Motivation and action are important at every stage of life. They enhance a sense of personal responsibility and Emotional Intelligence. However, there are times you may not feel motivated and are not taking action on a project. There may be many different reasons for your behavior. Maybe you have not been feeling well or the project’s deadline is several weeks away.
Whatever the reason is, putting things off or procrastinating increases stress. Now, you not only have to do whatever needs to be done, you also have to do it in too short of a time period. Avoiding the task has not ended up being helpful.
What have you been avoiding lately? Is “putting things off” a common behavior for you?
Do you avoid tasks or decisions because you are afraid you might do a bad job or you do not feel like doing them? Maybe you have trouble saying “no,” so you agree to do things you do not really want to do.
Procrastination is common because of obvious and hidden benefits. People procrastinate for some of the following reasons:
– It is easy to do.
– There are other important things you want or like to do.
– You can avoid feeling upset doing something unpleasant.
– Somebody else might do the task for you to get it done.
– You can get back at somebody who is making demands on you.
– People will learn not to expect too much from you.
If you choose to not procrastinate, you have to start to do something. Starting something can be difficult for any of the following reasons:
– The task may be difficult or boring.
– The task may take time and effort.
– There are more rewarding things to do.
– People may expect more of you if you do well.
– You can do it more easily another day.
– You may end up doing more things that you do not want to do.
The following 2 tips will help you take action:
Tip #1 – If you are procrastinating and are not making progress, do a cost/benefit analysis to help identify why you are stuck. Identifying conscious and hidden reasons for procrastinating can help you make a plan which allows you to get your needs met. To do a cost/benefit analysis:
1. Write down every benefit you can think of for procrastinating. (Yes, there are benefits.)
2. Write down every cost you can think of for procrastinating.
Use this information to help you begin working on the task by decreasing the benefits of procrastination and increasing the costs. One of the ways to do this is by looking at the negative messages you give yourself.
Tip #2 – When you procrastinate, you give yourself negative messages that get in the way of starting a task. These messages may sound like, “You do not have to do that now; you will have enough time tomorrow.” Or, you might tell yourself, “I have been working hard. I deserve to do something fun for a while.”
What negative thoughts do you tell yourself when you are procrastinating? These negative messages are hard to dismiss because there is usually some truth to the message. However, the negative thought is a distortion of the truth. To counter the negative thought, follow these steps:
1. Visualize the last step of what you need to do to complete the task in color. Make it a large picture so that it is tantalizing.
2. Listen to yourself, and identify the thought that is stopping you from taking action.
3. Challenge the negative thought. What thought can you come up with to counter your negative message?
4. Think positively. It may take 5-15 minutes to get into the task.
5. Make a specific plan with small enough steps to make the task easy. Break difficult tasks into smaller components. Do each part one step at a time. Make sure the tasks follow one another in a logical sequence.
6. Get started. Action comes first; motivation comes second. It is effective to work in 15 minute time chunks. You will be surprised that sometimes you find yourself wanting to work longer at the task.
Remember, it is easy to take a step forward if you stop listening to the negative voice in your head. Be patient with yourself. Do not let your fear of failure, lack of desire, or unassertiveness stop you.
As you follow the above 2 tips to stop procrastinating, get help if you are unsure how to do something. Surround yourself with supportive people who help hold you accountable. Prioritize what needs to be done, and control your impulsiveness to jump from one thing to another. When done, give yourself credit for what you have accomplished.
Maurine Patten, Ed.D, CMC, Achieving a Life Worth Living
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