By Lisa Chinn
We all know what procrastination feels like: the dread of an unpleasant but necessary task, the temporary relief found from postponing the task until a later date, and the buildup of pressure and stress as the task’s deadline approaches. It is possible to be a procrastinator and still complete assignments on time, but a lifestyle of procrastination is stressful and not always conducive to wellness or to the highest quality of work. Some tasks are relatively easy to complete under pressure at the last minute, but stress and rushing can reduce the retention of recently learned information and a person’s ability to focus.
Many people have trouble keeping their attention on a single task. The incidence of ADD and ADHD diagnoses in our culture is on the rise, and learning to focus is hugely beneficial for academic and career success. Although some people feel they work best under last-minute pressure, procrastination does not make sense from a motivational rewards perspective.
When you procrastinate, you put off work in favor of doing something more fun, like watching a TV program or hanging out with friends. Therefore, when you procrastinate, you are rewarding yourself before accomplishing a task, rather than after. You are essentially rewarding yourself for having a lack of focus and poor time management skills. Rewards reinforce behavior, so procrastinating reinforces a pattern of poor attention span and unfocused attention.
Many people find that they become more effective workers when they avoid procrastination and reward themselves for work only after they accomplish the task at hand. In fact, avoiding procrastination and allowing yourself to do a fun activity only after completing your work is a commonly recommended behavioral technique for treating ADHD.
Tips for Overcoming a Habit of Procrastination
- Plan a set time to work on a task. If you leave a specific timeslot in your schedule open for a specific activity, you will be less likely to procrastinate than if you have a vague plan to accomplish the activity sometime before its deadline.
- Reward yourself after you complete a task that you didn’t procrastinate on. Allow yourself to turn on some music you like, make a comforting cup of tea, watch a movie you’ve been looking forward to, take a short nap or do something else you enjoy.
- Do high priority tasks and tasks with the earliest deadlines first. Sometimes I start procrastinating by tricking myself into thinking I’m still doing important work. For example, I will procrastinate on an important work assignment by doing the dishes. Dishes aren’t a particularly fun thing to do, so it feels like I’m not procrastinating as much as if I were to go out with a friend. Making sure to work on the highest priority task at any given moment has really helped me cut back on procrastination.
- Reduce distractions. Everyone’s distractions are different, but this concept might mean things like signing out of your email while doing something important on the computer, putting your office in a quiet location and turning your phone on silent.
- Get enough sleep and eat healthy foods. Physical wellness directly relates to your willpower and ability to self-regulate.
- Keep your blood sugar levels stable by keeping a piece of fruit, cheese or almonds nearby. Low blood sugar levels have been shown to reduce the ability to self-regulate, making you more likely to give into the temptation of procrastinating.
- Practice self-regulation. Like other skills, self-regulation is something that you get better at with practice. Start out by sticking to relatively easy schedule restrictions, such as waking up at the same time every day or walking the dog at the same time after work each day. These small exercises in self-regulation will help you avoid procrastinating on larger tasks in the future.
Breaking out of my habit of procrastination has felt like taking a weight off of my shoulders. Back when I was in college, I was constantly stressed out about some assignment or another, yet always found time to go out with friends or watch a TV program. Nowadays, I do my work before my fun tasks and still have time for both – without the stress.
Overcoming procrastination will help your overall wellness by reducing stress. It doesn’t have to be a sudden and complete lifestyle overhaul; slow steps like rewarding assignments completed early and slowly making your schedule more regimented will help greatly. Overcoming procrastination may also improve your ability to focus, meaning that you can accomplish tasks more quickly and get more done in both your work and personal life. Procrastination is such a common habit that it often goes unnoticed. Upon getting rid of it you might find even more benefits than you expect.