Are you a procrastinating pro?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Photo: Courtesy of Andy Newson

Procrastination is a defense mechanism that many people use to help cope with the stress of their daily life. Whether it is putting off a tedious reading assignment until later or waiting for your favorite TV show to end before taking out the trash, most Americans use some form of procrastination in their everyday lives. While some people view procrastinators as “lazy”, procrastinators generally want to accomplish their goals. Their problem is not that they never want to take out the trash or do their assignment; it’s that they can’t find the motivation or the necessary tools to get their task done in a way that makes them feel comfortable.

Different people procrastinate about different things. For example, some people might procrastinate work-related tasks (such as submitting reports) or financial tasks (opening bills), while others put off health-related tasks (such as scheduling an annual physical) or making tough decisions. When you are facing a difficult situation, procrastinating can seem like such an easy answer. You can fill your time with pleasurable activities (like watching silly YouTube videos), doing lower priority tasks (like vacuuming out your car) or daydreaming about the future. Ways to put off work are endless and the more you can get away with putting off the task or goal you are dreading, the easier it is to do.

One way to help you to overcome your tendency to procrastinate is to keep a journal of different aspects of your procrastination throughout the week. To help keep yourself in check, when you find yourself feeling bored or filling up your time with things that don’t really need to be done, ask yourself why you are doing it. If you are doing the activity to postpone doing something that you really don’t want to do, record what your reasoning is. Common reasons for procrastinating include being too tired, not having all the tools necessary to finish the job, or the belief that you work better under stress.

After recording your reasons for procrastinating, take a good look at them. Procrastinating usually feels good in the short term; it feels good to be able to “get away” from your stress or to be able to feel in control of the workload that you have. In the long term, you are setting yourself up for more discomfort. Even if you are able to get done what you are procrastinating (ie. A long homework assignment), procrastinators generally feel guilty, ashamed, anxious about the quality of their work or critical of themselves for not starting the project sooner. In your procrastination journal, write down how you feel while you are procrastinating and then how you feel after getting the project/task done.

Ask yourself if you are willing to commit to changing your procrastination habits right now. If so, you can do it. It might be hard at first, but the dedication will pay off. Challenge your initial reasons for procrastinating. For example, if you generally procrastinate because you feel “too tired” or “too unmotivated” to work on an assignment, ask yourself if you will really feel more awake or more motivated later on. Instead, realize that when you finish your project you will be able to rest better and that the sense of accomplishment from crossing one goal off of your to-do list can motivate you to want to do more of the items on your list.

Prioritize your goals or to-do list, and then take time every day to work on accomplishing the goals. Start with the most important things that need to be done, and then work on the little things. Making smaller sub-goals for larger tasks will help you to stay on task and feel like you are really accomplishing something. It is also important to find a good way to reward yourself for making strides to become a person who can healthfully manage their stress levels. Step back and look at all of your accomplishments, big and small. Every step that you take makes a difference.

For more information on how to cope with procrastination, visit the Centre for Clinical Interventions.

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