Stop Procrastinating and Start Getting Things Done
Procrastination seems like one of those trivial things that we all do at times. But it’s actually such a problem for some people that it’s been deemed worthy of formal investigation. In fact, there’s a conference on procrastination that’s been held for twenty years, and if ever there was an event that triggered the urge to say, “But they put it off,” this would be it. But this conference is a serious forum for researchers and practitioners to discuss and debate what causes procrastination and how to reduce the negative consequences.
Of course, not every instance of “putting it off” qualifies as procrastination. The definition of procrastination used by the conference organizer is “the purposive and frequent delay in beginning or completing a task to the point of experiencing subjective discomfort, such as anxiety or regret.” By this definition, delaying the preparation of your expense report isn’t procrastination unless you frequently delay doing it and experience discomfort as a result.
Apparently, about 20 percent of people are chronic procrastinators, consistently procrastinating in multiple aspects of their lives in ways that undermine goals and create a sense of shame. In the worst instances, the result is damaged relationships, lost jobs, and the unrealized dreams.
If you procrastinate only occasionally and find doing so more of an annoyance than a source of shame, try dividing your work into small, manageable steps. That way, you can see your progress each time you complete a step.
You’re also likely to procrastinate less if you eliminate the electronic and other distractions that divert your attention from what you’d like to put off.
Some people avoid procrastination by setting time limits. If you can allocate a mere fifteen minutes to an unpleasant task, how bad can it be? And if you tackle that unpleasant task first thing in the morning, it’s one fewer thing hanging over your head the rest of the day. If it’s not a first-thing-in-the-morning sort of task, try scheduling a specific time slot for it. That way, the time is allocated and less likely to be used for something else.
In general, don’t blow the task out of proportion. Sometimes, the best advice is to simply stop making excuses and just start doing it.
Of course, there’s the view that procrastination is a matter of neurobiology. That is, a continuous struggle takes place between your conscious prefrontal cortex, which handles your willpower, and your unconscious limbic system, which focuses on immediate short-term pleasure. The limbic system is extremely powerful and therefore often the winner. Need an excuse for putting it off? Blame it on your limbic system!