Tips on how to overcome putting things off
One behavioural trait we share as human beings, no matter our age, sex, ethnic makeup, or creed, is our urge to procrastinate. Whether it’s cleaning up our dwelling, making that overdue dentist appointment, filing our taxes, or finishing that novel, we masterfully put pressing things off. Instead, we spend countless hours on the web, or engage in other mundane, time-squandering activities. Why is that? Below, we reflect on the monster that is procrastination, and dispense a few tips on how to tame the beast.
How is it that we so easily squander the precious commodity that is time, when we’re fully aware it isn’t infinite, or recoverable? Despite having a pressing deadline, why are we overcome with the urge to reorganize our sock drawer, try on different shades of lipstick, or spend the better part of the afternoon watching back-to-back episodes of Big Brother Canada (guilty as charged!), only to feel utterly depressed and dejected once we realize that time has come and gone?
We work so hard to avoid… actually working. But the trifecta of laziness, complacency and lack of ambition isn’t the culprit, as some would have you believe. Procrastination is part of our genetic makeup, it flows through our veins; it simply comes with being human. Scientific studies have repeatedly shown that when presented with two rewards, we never fail to choose the immediate, short-term one, as opposed to the other that lies further down the road.
Watching back-to-back episodes of Real Housewives (insert the franchise of your choice here) brings us immediate pleasure while, truth be told, the reward for completing that novel for instance—publication, fame, and fortune—is so far down the line, if at all. That elusive return isn’t always motivation enough to toil at a desk writing a book, and seeing it to completion. Faced with such uncertainty, it’s only natural, for all the motivational spiel about perseverance, discipline, and how getting it done is a reward in itself, that we go for the immediate reward.
How to beat procrastination: a few tips
But procrastination does take a toll on our health and well-being, what with the constant stress we put ourselves through each time we leave a task to the very last minute. Not to mention the better quality of life (improved health, better income, greater overall well-being and happiness) that possibly awaits us down the road if only we stop settling for what we have, and go for what we want and deserve in life. We never know what tomorrow may hold, hence we should, as cliché as it may sound, “seize the day.” Plus, we needn’t look too far to find individuals, who despite this basic urge to procrastinate, actually get things done! That’s because it is possible to train ourselves to reduce our procrastination. How, you ask? We outline some tried-and-true tips below:
Work like a professional athlete. When looking at the moments we most often fall prey to procrastination, the culprit is usually lack of energy. We tend to squander our time when we’re feeling less than rested. Plus, even with optimal alertness, spending a good block of time focused on a task is rather difficult. Perhaps we can take cues from athletes, who train for intervals at a time, making sure to take short breaks in between training bouts to recharge their batteries. So, if you have to file those taxes, nail yourself to that chair for an hour, and take a 10-minute breather, whether it involves stretching, going for a walk, or grabbing a healthy snack (consider this your reward). But use your breaks wisely, and use them to recharge rather than squander your energy. Manage yourself, not your time.
Set real deadlines. Self-imposed deadlines are all too easy to disregard, no matter how many day planners, time management apps, or reminders you have on hand to stay on task. However, a deadline set by someone else is more likely to get you to truly commit to whatever it is you need to complete. For example, offer to host your next book club gathering at your place; that way, you’ll have to clean up your home by a definite time. Or organize a clothing swap among friends, so you’ll have no choice but do the laundry and spring clean your wardrobe.
Get off the Web. The Internet is a seductress, bursting with feel-good distractions, but before you know it, you’ve just spend four hours watching YouTube videos on everything from hidden camera pranks to President Obama’s last state of the union address. Enough! It’s time to stop surfing. There is an app (actually, many apps) for that, so you really have no excuse.
Now, get to it! There’s a best-selling novel with your name on it…
Have some strategies for nipping procrastination in the bud? Share them with us in the Comments section below.