Isn’t it amazing how energetically we clean our closets or organize the movie collection when a dreaded project is looming?
Especially when that project feels abstract and difficult…
I battle with this type of procrastination a LOT. And after much trial and error, I’ve found a simple system that works for me.
If, like me, you tend to put things off or can’t seem to stick with it once you start, then I am confident it will help you too. Here it is:
There are two critical parts to procrastination.
One is difficulty getting started on something you need to do.
The other is not sticking to something you started (and getting distracted by more exciting or easier things).
Today, I’m going to tell you how to beat the second one.
So let’s say you have just started a new diet, or an important work project. Most people are able to see it as a series of small steps that have to be done one day at a time to get to the successful end point.
But if you are a chronic procrastinator, you will have trouble seeing the process, and instead you see only the final product (the super thin, six pack physique; or the perfectly done work project that impresses your boss and his boss). This is a big problem, kind of like seeing the forest and forgetting the trees.
What happens when you can only imagine the perfect final product?
You are unable to imagine the steps it would take to get there and thus feel anxious and overwhelmed.
It’s like being told to get to the moon and all you have for help is a mental picture of you standing on the moon.
Who wouldn’t get anxious?!
So to get rid of the anxiety, you convince yourself that ‘there’s still plenty of time” and that you will “get it done perfectly tomorrow” and turn to Facebook or cleaning out your closets.
This inability to imagine the process is one of the biggest problems faced by those of us who struggle with procrastination.
So what’s the solution? Simple:
1. Write down the smaller tasks under each project and select the first small task.
2. Then, make a pre-decision about what you will do when you feel frustrated or a distraction beckons. A pre-decision has the “If X, then Y formula”.
For example, “If I feel anxious or frustrated, then I will remind myself to just focus on this one small piece and not the entire forest”
“If I begin to doodle or think of calling my friend, then I will call my friend and ask him to help me stay on track” etc;
Only you know what your usual distractions are and so you can make “If X, then Y” pre-decisions that are uniquely designed for you.
I used this technique to lose 20 pounds in the last few months. My main problem is resisting a temptation to eat desserts. I allow myself to eat one yummy dessert a week. When my mind asks for it any other time, I have a pre-decision that goes like this “If my mind makes me crave a dessert during the week, I will imagine that dessert morphing into a pound of fat in front of my eyes”.
Trust me, it worked.
The trick here is to have made this pre-decision ahead of time (writing it down is even better) so that you can do it automatically without having to think when you are hit by distraction or temptation.
Every decision point in your life is like a road diverging in the woods. By learning to imagine the process and having a plan to deal with obstacles, you can beat procrastination and choose the road that unleashes your full potential.
For this and many more tips on the Psychology of Procrastination, check out this fantastic book: The Procrastinator’s Digest by Dr.Timothy Pychyl, Ph.D.
|Written on 6/25/2013 by Kavetha Sundaramoorthy. Kavetha is a psychiatrist, passionate about all things brain/psychology related. Visit her blog www.talk-doctor.com to learn more and sign up for a free e-book “Beyond Meds: How to Beat Depression using Mindfulness.”|
Photo Credit: Emilie Ogez