We have too much to do, not enough time to do it, and still we procrastinate. Why do we let ourselves waste time and get off track? Despite resolutions to focus on the tasks at hand, somehow, we find something to divert us. How can we change this and when should we?

First off, there is a good side to procrastination. Our brains need rest. If we have been tackling a complex or a boring job, when it’s through we need to pause and give our brains a chance to shift. Additionally, we need different types of thinking depending on the task. That said, the pause shouldn’t last an hour. Once we go to our procrastination of choice, we tend to linger there too long. Time gets sucked away and we are upset with ourselves.

Procrastination becomes “ugly” when we use it to avoid a task. Instead of diving in and taking a break when we complete it or come to a natural resting spot, we put off starting. By the time we get to it, we are annoyed with ourselves and are not bringing our best to the job.

How can you manage procrastination so you can use it in good ways and avoid the bad and ugly ones? Amanda Pressner Kreuser presents 5 Easy Tricks to Beat Procrastination You Should Start Today. Here’s the list, along with my adaptations for our world.

  1. Be realistic about your bandwidth. There’s always too much to do. When facing the stress or overwhelm of a big project, you are apt to try clearing your deck of the little tasks, but these don’t move you forward and your deadlines loom closer, adding to your stress. Instead, prioritize the larger tasks based on your availability and look for ways to do the smaller things at a later time. If at all possible, delegate so that you can still enjoy checking things off without having to do them yourself. For example, if you feel pressed to get a cart load of books shelved, make a sign suggesting students look over these recent returns for  a suggestion of what to read next.
  2. Break up large projects or deadlines into small tasks. The old advice works best. Chunk the project up into workable tasks. This way you get a sense of accomplishment as tasks are completed, and your project gets done on time, or even early. An added benefit is that you have a chance to review what you have done as you tackle each new part making it more likely that you’ll find ways to improve and streamline your plan. If you use my telescoping (visualizing the full project), microscoping (focusing on what needs to be done now), and periscoping (popping up every now and then to be sure you are aware of upcoming tasks as deadlines), you will stay on track and keep stress levels down.
  3. Put time blocking into action. Our brains need a pause. Kreuser says studies show we need a break after 90 minutes. Don’t fight against this. Instead, plug this into you schedule, then set a timer and stay on task until you reach that pause point and stop. If you are on a roll, make yourself a note that will help you get you back to where you were when you stopped. What to do during the pause? Moving is one good choice, reading for pleasure could be another. But whatever you do, set a timer for however long you plan to take. This way you won’t fall into the bad aspects of procrastination.
  4. Eliminate distractions — or at least put them on pause. This one is tough. In the library people are always coming in, and you must do what you can to respond. Eliminate the ones you can such as keeping your phone on mute so you are not tempted to respond to it. If you are working from home, let partners and children know when you’re busy. Tell them when you will be ready to talk and ask them to wait until them. If you have a door you can close, post a sign for when you will be “available.”
  5. Reward yourself in small ways. We are naturally motivated by positive reinforcement so make a plan for this with each successful milestone. Take the reward you earned. Do a Wordle or other computer game. Physical activity is always a good change after doing a mental task. Take a walk. Plan a trip to your favorite coffee shop. Then set up the next task and the next reward.

Caveat emptor. Don’t expect this to work every day. Some days you end up going down the procrastination rabbit hole. Somedays will have more unexpected interruptions than others. You are human. Be compassionate. But the better you are at learning to manage procrastination the less stressed you will be, and we all need that.

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