Are you the poster child for that terrrible “P” word?

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Are you the poster child for that terrible “P” word – (no, not that one) – the other one -Procrastinator?

A recent article on procrastination research has just appeared in the Wall Street Journal, so let me summarize some of the findings. If you would like to read the entire article, check out http://www.wsj.com/articles/to-stop-procrastinating-start-by-understanding-whats-really-going-on-1441043167?mod=e2tw

The author of the article in the WSJ writes: “Scientists define procrastination as the voluntary delay of an action despite foreseeable negative future consequences. It is opting for short-term pleasure or mood at the cost of the long-term.” The authors of the study claim that procrastination is a strategy used to deal with emotional stress, and while utilizing time management tips is helpful, it isn’t the whole answer.

There are a number of possible reasons why people say they procrastinate, and it would appear that the reasons vary depending on the psychological makeup of the individual. Most of us have an all too natural tendency to put off things that we find unpleasant – cleaning up the office, filing papers, cutting the grass doing the ironing. That doesn’t mean we have “issues” – merely we are genetically engineered to seek pleasure and avoid pain. The problem arises, however when we swap short term pleasure for long term pain.

People with low impulsivity, for example, do not experience anxiety as a cue to procrastinate, but rather as a cue to “get going”. Highly impulsive people, on the other hand, often procrastinate and shut down in order to not feel an unpleasant emotion.

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I can remember when I first became aware of the situations in which my first impulse is to procrastinate rather than just get down to it and get it done. When I didn’t know what the finished product should be or how to proceed, then I put the activity off – probably hoping that it would occur to me in a blinding flash. So confusion and uncertainty seem to produce anxiety, and the way to manage anxiety is to divert it by doing something else. (High impulse response to anxiety producing situations). What I learned from this observation was to go and ask for help, look for guidance, or direction, anything that would clear up the confusion and thus reduce the anxiety.

One of the conclusions of the study (for chronic and severe procrastinators) was that they might require therapy to discover the underlying feelings that are creating anxiety and thus creating avoidance.

And for those of you who are only “occasional” procrastinators, here are some tips that might help.

1. If you are a highly social person, you may find yourself avoiding those activities that you have to do by yourself. If possible, see if you can include others in the task. OK – so maybe you have to take out the garbage by yourself, but why not ask everyone in the house to congregate, bring down ALL the garbage that has to be taken out, and then do the last part – the carrying out, by yourself (with appropriate cheering in the background).

2. Break big tasks into smaller tasks that are achievable in smaller steps. Have to write a major report? Divide the report into 5 or 6 parts – introduction, 3 or 4 major issues to address and conclusion. Devote no more than half an hour to starting on one issue – then stop. The next day, take another half hour and work on the second issue. Work your way through the report in micro-steps and before you realize it, you will have the first draft. (Many report writers, by the way, leave the introduction until the end).

3. For those activities you put off because you are afraid (making a cold call, for example), ask yourself – “What is the worst thing that will probably happen?” The answer usually is, “Nothing. The person will say ‘no’ and you move on to the next name”. What happens when someone says “no” to you? Do you die? Collapse in a pathetic heap, sobbing uncontrollably? Probably not. Rid yourself of catastrophic thinking – it’s amazing how much more successful you will become.

4. Set a reasonable goal for what you want to achieve, and plan a reward for yourself when you reach that goal. That includes reaching sub-goals that make up the larger project. Just as you wouldn’t set yourself a goal of swimming the English channel if you only had one swimming lesson, but you would work up your ability to swim distances, so too be realistic about the activities you have been procrastinating on. How do you write a book? One paragraph at a time – maybe even a sentence at a time.

5. Enlist the help of others. Ask them to “nag, remind, or otherwise harass you until you complete the tasks. Of course, not everyone wants to be your mother, so perhaps what you really need to do is become an adult, accept the responsibilities of adulthood, and as Nike said, Just Do It!

 

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