Procrastination, three simple fixes
- By Ian Bradley
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I don’t think that there many personal problems that triggers as much self-blame as procrastination. According to many of my procrastinating clients, they’re simply lazy and in need of better work skills or motivation. I try to dissuade them of all these notions.
Instead of adding to their self-blame, I point out how hard their working. Secondly, instead of giving them technical time-management skills, I reframe their problem as emotional. Finally, rather than whipping up a torrent of motivation, I argue that all they need to do is take one small step. Let me explain.
Procrastinators actually work more than most. They have to because in order to distract themselves from their guilt or unease about not doing what they know they should be doing, they have to do something else. Therefore, procrastinators tend to have well-organized basements, closet or neatly re-arranged desks. To assuage their guilt, they have to do something, and for some reason, housework or re-arranging tasks are high on that list of alternatives. By the way, so is “list-making.” Procrastinators eventually get it done, albeit at the 11th hour. Therefore, they actually work double shift performing the distraction “work” plus the real task. So rather than adding to their own negative self-label of “procrastinator” I actually congratulate them of their extra effort.
My second point follows the work of psychologists Timothy Pychyl and Fuschia Sirois who argue that procrastination isn’t about avoiding work; it’s about avoiding negative emotions. We procrastinate when a task stirs up feelings like anxiety, confusion or boredom. Instead of viewing the block as a block to doing work, think about procrastination as an emotional block.
“Am I afraid that my project won’t be good? “
“Am I confused about where to start? “
“That I’ll get stuck?”
Often these negative emotions stem from an imagined view of an external reviewer, Even prize-winning authors are not immune:
The great Canadian author Margaret Atwood at one point in her writing supposedly hesitated to put words down on paper, for three years, she put off writing the “The Handmaid’s Tale.” “I thought it was just too batty,” she said. Those anxieties finally started to subside when she shifted her focus away from what readers might think and stopped judging her work as she was creating it.
My last suggestion involves taking that first step – any first step.
I used to teach a large class in CBT at McGill University, it was a one semester course but the lecture notes that grounded the students in the principles and practices. I provided what I viewed as notes that were comprehensive, the students would say formidable.
About one month before the final examination, I would pause and ask how many of the students had started studying. As expected, only a handful of the hundred of so undergraduates raised their hand. I then asked them to write down how hard they though the studying process would be on a scale from 0 to 10 where zero was ordering a margarita on the beach in Tulum and ten was wrestling an alligator in the nearby swamps of Tulum. After they recorded their ratings, I stopped lecturing completely and ask them to open their laptops to my notes section and start studying while I’ll got a coffee. Ten minutes later, I asked them to repeat the rating.
You guessed it; after they took that first step, the perceived difficulty of the whole thing melted away.
Don’t see yourself as lazy, actually it’s quite the contrary,
Examine your feelings about the undone task and then,
Do one small thing– that’s a great start to curing procrastination.