We can all relate to the concept of procrastination. We are all guilty of putting off important things on and off but there are some people who have this incorrigible personality trait that they cannot help it. Because of their procrastination, they have lost many valuable opportunities. Once they lose the opportunity, they suffer from the guilt of, “if only”. Not returning phone calls on time, late bill payment, missing flight, losing important business deals due to procrastination are some of the examples of procrastination. We have heard stories of people who lost important opportunity for business undertakings because they failed to return a phone call. The job was given to another client who promptly returned the phone call. Similarly, many people lose the opportunity to get promotion because they fail to return a call from the boss in a timely manner and few days later, they find out that someone else got the promotion of the coveted position that they wanted to have. It is fruitless to suffer from the guilt of “if only” when the opportunity has been lost. It is too late.
Some people like to work under pressure and their justification is that they perform better under pressure. However, they do not realize that sometimes Murphy ’s Law operates. Things that they postponed to do at the last minute, could not be completed by the deadline because some unforeseen thing happened like the computer crashed and all the work was lost. How do we break this habit and become more conscientious about doing things within the deadline and not missing important opportunities?
There are few psychological tools that we can use to break this habit. First we need to understand why people like to procrastinate. It is because human nature is to avoid things that are negative and give us pain. So we tend to put it off as long as we can. For example, doing the paper work for income tax return is very negative to some people because it involves digging the papers of the last year and making a record of deductable items. We fail to realize that by putting it off we are only complicating the matter. What if you are entitled to get a refund? You will be getting the money back from IRS late if you file your taxes late.
The guiding principle to overcome procrastination is, to first work on the items that appear most negative to you. Get it out of your way, then work on the tasks which are relatively easier and do not give you that much negativity. Once the most difficult task has been completed, it will give you the pleasure and satisfaction. The reward of joy and gratification of completing the task, will keep you motivated to work on the remaining items on your list. You will notice that when you have the stress of too many undone items, project deadlines, you will be stressed out and not be able to enjoy your present moment. You will also not be a good company to your family because your mind is engrossed with the thoughts of those undone items. The solution is not to dwell on those stressful items, but to evolve a strategy of performing them before the deadline so that you can relax and enjoy other things in life. By procrastinating, you will never be free of the anxiety that will occupy your mind because of the incomplete tasks.
According to Joyce Brothers, the famous author of the book Positive Plus, there are three psychological tools to overcome procrastination:
1. Procrastination list ( list of things that you have been putting off)
2. Worst Case Scenario ( cost or penalty for not doing the task in a timely manner)
3. Positive Reinforcement (reward for completing the tasks of the list)
To get started, first make a list of all the things you have been putting off. The list should include all those items that you have been putting off. For example, the list may include tasks such as cleaning the bathrooms, making alterations in your outfit, picking up stuff from the cleaners, calling your loved ones, writing thank you note, planning your daughter’s birthday party, returning important phone calls, planning for the upcoming trip, paying bills and so on.
The next step is to organize your list in order of priority. You may get confused here because you might find that most of the tasks have a penalty to pay if they do not get done. This is the Worst Case Scenario. For example, paying the rent of your apartment has the most priority because if you do not pay the rent, your lease might get canceled and you will have no roof over your head.
Now make a goal that you will do at least three top items of your list every day. It might be helpful to make reminders on the index card or put it on your smart phone to aid you with the completion of task. If you do not have the smart phone, put it on your paper calendar and circle the dates that you have to do those chores. Highlighting tasks helps aid your memory and you are more likely to attend to them.
Another helpful tip is to make three baskets of these tasks: The first basket should have the items that are most important and need your immediate attention: This basket may have items like urgent phone calls to make, plane reservations that need to be made, appointments that must be kept, a presentation that must be prepared. Start your day with the items on this first basket so that you do not suffer from the consequences and penalty of these chores not getting done. When this basket is empty, make sure that you reward yourself with something positive. This is applying the principle of Positive Reinforcement. By rewarding yourself, you will continue the motivation to get the other things done in your list. Examples of reward could be going for a walk, talking with your daughter on the phone, or going to the movie that you want to see.
The second basket should contain items which are not as urgent as the first basket. These might include appointments that must be made, shopping, reading, going to the hair dresser etc. This basket is always full with tasks to be done.
The third basket is a large laundry basket for everything else. These are not as urgent as the first and second baskets. You get to them at your leisure. These are chores that do not have the same penalty that the most urgent items on your list have, like paying your apartment rent or paying off your credit card bills etc.
Procrastination list is an extremely effective way of breaking the habit of delaying things that are important. Once a week, try to make a list of everything you accomplished on time that week. When you have finished your list, sit down and congratulate yourself and reward yourself. Give yourself a little Positive Reinforcement and pat yourself on your shoulders. Reward is very important to keep you motivated. Reward does not have to be an expensive treat but it is important to indulge in something positive after you have accomplished what you wanted to do, like a treat that gives you some pleasure and delight. Basic human nature is to do things that give you pleasure. Once you associate positive feelings with the completion of chores, they lose the capacity to give you the negative. You become more excited to do them and get them out of your way so that you can enjoy other things in life and appreciate the present moment. People dwell in idle worries when things are not done and pretty soon they drift from the present and look perturbed. Their body language will reveal their inner disturbance. In order to get organized, it is important to make a strategy and get those undone taks out of your way. This will help you stay in the present and you will not look so absorbed in worry thoughts about the future and engage in “what if” thinking.
In summary, you try to do the things that you mostly dislike, first. For each detested task you complete, allow yourself to perform those tasks that you enjoy and which are relatively easier. Also visualizing the gains of the completion of tasks can motivate you to get to those tasks. For example, think about how much relieved and peaceful you will be, once the project you have been putting off, is done. This will drive you to take action steps to accomplish what you want to achieve and get to the remaining tasks you h ave been putting off. Imagining the worst possible scenario will also deter you from procrastination.
In this way, your procrastination list will be the record of your progress from week to week. Once you have done it for eight to ten weeks, you will notice that your tendency to procrastinate will be reduced. Do not expect perfection as you will notice that once in a while you are tempted to procrastinate. No one expects you to become perfect. So accept this imperfection but continue to use the above mentioned three principles to break the habit. Cognitive awareness of your tendency will help you and encourage to do something about it and you are more likely to take the action plan. Persistence and preseverance will also facilitate curbing the habit of procrastination. You will notice a big change in your anxiety and you will be more efficient in handling stress if you learn simple time management techniques.
Hypnosis can also help address procrastination. People with ADD tend to be real procrastinators. In hypnosis, the person gets positive suggestions and they get embedded in the subconscious mind and begin to modify the behavior of the person. Please visit our Blossom Hypnotherapy page to learn how hypnosis can help reduce symptoms of Anxiety disorders.