I had originally intended today’s post (which is late…note the procrastination topic above) to be about another copy editing challenge you can overcome (here’s my last one on apostrophes), but this article caught my eye:
Wait, what? All my life, my mother has hammered into me that procrastination is a time-management problem, and this article is suggesting otherwise?
I dove in and started reading. Because procrastination isn’t just a problem for me. It’s a skill I’ve unwittingly mastered. And I blame my procrastination on everything from attention deficit disorder to my two kids (I know, unfair, right?) to just plain having too much to do.
But it turns out, based on research, that procrastination is tied to your emotions. Perhaps you want to avoid the thing you know is going to make you feel bad, but by doing so, you put off the sense of accomplishment that comes with getting it done, and then depression sets in. Or you’re anxious about the negative feelings associated with a task, and to avoid the ramp-up of your anxiety, you simply put the task off.
I won’t get into the studies done by Tim Pychyl, a researcher at Carleton University, that shows this correlation between procrastination and emotions–you can read that in the article–but I will share the way he suggests you overcome procrastination:
- Give your “monkey mind” (you know…the one that’s always turned on and looking for something to do?) something to do
- Don’t ignore the negative feelings you have about an upcoming task. Those emotions are going to be there whether you want it to or not, so embrace it
- Lastly, treat your projects as actions…things to get done. The pile of work we have is really just a discrete set of actions, so do as Pychyl does and ask yourself “What’s the next action?”
He also recommends cultivating mindfulness. Mindfulness can help us remain non-judgmental when faced with a mountain of work, which allows us to tackle that mountain. In studies, those who were experienced in mindfulness meditation had the lowest incidence of procrastination, suggesting that they embraced their to-do lists and just got it done. No negative feelings attached.
My procrastination is tied to “well, if I just get this other thing done, then my proverbial desk will be cleared and I’ll be ready to write.” In other words, the “lots of little things” on my to-do list get in the way of me thinking about the other tasks (like writing a book) that I have to do. That darn monkey mind thing, but on steroids.
I think for me, using Pychyl’s strategy, I need to embrace the fact that my desk will always have something on it. Bills to pay. Calls to make. Appointments to schedule. It’s always there. Emotionally, I need to accept that my life is a constant to-do list. I need to just brush those things to the side, perhaps put them in a mental “to do” box (something with a lid, so I can’t see or focus on them), and work on them later, even if that means carving out a specific time of day when I work on getting those things done. And even though doing those things is more “fun” (as it were) then tackling a really hard-to-write scene that I have on my writing docket.
What things do you do when you’re playing the procrastination game? What is your strategy for overcoming procrastination?