I have so much to do! I have emails to answer, lectures to prepare, and clients’ problems to solve and on top of all this a big presentation at work! You know what the worst part is? People assume I am magically immune to procrastination, just because I am a psychologist. But hey, I’m still a person and at times I get overwhelmed, or plain bored with all the work I need to do. But the difference between me and any other person procrastinating is, I know how to overcome procrastination and get things done. I’ll let you in on the secret:
- To get things done, get started: Starting is like the biggest hurdle you need to cross. Once you start, due to something called ‘The Zeigarnik Effect’, your mind will sort of bug you till you get the thing done.
Similarly, once you start answering an email but leave it unfinished, your mind will keep bringing it up till you finish it. The key here is to sit down and just start doing what you need to do.
- Break your task into smaller bits: Big tasks can be intimidating and it is natural to want to put them off for later. However, if you break your task into smaller, doable tasks, you could finish these smaller tasks and ultimately you will be done with the whole, big task.
So you need to make an important presentation. First you need to discuss your idea with another expert, then send out emails and then prepare the draft. Now, instead of thinking of the presentation as one, single task, think of it as three tasks to complete. The three tasks by themselves are quite manageable and are not too intimidating. Get these three tasks done and voila! Your big task is done!
A tip suggested by Jason Womack, in his book, ‘Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More’, is to use less intimidating verbs in your to-do list. So instead of ‘discuss’ and ‘ideate’, use words like ‘talk’ and ‘think’.
- Cut yourself some slack: The next time you find yourself overcome with guilt for procrastinating, use kind words when you talk to yourself about it, instead of reprimanding yourself. Sounds twisted? It’s not.
Here’s an example,
So you procrastinated. You sat and watched Youtube videos when you should have been preparing a draft for the presentation. You know what? It is okay, no biggie. You’ll get to work now.
Researcher Michael Wohl, found that, this method of forgiving yourself and moving on after procrastinating is more effective to prevent further procrastination than feeling miserable and beating yourself up about all the time you lost.
- Attach meaning to the task: The next time you find yourself procrastinating, pause for a minute and really think about why finishing the task is important.
Sure, the thought of sending out the same, old rephrased emails bores you to tears. But sending out these mails is important to communicate with your clients and let them know that you are on the issue. Or maybe, sending out these mails is important to improve your clientele. Either way, when you realize why you should do something, you won’t put it off any more.
In psychologist Fuschia Sirois’ words, “”You’ve got to dig a little deeper and find some personal meaning in that task”.
- Counter negative thoughts: Mindfulness is being able to observe the barrage of thoughts and emotions inside your head, from a distance, without passing judgment.
You may find your mind saying, “Why should I bother? This presentation is going to be a failure anyway!” or “I am incapable of solving this problem”. After hearing these thoughts out, you must counter them with positive thoughts stating the exact opposite.
A way to not take your negative thoughts seriously is to shake your head when you get these negative thoughts. According to a study done by researcher Wichman and others, this reduces your doubt of your capabilities, at least temporarily.