Procrastination is a challenge students and adults alike face throughout their lives. At one point, we have all delayed, avoided, or procrastinated on issues that matter to us. However, during our most productive moments, as we temporarily stop procrastinating, we feel pleased and accomplished.
Procrastination is the act of delaying or putting off tasks until the last minute or past their deadline. Research suggests that procrastination is a form of self-regulation with an irrational delay of tasks despite knowing the consequences. It is most prevalent in students with a study published in the Psychological Bulletin reporting that 80% to 95% of college students procrastinate on daily tasks, those specifically related to homework and coursework.
According to behavioral psychology, humans procrastinate because of a phenomenon called “time inconsistency”, which refers to the tendency of the human brain to value immediate rewards more than future rewards. For example, young adults know that they should start saving for retirement in their 20s and 30s but the value they see in buying a new pair of shoes on boxing day is much higher compared to the $100 they would save for their 70-year-old selves.
Since we cannot rely on long-term consequences or rewards to motivate ourselves, we must find a way to place these future consequences in the present moment. Once we act and move beyond the procrastination period, the effort and energy we put into our work are less painful than the guilt and anxiety we had felt while procrastinating. Therefore, the problem is not doing the work, but rather starting the work. So, if we want to stop procrastinating, then we need to make it as easy as possible to get started and trust that motivation and momentum will come once the work has begun. With that being said… Here are a few ways to stop procrastinating right now!
1. Make the rewards of taking action immediate
If we are trying to motivate our current selves, then we must make the task more appealing, more actionable. It becomes easier to avoid procrastination if we make the benefits of the long-term choices more immediate. One of the ways of doing this is called temptation bundling. This was a concept founded by Katy Milkman at the University of Pennsylvania. The strategy asks that you bundle something good for you in the long run with something that will benefit you in the short term. Examples of temptation building are:
- Only watch YouTube videos while exercising
- Only get a pedicure while responding to emails
- Only watch your favorite Netflix series while doing household chores
2. Eisenhower’s urgent principle
This technique helps you plan your tasks ahead of time to avoid procrastinating. You first make a list of exactly five tasks you have or want to accomplish. Then you sort this list into important and urgent activities. Important activities are those that help you achieve your goals; however, urgent activities are those that accomplish other people’s goals. These urgent activities are the ones we typically focus on because the consequences of not completing the task are more immediate. You would start with a task that is important and urgent, then move on to a task that is important but not urgent, then not important but urgent, and lastly not important and not urgent. By forcing yourself to choose exactly six tasks, you are forced to make tough decisions requiring you to limit your ideas. Too many ideas can cause you to feel overwhelmed and fall back into a cycle of procrastination. Moreover, it requires you to accomplish a single task and research has shown that having fewer priorities and not multitasking leads to better work.
3. Making tasks more achievable
Since starting the task is often the hardest part to overcome, then reducing the size of the task is a way to combat procrastination. Breaking the task down into multiple smaller parts makes the task seem more achievable and appealing. For example, if you are trying to write an essay, then it would be helpful to say I’m going to write for periods of 15 minutes for three hours a day because you would feel the satisfaction and accomplishment of completing the task every 15 minutes. The faster you complete the task, the more productive you will feel, changing your attitude towards the day to one filled with effectiveness.
4. Scheduling worry time
Time is wasted worrying about all the tasks you must accomplish throughout the day. As anxiety floods our lives, we become less efficient and productive. This cognitive-behavioral therapy technique allows you to set aside time to work through the things you are worried about. The way this technique works is, you schedule some time at the same time every day to think about all the things you are worried about and must finish after this reflection period. This will become your ritual and as you continue to encounter worries throughout the day you write them down. Lastly, you think about ways to solve this worry.
We hope you found this short guide useful. Now go on and start feeling accomplished! “Each and every accomplishment starts with a decision to try.”
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