To overcome procrastination, start small

by Grace

Procrastination is a serious obstruction to high productivity for many of us, and new research suggests ways to overcome it.

About 20% of adults claim to be chronic procrastinators, based on research by Joseph Ferrari, a psychology professor at DePaul University, Chicago, and others. Other studies suggest the rate among college students may be as high as 70%. The habit predicts lower salaries and a higher likelihood of unemployment, according to a recent study of 22,053 people co-authored by Dr. Ferrari.

Procrastination also predicts such long-term problems as failing to save for retirement and neglecting preventive health care. Studies show men are worse procrastinators than women, and researchers suspect the habit plays a role in men’s tendency to complete fewer years of education.

It does seem that the college years are a time of heightened procrastination.  For many students, it’s the first time they have so much freedom in how to structure their day.

Stay off Facebook!  Instead of distracting ourselves with the strategy of “giving in to feel good”, we would do better by trying to focus on the positive feelings we’ll have after we accomplish the dreaded task.

Often, procrastinators attempt to avoid the anxiety or worry aroused by a tough task with activities aimed at repairing their mood, such as checking Facebook or taking a nap. But the pattern, which researchers call “giving in to feel good,” makes procrastinators feel worse later, when they face the consequences of missing a deadline or making a hasty, last-minute effort, says Timothy Pychyl (rhymes with Mitchell), an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, and a researcher on the topic.

Here are specific ideas from this latest research.

Time Travel: If you are rebelling against the feeling of having to work, try projecting yourself into the future. Imagine the good feelings you will have if you stop procrastinating and finish a project (or the bad feelings you will have if you don’t finish).

‘Just Get Started’: If you are feeling frightened of possible failure, just get started. Tell yourself you don’t have to do the whole project. Just do the first one or two steps on it.

Forgive Yourself: If you are feeling guilty about procrastinating, stop beating yourself up. Replace the negative thoughts with something more positive.

Easy Things First: If you are feeling a lot of dread about one task in particular on your to-do list, start with something else, preferably the task you feel most like doing. The momentum you gain will help you start the toughest task later

Start with a small step.20140109.COCPlanking1

I have found the combination of ” ‘Just Get Started’ and Easy Things First often helps me beat the procrastination demon.  Some New Year’s resolution ideas recently posted on the Internet seem to follow this strategy.

30 day plank challenge
Start with a 20-second plank on day one, and by day 30 you will be up to five minutes.  As a novice planker, five minutes sounds very impressive!

One bag a week decluttering
Fill up one bag a week with household items to donate or to throw away.  Slowly but surely, the house will become less cluttered.

One sentence a day journaling
It’s not hard to jot down one sentence each day.  It is surprising how that meager act of writing captures memories that become more valuable over time.  280 Daily is an online tool that allows 280 characters for each journal entry.

Dopamine flow is generated when small steps are completed successfully.

… The brain can be trained to feed off of bursts of dopamine sparked by rewarding experiences. You create the dopamine environment, and the brain does the rest. One way to achieve this is by setting incremental goals, according to neurologist Judy Willis. In essence, what you are doing is rewiring the brain to attach a dopamine response to the task you want as a reward. Allow yourself to experience frequent positive feedback as you progress through a series of goals. Dopamine will flow as a result of your brain’s positive reinforcement every time you complete a step and meet a challenge.

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