Face your fears and learn four ways to stop procrastinating

woman browsing on the internet

Take control of your perfectionionism. Make a small start and end the cycle that’s holding you back.

Find the root cause

Clare Evans, a productivity coach, and author of Time Management For Dummies says that fear, perfectionism, and feeling overwhelmed or unmotivated are the main reasons people procrastinate. Evans suggests facing fear, no matter how unfounded or rooted, and focusing on the worst case scenario. Evans recommends that you confront the fear of perfection if you are paralysed by the desire to do it right. Sometimes we procrastinate on tasks that aren’t that important.

Begin with a small step

Tim Pychyl, founder of the Procrastination Research Group and associate professor of psychology at Carleton University, Ottawa, says procrastination boils down to an “emotion-focused coping response”: by putting off the task, we get rid of the bad feeling. Begin by identifying the first action. “Ask yourself: What is the next step I would take to complete this task, if it were up to me?” And keep it small. You want to shift your attention away from what you feel and instead focus on what Pychyl calls “low-threshold entry into action”. Evans recommends working on the task for 10-15 minutes, so that you can make a start.

Imagine your future self

According to productivity expert Moyra Scott, “Giving yourself a hard job only makes it worse.” You have to realize that procrastination is common in order to overcome it. We are all human. We are all human. It is important to imagine myself as the person and feel the emotions I will feel in the future.

woman browsing on the internet

Stop the cycle

Judson A. Brewer, a neuroscientist and director at the Mindfulness Centre at Brown University is a procrastinator and reward-based learning expert. He says that procrastination can be traced back to a trigger (think of a deadline), a behavior (scroll through social media), and then a reward (distract yourself from the unpleasant thought). It is not easy to overcome this powerful urge, which evolved to help us remember how to find food. Brewer says that by being aware of our habits, we can break them. “Curiosity is a superpower that helps us see these urges as thoughts, emotions, and body sensations and then move on to the task. The reward can be reframed in terms of the satisfaction of achievement, rather than the relief (tempered with guilt and building anxiety) from a temporary distraction. Reframing the positive properties of procrastination builds healthy habits that are stronger than procrastination – hacking our brains in the process.”

Stop trying to defeat the monkey

Grace Marshall, a productivity coach says that many people believe productivity is about “just nailing yourself to the chair and getting it done”. Although this can sometimes be effective, and if there is a deadline, it is necessary, it can also lead to stress. “Willpower is a finite resource so it is not sustainable.” She suggests that we stop trying to ignore or overpower the primitive part in our brains that drives procrastination and instead, try to distract it. You can tell yourself, “I’m not going to actually work on this right away. I’m just going open the file and take some notes.” Playing – making the task fun or an experiment – can also be a great diversion. Marshall says, “Fighting the monkey exhausts and doesn’t work very well.”

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