Why Do We Procrastinate?
It is perhaps most fitting that my first blog is about a problem I deal with day in and day out, and was preventing me from starting the Toronto Psychology Clinic blog page.
I had a lot of ideas and notes for great posts sitting on my hard drive for several years. Yet, I found myself struggling to get these ideas written up. It was never good enough. It was never perfect. Moreover, to deal with my feelings, I found ways to avoid completing the job. I would make coffee, check and respond to emails, organize the cupboard and so on. Here are some reasons why people tend to procrastinate.
Short-Term Anxiety Relief
People procrastinate not because they are lazy, unintelligent, or uninspired. They do so because it provides short-term relief from the anxiety we experience when we are trying to get something done well. We fantasize about all the great things we plan to achieve yet when it comes down to putting the work in we just cannot seem to get moving.
Another reason we procrastinate is the attitude we have towards getting the work done. People often do not realize they have an “all-or-nothing” mindset to completing projects. They want to get it all done in one go. Just thinking about how much work that will be increases your feelings of anxiety and of course heading to Starbucks to grab a quick coffee is going to feel so much better.
If you think of your goal as building a house, each brick of that house represents the tasks that you need to complete to get that house built. Your job is to focus on laying one brick at a time, not building the entire house in a day. While there may be days you lay down more bricks at a time and days you do not, at the end of the day each brick you lay down counts towards your final goal.
This blog is a first in a series of blogs on productivity that will discuss strategies to make you more successful in completing tasks and reaching your goals. I will start the series off with a list of 5 strategies I found most useful in breaking my procrastination habits.
Strategies to Stop Procrastinating
1) The 5-minute Rule
This is my favourite strategy. Commit to spending only 5 minutes of focused attention on the project. Now you may wonder how 5 minutes helps. If I do 5 minutes a day, for instance, it will take me years to complete that essay!
The reason this strategy helps is that getting started is often the hardest part. The idea of completing a project is overwhelming and can be paralyzing. However, once you get started, another part of your mind kicks in and you feel interested and motivated to work on that project and less concerned about how much you have to get done and how well you are doing it.
2) Break Down the Project into Steps
Divide your project into steps. When you focus on the steps you need to take towards your final goal, it is more doable. Be sure to make these steps very clear and specific. For instance, if you have to complete an essay, the first step could be creating an outline, the next step can be to write the introductory paragraph and so on.
Create a list of these steps and check them off as you complete them so you can see your progress. This strategy helps in more than one way. As already discussed, it counters the all-or-nothing approach to getting things done. It also counteracts the negative feelings you experience when you are getting closer to your deadline and have made no progress towards your goal. Seeing a list of things you have completed boosts your confidence in your ability to take action towards your goals.
3) ‘Throw the Hat over the Wall’ Technique
This is a great way to trick yourself in getting something done. Start the project in a way that you have to get it done. For instance, if you wanted to paint a room, get all the paint material out. This way you have to finish the job before you can move on to something else.
4) Don’t Break the Chain
This idea I got from Jerry Seinfield. Yes in addition to humour, he also has some great ideas about being productive. This technique involves doing one thing towards your goal every day and to make a cross in your calendar or any other method you have of tracking your progress to show that you did something.
Keep this up for an entire month. The reason this one works is it helps you build the habit of working on your project. It is like brushing your teeth every morning. You have been doing this for years (at least I hope you have) and to not brush your teeth on any given day would weird not to mention bad breath!
5) Have a ‘Get it Done’ Mindset
Rather than focusing on how well you will do on the project, focus on getting it done. Often the wish to make it perfect and the very best work we have done makes us put it off because we are never satisfied with what it looks like as we get it done. If you have an essay to complete, get one complete draft done without worrying about the quality of writing or even spelling or grammar. Once you have completed the first draft, its easier to improve upon it.
At the end of the day, a complete project is better than no project at all. Having things incomplete places an emotional burden on our mind. Completing something towards the project, every day, bit by bit, lifts that burden and allows us to move forward.
Procrastination is a tough habit to break, but just because you have habitually procrastinated on tasks for most of your life does not mean you cannot change this. Clearly, you got to this blog because you are looking for help on changing and changing requires self-evaluation and implementing new strategies. Good luck!