It’s a simple fact of life that most of us procrastinate. When there’s something that we don’t want to do, it’s amazing what our brains can come up with to avoid doing what needs to be done. When I needed to be studying for my graduate school tests, it's amazing how fun I found vacuuming the house to be! It’s an ironic situation because we all realize that procrastination only makes us feel worse and continues to nag away at our mind, so we can’t fully enjoy what we’re doing anyway. What can we do to keep procrastination, that robber of our time, in check?
We need to learn some very specific strategies to deal effectively with this problem.
Our old belief: I might as well not even try...I just can’t seem to motivate myself until someone “forces” me to get it done.
The truth: Many times it IS too hard to do everything you need to do at once. The secret is to make a list of things that need to be done, and then break the tasks up. For each task that you’ve broken up, you’ll have a beginning and an ending. The tasks should be broken into small enough pieces that you can always see the “light at the end of the tunnel”.
Viewing the whole task (e.g., project or paper) all at once will only frustrate you if you have unrealistic expectations.
Realize you must break the task into smaller pieces, and you cannot do them all at once.
The next key is just to start whether you feel like it or not. Use some self-talk to remind yourself you’ve got to get this done and you’re making a stab at it now. As the moments go by, you’ll feel better and better. The secret here is not to wait until you “feel better” first before you start. You have to make the start first, and then the feelings of accomplishment and competence will follow after.
When you’ve finished with your first task, reward yourself. Read that magazine or watch that TV show. Go swimming. Do something positive to reward your effort and renew your mind.
Our old beliefs: That all sounds well and good. But I tried and I can’t even get started.
Fact: Maybe you’re having a hard time because you’re trying to jump in too fast. After you’ve been resting, watching TV, reading, or doing something relatively inactive, it IS harder to get going on a new task. The strategy here is to move toward the starting gate slowly. If you’ve been sitting or lying down, stand up, stretch, and do a short physical task, such as watering the flowers, vacuuming one room, or loading the dishwasher. While you’re doing this, determine in your mind you are going to start your first task just as soon as you finish.
Question: Aren’t you just talking about willpower?
Answer: In a way, yes. But, despite what some people think, EVERYONE has will power. The difference between those who procrastinate and those who don’t is that non-procrastinators have a specific strategy or system to help them through tasks that are not much fun.
Non-procrastinators get their mind in gear and then ACT. It is always a surprise how quickly things get done when they’ve been started. Many of us who have spent day after day procrastinating and feeling bad about it, are shocked to notice the difference a little movement in the right direction makes.
After you’ve finished each task, reward yourself. Some people finish that book, others go swimming, still others listen to music. The reward needs to be something you enjoy.
Perhaps now you can see the benefit of starting early when you have a new job to do. If you start early enough and don’t put everything off until the last minute, every day will be more enjoyable, you’ll feel like you’re accomplishing something (because you are), and you won’t have that nagging feeling that turns into depression as your deadline draws closer and closer and you haven’t even started yet.