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Post No.: 0251procrastination


Furrywisepuppy says:


(Checks the weather for tomorrow…)


(Gets a doggy biscuit and munches it slowly…)


(Spots a magpie in the garden so checks it out…)


…Some people say that they work better under pressure, which sounds great… but then a teacher or employer might wonder why they can’t just work as well when they’re not under pressure? Why must a student or employee only start to work at their best when a deadline is getting close?! Rather than working better under pressure – it seems like they’ll only start to work once there is pressure! So this is sometimes actually a sign of procrastination.


‘Hyperbolic discounting’ is related to the ‘time value of money’ or the discounting of future payoffs mentioned in previous posts before (such as Post No.: 0065) – it is the tendency for people to have a stronger preference for more immediate rewards relative to later rewards of the same face value, thus the value of a delayed reward is said to be ‘discounted’. More specifically for hyperbolic discounting, this tendency increases in a hyperbolic rather than exponential fashion the closer to the present these payoffs are.


For example, most people would rather choose to have $10 today than $12 in a week’s time, but would rather have $12 in 53 week’s time than $10 in 52 week’s time. The difference in time between the two options in each case is the same (1 week), yet there is a ‘present bias’ to overweight an immediate reward. This hyperbolic model has some critics but what can be agreed and the main takeaway to understand is that most people will show a preference for a smaller reward now than a larger reward later (e.g. to spend rather than save), or for a larger pain later than a smaller pain now (up to a point of course). And that’s why it’s related to procrastination – many of us would rather procrastinate than get something over and done with, even if one will feel better the earlier it’s done, or one might feel more sleepy or stressed to do it the later one does it.


For self-paced educational courses, going to the gym and other self-directed endeavours – the flexibility of scheduling is often cited as a good thing by users. But being able to choose your own schedule to do things can often lead to procrastination. Having choices isn’t always helpful.


Perfectionism can also cause procrastination, as can the fear of failure, not knowing where to start and being overwhelmed by a large task, indecisiveness (which is related to perfectionism), anticipating the task as being boring or difficult, low levels of self-discipline and being easily distracted by other things, the inability to prioritise and/or a failure to accurately estimate how long it takes to do things (being too optimistic and not factoring in potential difficulties that’ll make a task take longer than one anticipates).


The trick to tackling procrastination is to simply start a task because unfinished tasks cause (a productive kind of) anxiety and therefore a refusal to rest until they are completed – so just aim to do the activity for a few minutes. Achieve small gains in the first moments or days (it really doesn’t matter how small or perfect these are) and momentum will naturally grow. Unfinished tasks are also easier to remember because they stick in your short-term memory until your mind senses closure i.e. when they’re completed. Woof!


Perfectionism involves a high conscientiousness to do a good job and this is a good and valued trait in many contexts, but one must be more forgiving of oneself and not beat oneself up for never reaching perfection, and accept that good enough is logically good enough. Strategically know when to ‘satisfice’ (be happy with good enough) and when to ‘maximise’ (aim for the best). Try to learn that the world isn’t going to crumble if your work isn’t perfect. In fact, some spontaneity can open up opportunities and creativity.


Prepare to get started first – get everything in place first (e.g. clear your desk of other tasks and set up your work area ready for the present or upcoming task). Minimise distractions when you sit down to work. Don’t hope that a distraction will distract you, such as a phone call! (Perhaps mute all irrelevant notifications while you work.) Be mindfully aware that your attention has been diverted if it has. Budget and plan in timed breaks too.


Even the very longest journeys begin with a small step and are made up of singular small steps all the way. Every task can be broken down into smaller and more manageable steps so no activity should feel impossibly overwhelming. List, prioritise and find out how to complete each activity in a step-by-step manner, then start by doing the most important one. Be specific and realistic about your goals and tasks.


Expect obstacles, hiccups or thoughts of self-doubt along the way instead of thinking that the first stumble you face will mean that you’ve failed in your endeavour or that it’s all pointless. They’re a normal part of the process. Anticipate and make a plan to deal with them as best as possible. We often think that being self-critical will push us to achieve our goals, when it seldom does – so be kind to yourself, as you would towards a friend if they hit a bump in the road. Ask for help too if you need it.


Each step on its own may not achieve your goal but it gets you another step closer so don’t be impatient or over-demanding. Just focus on one small step at a time, as long as they’re in the right direction, instead of thinking about the whole journey, and you’ll eventually get there.


If possible, just concentrate on one ambition or project at a time. Don’t take too much on at once since this could harm all of your ambitions rather than help any of them. You should ideally only have one major project going on, with which everything else in your work life accommodates around that at the centre. Finish that before thinking too deeply about anything else. Or delegate tasks if you can.


Frame goals so that you’ll say, “Yes” to them. These framings will make you feel energised, open and at ease instead of tentative, hesitant or under threat. You can literally physically feel the difference inside your body. For example, instead of saying ‘I want to embrace public speaking’ – you could state your goal as ‘I want to share the ideas I’m passionate about so that I can transform people’s lives’. Indeed remind yourself of all the positive reasons why your project really matters to you, like the ways it’ll make a positive impact on others.


If you feel particularly low – do something to lift your mood up for a short while. Then once you feel better, get started. But overall it’s better to do work, then play. Play feels more fun that way too because one’s mind can relax for the rest of the day rather than constantly thinking ‘remember to do my homework before I sleep’. Procrastination just builds up a bad kind of stress.


You might want to consciously run through the benefits versus costs of doing something now rather than later (e.g. fixing something now while it’s relatively small will save you a lot of money and effort down the line).


But the most important trick for overcoming procrastination is to just commit to doing a little bit now, then give yourself the permission to reassess if you want to continue today or not – you’ll feel better once you’ve started…


Woof! Yes, post finished. I can go play with my upgraded trebuchet with Fluffystealthkitten now!


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