|ILLUSTRATION: YAO XIAO|
Perhaps we didn’t finish preparing a presentation on the weekend because we had house guests. That is just intentional delay based on a rational decision, says Timothy Pychyl (pronounced pitch-el), a psychology professor at Carleton University, in Ottawa, who has published extensively on the topic.
The essence of procrastination is “we’re giving in to feel good,” Dr. Pychyl says, so the following are ways to avoid that, and do the work.
- Break a long-term project down into specific sub-goals.
- State the exact start time and how long (not just “tomorrow”) you plan to work on the task.
- Get started. Now.
- It isn’t necessary to write a long list of tasks, or each intermediate step.
- Remind yourself that finishing the task now helps you in the future.
- Putting off the task won’t make it more enjoyable, in fact may make more odious as now you have injected guilt into the picture.
- Implement “microcosts,” or mini-delays, that require you to make a small effort to procrastinate, such as having to log on to a separate computer account for games.
- Reward yourself not only for completing the entire project but also the sub-goals.
One of the biggest misconceptions that chronic procrastinators hold is that they can’t get started on a task because they want to do it perfectly. Studies though. show chronic procrastination isn’t linked to perfectionism, but rather to impulsiveness, or jumping from project to project and so acting immediate on urges, according to Piers Steel, an organizational-behavior professor at the University of Calgary.
People low in impulsiveness, anxiety is the cue to get going while highly impulsive people, shut down when they feel anxiety. Also, impulsive people are believed to have a harder time dealing with strong emotion and want to do something else to get rid of the bad feeling, Dr. Steel says.
Fuschia Sirois, a psychology professor at the University of Sheffield, in England, recently began studying the effects of procrastination and coping with chronic illness. The mental-health effects of procrastination are well-documented and habitual procrastinators have higher rates of depression and anxiety than non procrastinators and suffer from a poorer overall well-being as well. The reason, Dr Sirois feels is that they suffer from “temporal myopia ” — an inability to envision the future as clear and in sight. Instead, their their vision of the future is often abstract and impersonal, and so they’re less emotionally connected to it and thus see no “purpose” in getting it done at all, much less done now.
Dr. Sirois and Dr. Pychyl also have focused on some short-term mood repair tools as an anti-procrastination strategy. First, they teach people to recognize that they might have strong emotions, such as anxiety, at the start of a project but to not judge themselves for it, or allow it to get in the way, but ackowledge it as “part of the process”, and then just get started, step by step, with a very tight focus what is needed to achieve the goal. Often the problem have is 1) making a goal and 2) making it too broad. Their recommendation is to make a goal and then keep redefining it down further and further until it can be comprehended and understood as a whole.
An example here, is that the desire is to sew a dress but you can’t sew. So you have to break those steps down to reading about sewing, learning about patterns, learning the differences between hand sewing or machine, each step being it’s own narrow goal so if at any point you decide that your desire is foolish you can easily back down without suffering the repercussions of guilt and failure; because to be quite honest just because you dream it does not mean you really want it. Sometimes once you start working on it, you realize that it is not really all that appealing, but if you never apply yourself towards the goal you will forever be dangling it out there as a carrot, wondering whether you chose right not doing it.
So pick things you would like to do as well as something you have to do. Break them down and start doing them, giving yourself deadlines and rewards i.e. posting to Facebook, I just walked around the block! etc.
Then another technique is using visualizing exercises, or putting yourself there when it is all is over. This is helpful, for severe procrastinators, as it gives them a tangible view of what the future may hold., that finished costume in Vogue pattern 4043.
At Stockholm University, researchers set out to test whether such self-help treatment could have an effect on more-severe forms of procrastination, as the research in this area was lacking. Though there are many self-help books and experimental lab studies, the group wanted to design an intervention that, if shown efficacious, could be rolled out widely, such as via the Internet, said Alexander Rozental, a clinical psychologist and doctoral student who was an author of the study, which was recently published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology
One component focused on goal setting, such as breaking down long-term goals into smaller and more-concrete sub-goals. Instead of saying one was going to work on a paper on Tuesday, participants were taught to be specific and divide it into manageable sub-goals: I am going to work on a paper for one hour at 11 a.m.
The intervention also employed a reward system. Participants would give themselves something positive, whether a cup of coffee or a break after accomplishing mini-goals, rather than wait until finishing the overall goal.
Another module involved exposing procrastinators to stressful feelings or thoughts in brief but gradually longer periods. The goal there is to help them feel that they are better able to manage their emotions and not to instinctively follow or run away from them.
The results showed that after intervention with both guided and unguided self-help, people improved their procrastination, though the guided therapy seemed to show greater benefit. The researchers, who have continued following up with the participants, will look at one-year outcomes later this year to see if the results were maintained.