If Not Now, Then When: How to Manage Procrastination

It is easy to put off tasks, so easy in fact that some take forever to reach completion. Here’s how to tackle tardiness.

Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile from Pexels
Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile from Pexels

Procrastination is a challenge we have all faced at one point or another. It happens to all of us; difficult times simply make us more susceptible to it. The uncertainty around the pandemic may lead to avoiding and pushing off tasks that are important to us. Currently, workdays are more unstructured which can make you feel unmotivated to do the tasks at hand, leading to procrastination.

Procrastination is essentially a struggle between your limbic system, which is the pleasure center and prefrontal cortex that controls planning and decision making. Stress and anxiety due to the pandemic lowers the capacity of the prefrontal cortex leading to procrastination.

Even during these times, you can overcome procrastination by bringing simple changes in your lifestyle!

Make the rewards more immediate: Not having an immediate reward often leads to pushing the task for later, closer to the reward point. You can make your own reward structure for the present moment. Start by writing down your daily tasks, which signals your brain of the activities you need to do. Every time you finish a task or part of a task, reward yourself – perhaps with 15 mins of screen time or your favorite leisure activity. This helps release dopamine which motivates you to carry out the remainder of the task.

Try temptation bundling: It is a strategy where you do something you like while doing a task you are putting off. For example, you may watch your favorite show while doing a household chore. Employing “Premack’s Principle” which states more interesting activity will reinforce a less interesting activity, you’re more likely to find a behavior attractive if you do it with your favorite things at the same time. 

Break the tasks and make them more achievable: The friction that causes procrastination is usually centered around starting a behaviour. Once you begin, it’s easier to keep working. One good way to achieve this is by keeping small and easy to start tasks. Another great way to make tasks more achievable is to break them down. Small measures of progress help to maintain momentum over the long-run.

Minimise distractions:  When you notice yourself using your device to procrastinate, disconnect yourself from it. It can mean putting your phone in another room or shutting off the WiFi. There are apps such as ‘Freedom’ or ‘Self Control’, which block access to distracting sites. Notifications give a dopamine hit which leads to habitual use of the phone. Eliminate this by switching off the notification option. Instead of checking your phone every time you get a notification, you can set a timer to check your phone at regular intervals.

Be kind to yourself: At the end, you must keep yourself and your mental health above all. Seek help whenever required, forgive yourself, move on and get over it. In short, have compassion for yourself. Studies show that self-forgiveness can help you  feel more positive about yourself and reduce the likelihood of procrastination in the future. Often being too hard on yourself to meet deadlines proves to be counterproductive, so just take it easy. 

Although procrastination is a common phenomenon during these challenging times, it can lead to excessive stress and anxiety. To save yourself from a vicious cycle of delaying and worrying, try to be mindful of your activities. Be kind to yourself and forgive yourself in case you’re not able to meet your goals. We are living in times of a global crisis, taking it slow and easy would help you keep your well-being in check.

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