A stunningly high number of clients I see in my practice complain about the dreaded P-word: Procrastination. They have ideas, goals, small tasks and large ones, and never seem to complete any of them. When I ask them what gets in the way, the answer is often “I don’t know.” Procrastination – aka the ‘art’ of putting things off until another day – is incredibly common. Not that big of a deal for things that actually can wait, but perfectly annoying when there are things we genuinely need to get done sooner rather than later. It’s a problem that plagues the busy and the not-so-busy, over-achievers and under-achievers, the younger and the older. Why is this?
Human beings are creatures of habit, and our brains have a tendency to favour routine. So any tasks that drastically deviate from our daily routines require more effort from our brains, in the form of conscious self-motivation, organization, and initiation to those very tasks. And, in case you didn’t already know it, our brains don’t like to work! But constant procrastination often leaves us feeling disorganized, unproductive, and downright down on ourselves. And in the worst cases it can lead things to pile up forcing us to do everything at the last minute, which can be overwhelming and incredibly stressful. Here are 4 tips for how to avoid procrastination once and for all:
1. Get a good night’s rest – every night! Procrastination is linked to the self-regulatory mechanisms of our bodies, also called executive functioning, which is chaired by the pre-frontal cortex area of our brains. Without adequate rest, this area of the brain simply cannot function at its optimal level, so organizing your time will be more difficult. Granted I said our brains are lazy, but don’t deprive them of a full 8 hours every single night. And if you can handle it, one good, strong cup of coffee in the morning will kick-start your pre-frontal cortex and get you ready for action.
2. Don’t try to do it all; pick a few things! Picture this: You have a paper to write for a class you’re taking, your taxes are due, you’ve always wanted to learn how to build furniture, learn to speak Swahili, write a book…slow down! If your brain is overwhelmed with too many tasks, it won’t try for any of them! Instead, pick one or two things you really want or need to do and shoot for those to start. Once they are done, pick one or two more, and so on. Research has consistently shown that this method of ‘chunking’ things out helps to get things done faster.
3. Write things down. This is an oldie but a goodie. Research has also shown that writing things down is more strongly correlated with completion of said things as compared to when we don’t write things down. Why? Accountability. Also, there’s a certain satisfaction in the physical act of deleting an item off of your “to do” list – it can be so gratifying!
4. Use pleasure as a reward. Still got your pen out? Make a list of things you like in life; things that bring you sheer joy and pleasure. They can be things you do every day or things you occasionally splurge on. Be it an hour at the gym, taking a long hot bath, having a glass of wine, watching a ‘guilty-pleasure’ movie, whatever. Look at your list and use the things on it as rewards for getting something done. Promise yourself that: “After I write half of that report for work, I will watch an hour of TV” and “after I write the rest of the report tomorrow, I will play tennis with Bob.” And then make sure you do reward yourself with something after you finish. This is effectively training your own brain to anticipate rewards for not procrastinating, thereby doing it less and less frequently. Because in addition to being kind of lazy, our brains love to be rewarded!
Put these 4 tips into action and you’ll likely notice a big change in how often you find yourself putting things off. And in how you feel about yourself. Now if you’ll excuse me, my reward for writing this article is an episode of “Suits.” I’m totally addicted.
NKS Therapy offers services such as Career Counselling Toronto, Couples Counselling Toronto, Relationship Counselling Toronto, Family Counselling Toronto, Psychoeducational Assessment Toronto, Toronto Mental Health Services, Psychotherapy for Depression Toronto, Toronto Psychologist Services, and Child Psychologist Toronto Services. Call us today at 416-745-4745. We love to help.
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