How to stop procrastinating and get things done
We delay getting our work done when we feel unsure about what is required and believe it requires hard work. Often, we make plans to get started only to delay getting to work because it feels difficult, and we do not want to be disappointed. We are affected by the present bias – our tendency to avoid uncomfortable feelings and ease our tension by doing something different.
Researchers describe procrastination as a mood management strategy. It feels uncomfortable when we have a difficult task to do and are unsure about what to do. We feel challenged by it – “What if we cannot do it well? What if we fail?
The paradox is that we know that delaying our work is going against our best interests. And we know that we care about our work and want to do well, but we feel that we are not ready and do not trust ourselves to do it well.
To overcome procrastination, we first need to understand what happens when we delay getting started. Is it because we do not know what to do, are we afraid of making mistakes? Do we doubt our ability?
We need to develop the habit of persevering with our work so that we can overcome this tendency. A first step is to become aware that change is difficult, and often what stops us from persevering with our efforts is that we notice the gap between where we want to be and where we are now.
Sometimes, we fear having hope to make the change and persevere in doing our work consistently. One of the reasons we do not do this is because we are afraid of feeling disappointed if we do not achieve what we set out to do (Ellenhorn, 2020).
Strategies to get work done
Value small steps: break the task down into small steps. At first, it may feel it will take forever to get the task done, and it may be hard to tolerate the frustration as we notice the large gap between where we are and what we want to achieve. Rather than focusing on the distance from our goal, we can boost our motivation to persevere when we focus on our progress.
Develop self-efficacy: When we focus on our belief that we can deal with challenges to achieve our goals with our efforts, we strengthen our sense of agency. As we learn to tolerate uncomfortable feelings such as frustration and disappointment and focus on what we can do now, we can make progress and boost our motivation.
Develop the habit of starting: Instead of viewing the task as something we must do, we can reframe it as something we choose to do because we want to increase our knowledge and develop our skills. Then, as soon as we think about the task on our to-do list, we take immediate action – get up and go to the desk and focus on one item for 5 mins and gradually increase the time that we spend on the task.
Reframing how we think about the task: When the task is difficult, change your perspective and view hard work as a sign that it is a challenge and requires more effort to learn to build your knowledge.
Being curious: it is easier to get started when we want to do things for personal interest. Be curious about the subject – when we view a task as something we want to learn, we are more likely to find it motivating.
When learning, we do not make mistakes on purpose. Keep in mind that mistakes are part of the process of learning. It makes it possible to tolerate setbacks better and more likely that we will persevere with our efforts.
Avoid comparing with others: we are all unique individuals and have different experiences, skills, and background knowledge.
Developing cues: by developing cues or prompts to remind us of our decision to get that project done or start to create a new habit such as going out for a walk or a run. When we have prompts in our environment, they make us aware of what we have decided to do. For example, if we want to start going out for walks, we can leave our trainers by the front door.
Prepare for setbacks: Whenever we develop a new habit, there will be some progress and a few setbacks. It takes time to get into a routine. If we miss one time, we can acknowledge it and observe what led us not to follow our plan. Then, we can include ways to manage the distractions so that we can get back on track. Being understanding of ourselves, like we would be of our best friends, will allow us to tolerate mistakes and focus on what we can do to improve our work.
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