In this blog post series, we will look into the aspects of work that go beyond time management.
Do you opt for decluttering your apartment whenever there is a daunting work task? Or are you reading this blog post when you are supposed to be decluttering your inbox instead? Do not worry, we all do it – an estimated 20% of adults procrastinate on a regular basis.
Procrastination — voluntary postponement of a task — is a harmful and common tendency in humans. Still, procrastination has little to do with laziness or bad time management. Rather, it has a lot to do with management of our emotions. To better understand procrastination, let’s look at how the brain works. Two parts of your brain that are particularly important when debating procrastination are the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex. The limbic system is an ancient part of the brain that deals with everyday emotions and tends to desire what feels good in the moment. In contrast the prefrontal cortex, which evolved more recently, supports complex behaviours so it is there to help us do what is right overall, even if it’s hard. And procrastination? Well, procrastination is an ongoing battle between these brain parts.
So, if you find yourself procrastinating now more than ever, know that the overwhelming frustration and uncertainty brought by the pandemic helps procrastination win that battle.
While strategic procrastination of letting ideas marinate in the back of our minds can be a powerful approach to creativity, procrastination that is the result of simply postponing the things we don’t want to do is plainly hazardous.
So, here are some simple approaches that can help you procrastinate a little less.
- Find meaning in your task
The task you regard as lacking any meaning is more likely to bring you a twirl of negative emotions and feed your tendency to procrastinate further. On the other hand, when we consider a task to be meaningful, we create connection to it and we are motivated to act sooner. To help you find meaning in an upcoming task, ask yourself direct questions such as,
“How will completing this be valuable in… how I see myself/ how others see me/ my growth?”
- Get a different perspective
If you have a good three days to submit a draft of a document to your manager, you are in a seemingly better position than someone who has mere 72 hours. Except you are obviously not. Research suggests that downsizing larger metrics of time (i.e., thinking in terms of hours, not days) can make something seem far more immediate, motivating you to engage with it now.
- Start and start small
Just start. Complete only one row in that excel sheet. Write the first line of code in your notebook. Type that opening sentence in the google doc. Once started, it is likely that your task will seem less unnerving the following day. Another piece of advice is to start small. That is, do not burden yourself with an entire project, but only its smallest initial step. This way, your brain focuses on the action at hand, rather than the emotion associated with the full project.
- Be more self-compassionate
People who procrastinate often are more stressed, have more health challenges including headaches and digestive issues, and lower self-esteem. That being said, the very last thing a procrastinator needs is to be hard on themselves. So yes, you are allowed — and even encouraged — to recognise when you are not happy with your own behaviour, but you are also required to recognise that beating yourself up over it is just as unproductive and harmful.