Written by: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist
When it comes to time management challenges, procrastination takes the cake…and it’s not a tasty cake, at that! In fact, procrastination has been linked to such unpleasant things as poorly managed stress, health issues, and sleep complications. If you struggle with procrastination, you’re most likely familiar with its costs and you know that it’s a habit worth rectifying…today, not tomorrow!
It’s important to note that procrastination is a specific type of “putting things off”. In essence, procrastination occurs when we delay important tasks without good reason, or as a result of anxiety. What do we mean by, “without good reason”? Basically, this means that the delay in completing a task occurs for reasons other than those which would actually help to increase productivity. In other words, it’s a needless delay. By contrast, when we choose to delay a task because we know that, if we wait it out a bit, we’ll have more of the tools and/or resources available to us to do the job well, that’s not the same as procrastination – that’s just good planning! The same goes for when we delay an important task because there is another more important task which needs to be completed first – that’s called good prioritizing!
It’s important to distinguish procrastination from the acts of planning and prioritizing, which are healthy time management skills. You can do this by paying close attention to your repeated behaviours around a task, as well as tapping into your feelings about a task.
Try this: use a “Procrastination Mapping” chart to help you distinguish your procrastination habits from your healthier time management strategies. This chart invites you to identify:
- What types of activities/tasks you tend to procrastinate: Do you notice any themes? Are there certain types of tasks you tend to put off more than others?
- How you tend to procrastinate: What are your procrastination behaviours, or stalling techniques? For example, do you watch t.v. instead of working on an important task? Suddenly get the urge to re-organize all of your drawers? Make a snack…and then a cup of tea…and then wash up the dishes?
- Why you procrastinate: Procrastination can occur for several reasons, such as feeling overwhelmed and/or anxious about a task and unsure of where to begin; feeling creatively stunted (e.g., writer’s block); succumbing to distractions; simply dreading the task at hand; and lacking confidence in your abilities, which often goes hand-in-hand with holding unrealistic expectations for oneself. What are your specific reasons for procrastinating? What feelings do you notice coming up in regards to a particular task?
- Whether or not the behaviour you’ve listed is truly procrastination, or if it’s more an example of putting things off in order to ultimately increase your productivity. Tip: if you notice yourself saying/thinking things like, “I do my best work under pressure” or “I have plenty of time to get that done!”…chances are, you’re about to engage in procrastination behaviour.
Once you’ve completed the mapping exercise, you’ll have a clearer picture of your procrastination habits and you’ll be better able to develop strategies for moving out of procrastination and towards greater productivity. The following are examples of strategies you can use to help break your procrastination habit:
- If you lack confidence in your abilities, find opportunities to grow your skill set – take a course, or do some research. It might be necessary to re-assess the standards you’ve set for yourself, as well. Perfectionism and procrastination are close companions, but perfectionistic standards are the enemy of productivity. Remind yourself: it’s not about achieving perfection, it’s about making progress. Progress is your goal.
- It’s important that the environment you’re working in is conducive to productivity, particularly if distractions are an issue for you. Remove visual distractions, such as clutter; turn off your phone; shut the door; etc. One of the greatest distractions for people these days is the internet and, in particular, social media sites. If this is an issue for you, try using a program such as http://getcoldturkey.com/, which will block your access to social media sites, games, etc. for set periods of time.
- If you’re feeling overwhelmed by a task/project and unsure of where to begin, start by breaking it down into much smaller chunks. Asking a friend or colleague to help you with this type of planning can sometimes be helpful, particularly if you struggle with planning tasks more generally. Chip away at the larger project, one small chunk at a time!
- Make sure to take breaks as you work through a task. It’s often recommended that you follow every 50 minutes of work with a 10 minute break. Taking short, scheduled breaks can help to increase your focus during work times and mitigate feelings of overwhelm, lack of concentration, and burnout.
- If you’re feeling creatively blocked, try changing up the scenery – go out for a walk, try working from a different room/location, or have a quick brainstorm session with a friend to “get out of your head” and try to generate some new ideas!
- If you just hate, hate, hate the task at hand, try rewarding yourself upon completion. The size of the reward should be comparable to your degree of productivity – if you completed several parts of the task, then you get a big reward! If you accomplished a little bit, you get a small reward! Another strategy is to try committing to the task for a short period of time, such as 10 minutes. The idea here is that you commit to focusing on the task for 10 minutes and, if at the end of 10 minutes you’re still loathing it, let yourself walk away for the time being. Oftentimes, once we get started on the dreaded task, we’re able to keep going for longer than we expected! It’s similar to the notion that, the most challenging part of exercising is getting into your workout gear/getting out the door/getting to the gym – once you’re dressed and where you need to be, it’s usually not as bad as you were anticipating!
Here’s to your progress and productivity! :)