5 Research-Based Strategies for Overcoming Procrastination

5 Re-Based Strategies for Overcoming Procranation

Why do we procranate, even though we know it’s against our best interests? And how can we overcome it? A careful look at the behind procranation reveals five tips. First, figure out which of seven triggers are set off by the task you want to avoid. Is it boring, frustrating, or difficult? Or perhaps it’s not personally meaningful to you? Then, try to reverse those triggers. If it’s boring, find a way to make getting it done fun. If it’s unstructu, create a detailed plan for completing it. Then, only spend as much time working on the task as you can muster. Since it’s easier to pick up an in-progress project, be sure to get it started as soon as you can. List the costs of not getting it done. And, lastly, get rid of distractions, especially digital ones.

Chances are that at this very moment you’re procranating on something. Maybe you’re even reading this article to do so.

A while back, I took a year to experiment with every piece of personal productivity advice I could find. In becoming hyperaware of how I spent my time, I noticed something: I procranated a lot more often than I had originally thought. In one time log I kept, I found that over the course of one week, I spent six hours putting off tasks — and that’s just the procranation that was apparent from my time log.

This got me thinking: why do we procranate, even though we know it’s against our best interests? How can we overcome it, preferably without hating ourselves or the techniques we use in the process?

To answer these queons, I spoke to reers, and spent time ing through dozens of academic journal articles. The advice I gathe became the foundation for part of my book and, fortunately, I discove that a lot of it works.

One of the first things I learned was that procranation is a human condition. About 95% of people admit to putting off work, according to Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation. And I’d argue the remaining 5% are lying.

As for the phenomenon of putting stuff off, it’s “a purely visceral, emotional reaction to something we don’t want to do,” says Tim Pychyl, author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle. The more averse you find a task, the more likely you are to procranate.

In his research, Pychyl identifies a set of seven triggers that make a task seem more averse. Bring to mind something you’re putting off right now — you’ll probably find that task has many, if not all, of the characterics that Pychyl discove makes a task procranation-worthy:

On a neurological level, procranation is not the slightest bit logical — it’s the result of the emotional part of your brain, your limbic system, strong-arming the reasonable, rational part of your brain, your prefrontal cortex. The logical part of your brain surrenders the moment you choose Facebook over work, or decide to binge another episode of House of Cards when you get home.

But there’s a way you can give the logical side of your brain the upper hand. When you notice an approaching showdown between logic and emotion, resist the impulse to procrastinate. Here are the best ways I’ve discove in my re to do that.

Reverse the procranation triggers. Consider which of Pychyl’s seven procranation triggers are set off by an activity you’re dreading. Then try to think differently about the task, making the of completing it more attractive.

Take writing a quarterly report. If you find this boring, you can turn it into a game: see how many words you can crank out in a 20-minute time period. Or if you find a work task ambiguous and unstructu, create a workflow that lays out the exact steps you and your team should follow each month to get it done.

Work within your resistance level. When a task sets off procranation triggers, we resist doing it. But just how resistant are we?

Let’s say you have to wade through a dense piece of re for an upcoming project. To find your resistance level, consider the effort you commit to that task along a sliding scale. For example, could you focus on reading for an hour? No, that period of time ll seems unpleasant. What about 30 minutes? Shorten the amount of time until you find a period with which you’re no longer resistant to the task — and then do it.

Do something — anything — to get started. It’s easier to keep going with a task after you’ve overcome the initial hump of starting it in the first place. That’s because the tasks that induce procranation are rarely as bad as we think. Getting started on something forces a subconscious reappraisal of that work, where we might find that the actual task sets off fewer triggers than we originally anticipated.

Research suggests that we remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than projects we’ve finished. It’s like listening to a catchy song, only to have it unexpectedly cut off in the middle and then have it stuck in your head the rest of the day. Starting a task means you’ll continue to process it — and this makes you more likely to resume the work later on.

List the costs of procranation. This tactic works best when you’re putting off larger tasks. While it’s not worth spending 20 minutes ling the costs of not going for your evening run, ling the costs will significantly help for a task such as saving for retirement. Add to your list all the ways procranating on retirement saving could affect your social life, finances, stress, hapss, health, and so on.

It’s also worth making a list of the things you put off personally and professionally, large and small, while calculating the costs of procranation for each.

Disconnect. Our devices offer a cornucopia of distractions, whether it’s email, social media, or texting with friends and family. This is especially difficult as our work becomes more ambiguous and unstructu (two triggers of procranation).

When you notice yourself using your device to procranate, disconnect. Sometimes when I’m writing, I go as far as to put my phone in another , and shut off the WiFi on my computer. Other times, I turn to an app like Freedom or Self Control, which blocks access to distracting sites, and require me to physically restart my computer to re access.

This may sound drac, and it is. Disabling digital distractions ahead of time gives you no choice but to work on what’s really important.

There are proven ways to procranation so that it doesn’t get in the way of accomplishing your most important tasks. The next time you resist a task, consider whether it sets off any of the procranation triggers, work within your resistance level, force yourself to get started on it, list the costs of putting the task off, or disconnect from the internet.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself procranating a lot less often.

Chris Bailey is the author of Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction (Viking) and The Productivity Project. He ran a year-long productivity project where he conducted intensive re, as well as dozens of productivity experiments on himself, to discover how to become as productive as possible.

5 Re-Based Strategies for Overcoming Procranation


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