I am a member of a women’s empowerment business group that meets twice a month, which I attended this past Monday with four others. Our topic this week topic was about
1. the action of delaying or postponing something.
I am writing about it here this week, because I found it so interesting to know that each of us had at least one thing we put off regularly and usually boiled down to tasks we don’t like doing whether it was part of our daily jobs or chores in our personal lives. I decided to dig a bit deeper and find out what’s behind procrastination and how we can deal with it.
Why do we procrastinate?
So, for many of us, procrastination prevents us from accomplishing important and urgent tasks. Some of those tasks can be as simple as delaying the laundry or dishes, or studying for a test at the eleventh hour. And some are more serious situations, that if not dealt with, can cause repercussions when certain deadlines don’t get met, policies don’t get renewed, retirement saving plans don’t get started or medical conditions don’t get treated.
The reasons people procrastinate are not totally understood, but some researchers view procrastination as a lack of self-control, such as overeating, gambling or overspending. Others say it’s not a matter of being lazy or poor time management, but may be linked to how our brain works and to the perceptions of time and self. However, some psychologists see procrastination as a coping mechanism and happens when people have fear or anxiety about the important task awaiting them. To get rid of this negative feeling, people procrastinate — they open up a video game or Pinterest or Facebook or something else that’s less stressful instead. Some people feel guilty about procrastinating and finally complete their tasks, thereby feeling satisfied and accomplished. For others, those negative feelings are just another reason to go deeper into the vicious self-defeating cycle of procrastination where things never get started or finished.
How Can We Stop Procrastinating?
There are a few ways to cope with procrastination and revolves around creating new habits or routines. When you are overwhelmed with accomplishing a huge goal, it helps to break the tasks or chores down into smaller chunks and scheduling them on certain days and times. Further, making a prioritized, daily list of the six most important things you need to accomplish that day. This makes those task easier and not so overwhelming. And finally, using visual or audible cues as a reminder to help you to stay on track and keep you accountable.
For example, I was procrastinating eating breakfast at a reasonable time. I have a routine I follow before diving into my work, but without even realizing it, I wasn’t making or taking the time to eat until I was not only hungry but starving, and six or seven hours had flown by! By using my phone calendar with an audible cue, I scheduled breakfast for two hours after starting work. By doing this, I have consistently made time for my breakfast every day since the beginning of January and is now part of my regular routine.
At our meeting, we also discussed the daily, prioritized task list and physically crossing or checking things off the list when finished as a visual cue which allows for a sense of accomplishment. In addition to that, using a reward system for every three items completed. The reward is something that is beneficial, productive or pleasurable and also something you may be putting off, like exercising, taking a walk, playing with the dog or watching a movie or reading a book.
One of the best productivity systems we discussed is also one of the most simple:
- At the end of each work day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
- Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
- When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
- Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
- Repeat this process every working day.
This system is really great because it forces you to make tough decisions and single-task, it’s simple and easily implemented, and creates a starting point for your day, and when followed, it actually works!
Regardless of which method you use, the bottom line is this: Do the most important thing first each day and let the momentum of the first task carry you into the next one. Good luck!