patient with yourself–breaking habits and learning new strategies takes time…but don’t put off starting!