A Better You Blog, Procrastination

Most people struggle with procrastinating from time to time. Whether it’s household chores or college students pushing against assignments, I see a lot of people fighting themselves no matter how well-intentioned or organized they are. Procrastination, also known as work aversion, makes people feel crummy. One thing I make sure my clients understand is that procrastination is not laziness. People have gotten pretty far in their lives to blanketly label them as lazy.

A study by Joseph Ferari, a DePaul University professor, found that 22% of people suffer from chronic procrastination. People procrastinate when they have a task they have to do but don’t really want to do. Procrastination escalation is when the pending task is perceived as arduous.

We are all challenged by procrastination at some point. I know that I have a tendency to grab my phone to check when I see the purple or green blinking lights. Now interrupted, I wonder if something needs my immediate attention. After that, I check to see how many people liked something I posted on a social media platform. Then I’m pretty sure, I need a mental break so I’ll play that game I recently downloaded. Before I know it, an hour goes by and I hate myself for wasting time. I then think of where I’d be had I only been more disciplined. Does this sound familiar?

For others, if it’s something really grueling like a term paper or going to the gym, I notice that’s when people get a sudden burst of energy to do their truly mundane chores – stuff they’ve been putting off like dishes or vacuuming. Doing either would be the lesser of two evils in the mind of the procrastinator. At least they were productive. Yet, the urgent matter still isn’t addressed.

So what gets in the way of us being more productive? Researchers have come up with a term called present bias. It’s where we want instant gratification for our efforts. This explains why video games are so popular with children and adults. Present bias and the need for immediate gratification can overcome people like a trance. All of a sudden, people find themselves in the kitchen seeking a snack even if they aren’t hungry, perusing YouTube for information on when to plant vegetables for that garden they want to have someday or getting lost on their phone.

Through my own research, I found the biggest hurdle to overcoming procrastination is ignorance. I often explain the pain/pleasure principle to my clients. If something has too much pain associated with it, we tend to push that pain away. This is when self-negotiating takes place. I’ll start that project next week when I’m really ready type of bartering against time, enthusiasm and energy. When the pain of the deadline is running out and the consequences get intense enough, that’s when it’s time to get serious.

When I work with people, I explain a few tricks that get me marching to completing unfun tasks or long-term projects.

  1. Know your distractions. Put the phone on mute and in the next room. This will eliminate the impulse to grab it.
  2. For more cognitive tasks, put white noise or Beethoven on to cancel out background noise. Research has shown that Beethoven or Hans Zimmer enhances mental cognition and retention. Even if you’re alone, an added bonus is it’s helpful when some outside noise might distract you. If it’s a more physical task, put your headphones on and jam out to your favorite music or podcast. These two work great when other people are in the house as well.
  3. Think from the end. During one of my meditations, I picture myself completing the task and how relieved I’d feel. If it’s something that others will notice, I picture in my mind’s eye them appreciating or praising my efforts. Sometimes, I picture someone else doing the task and getting all the accolades. Either of those has gotten me rolling.
  4. 4.9 seconds or less rule. If you allow any more than 4.9 seconds, the likelihood of doing it goes down dramatically. I call it self-negotiating. If you lay in bed thinking you should go to the gym any longer than 4.9 seconds, you begin to feel pain in your shoulder or think the weather is too hot, cold or wet. The inner voice says, stay in bed because you didn’t sleep well. That voice tells you that you’ll have more energy after work. Don’t go now. Avoid doing this. Make time to do whatever it is that needs to be done and get to it. Don’t wait. No negotiating. Don’t wait past 4.9 seconds or you won’t do it.
  5. The 15-minute rule. Since I know my blocks pretty well by now, I do this little mind hack quite often. For me, I have to write a lot. I will turn on my desktop and give myself 15 minutes to write. 15 minutes is nothing. I know I always have 15 minutes no matter how busy or tired I am. I use this for working out when I am sore or had an exhausting day. If I go for 15 minutes that’s enough to get me going. I know I hate days where I don’t do anything so 15 minutes would prevent a zero in the imaginary task column. Oftentimes, 15 minutes would lead to 30, or even 60 minutes.

Doing any or all of these things to get something done makes me feel awesome. I notice when I feel productive, I sleep better and the momentum is built.