How About Now: How to Stop Putting the Pro in Procrastination
Learn how to overcome the allure of procrastination and enjoy a sense of accomplishment more often
So, I’ve been thinking about writing something about a phenomenon that affects most of us. I created an outline, set a deadline, wrote it on my 1THRIVE Center, moved that deadline back, opened a blank Word document, wandered aimlessly around my house, read some research, and checked Twitter. See where I’m going with this?
However, had I just sat down and started writing, I would have been done by now. I’d probably be taking a long bath in my clean house (haha, not really, but it’s fun to pretend, right?). The sweet temptation of procrastination was too powerful to resist.
The irony of procrastinating starting an article about procrastination is not lost on me. I am an intelligent woman, so why do I do this seemingly stupid thing? It feels good while you’re doing it, but as you review your wasted day and how you spent that stolen time, it’s obvious that you’re only cheating yourself. It doesn’t even make sense.
So, why do we procrastinate? Are we lazy? Incompetent? Actually – neither. Don’t worry, I’m going to share some tips to help you kick procrastination to the curb by:
- Doing your hardest work first
- Scheduling your tasks in manageable chunks
- Building in rewards for a job well done
- Writing goals down where you can see them
- Recruiting an accountability buddy
But first, I’m going to talk a little about the science behind procrastination.
The science behind waiting
Procrastinating isn’t a new concept. Way back in Ancient Greece, Plato came up with the term “Akrasia” or “weakness of will” to describe the act of going against your better judgment. We know we should do something. We just fail to do it.
The good news is that there’s an actual scientific reason we get caught in this ridiculous loop of inefficiency, and it involves a biology-based battle.
The limbic system is the most dominant portion of the brain, and its actions are mostly automatic. You know when you have the instinct to escape a bad situation? That’s your limbic system in action.
The prefrontal cortex is newer and less developed. It deals with more nuanced behaviors such as demonstrating personality and making decisions.
We pretty much have a caveman versus Einstein struggle going on within us at all times. And since the limbic system is the one saying, “Hey, you don’t have to do stuff you don’t want to do,” that’s the one that often takes priority. So, we’re not lazy – just a little less evolved than we’d like.
The trick – and the struggle – lies in overcoming our inner caveman. Here are some ideas to try to overcome the allure of procrastination.
You know how motivated you are before you go to bed each night? Like, tomorrow you’re going to wake up, work out, conquer every item on your to-do list, and plant an organic vegetable garden in your backyard before you make dinner.
Okay – that version of you is insanely optimistic, at best, and a little bit bonkers, at worst.
A long, unmanageable list feels like permission to wave your flag of surrender early on. Tell your overly hopeful self to calm down a little bit and create a to-do list that prioritizes three things for the next day.
Write these down, somewhere that you can see them, and force yourself to tackle the most challenging item first.
If you find yourself with an abundance of energy and motivation once those tasks are complete, you can start building your raised planters for that organic garden. Otherwise, at least the important stuff is already done.
Be kind to yourself
If you try to work each moment from sunup to sundown, you will start to resent yourself and feel entitled to sneak a little time off here and there. Make breaks part of your schedule by aiming for short bursts of productivity – set a timer for 30 minutes of uninterrupted work, and then give yourself 10 minutes of free time for each bout of hard work.
For particularly dreadful tasks, build in a reward for completing it. Yeah, sure, you should be able to check something off your to-do list without getting a treat for it, but why deny yourself a good time?
You’ll be that much more likely to tackle cleaning out the basement if you get to binge-watch your favorite trashy television afterward. Go ahead and bribe your inner child.
Writing down your goals is helpful but writing them down where you will see them is even better. Choose a central, visible area to keep your to-do list and calendar so that you can’t hide from it.
Also, consider recruiting a productivity-challenged friend as an accountability buddy. Sometimes the simple act of sending an, “I did it!” text message – or explaining why you didn’t do it – can help light the fire that gets us moving.
When you think about how good it feels to get things done, it makes no sense at all that we’re not chomping at the bit to experience that as soon, and as often, as possible.
Recognize the caveman that lives within your brain and plan to trick your sneaky side so that you can overcome the Akrasia Effect and eliminate procrastination. Make your goals realistic, build in rewards, find systems of accountability, but most of all, just get stuff done without the internal struggle. Your more evolved sense of self will thank you for your efforts.
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