Overcoming Procrastination

 In Tools
Definition of Procrastinate

This post will help you Overcome Procrastination tendencies through the following:

  1. Normalize Procrastination –  It Happens to Everyone

  2. Reframe How You Think about Goals

  3. Learn a More Effective Strategy to Accomplish any Problem

  4. Begin Working on Your Next Task Now


Do you struggle with procrastination?

Is it hard to finish something once you have started it?

The hardest part seems to be actually starting the task – once you start it and sit with it for a few minutes, you can get into the zone. Is that true for you?

Procrastination can happen to anyone. However, for some it is like a plague that comes in and stays without any indication that it will leave (the current world pandemic could be seen similarly). Despite all your best efforts at developing a routine, making SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) Goals, and mustering up all the will, drive, dedication, and courage you can the procrastination plague still wins and you end up requesting accommodations or longer deadlines for the paper or project that is due. 

Well, while finding a solution and a way through procrastination definitely requires more work than reading a single article, I wonder if I can offer a different way of thinking about setting goals that may provide some support for making a change and acting now rather than later.

Goals often are discussed as an outcome. The goal while writing this article is to finish it. The goal of a soccer game is to win it. The goal for a paper that is due is to finish it. These are admirable goals, but if you struggle with procrastinating then most likely you have made these goals a million times and nothing seems to get accomplished. Perhaps you even find yourself repeating these goals in your head to the point of feeling overwhelmed, disappointed in yourself, like a failure, and begin denigrating your self.

The KEY to accomplishing any end goal is to focus on the Process. The process is more important than the outcome. Paradoxically, when focused on completing process-oriented goals (a.k.a. implementation intentions), the end goal (like finishing the paper) ends up being actually accomplished. 

Process goals, or implementation intentions, are like the baby steps that lead up to a goal, but not in the way you might think. Let’s use an outcome goal as an example and develop some process goals to help accomplish the outcome. 

Outcome Goal: Finish the 20-page paper. 

A typical plan to reach this goal might outline writing 2 pages a day, every day at 7am for 10 days. 

A process goal would be to write for 20 minutes, every day at 7am, for a week. At the end of the week assess how much is done and then address as needed (more time writing each time, etc.). If we make this more realistic and simple it might be something like – sit at your desk with your computer open to the document/paper and sit there for 20 minutes – if you end up writing or doing something, great, if not, perhaps unconsciously you were processing and becoming more exposed and possibly tolerant to the idea of actually writing something the next time you sit down for 20 minutes. 

A major reason why this can help is to remove the sense of imagined/anticipated failure (and the fear of this) that may appear if we set ourselves up to complete two pages within a certain time frame and fall short – even the most resilient person would begin to feel incompetent if this trend continued regularly. 

I can imagine readers of this article saying, “Why would I sit and stare at my computer for 20 minutes, I have a paper to get done, that is such a waste of time!!” 

My response to that would be, well if you have tried everything else to write your paper but despite your best efforts it still hasn’t been written, then what is the worst that could happen? Is sitting in front of your computer more of a waste of time than the other activities you might be doing instead of writing?

I remember during grad school, I would often clean my apartment, organize, or do household tasks while procrastinating. It wasn’t until I just sat myself in front of the work that needed to be completed, breathed for a few minutes, kept the expectation of the outcome low, and that is when I would actually start to write/read/be productive in some way on the task at hand. 

So, the purpose, if you’re interested to try this, is to focus on something that you can measure that is not related to the outcome goal. I find using a time-based method to be the easiest and most effective, but there are for sure many other ways of doing this. Setting up your environment to eliminate distractions or going somewhere else where you won’t have distractions helps too. Then open your phone/watch/device and set a timer for a specific amount of time. When that timer goes off, even if you are in the middle of writing, stop and take a break for a pre-determined amount of time (time this too to avoid getting sucked into a distraction for too long). Then set the process-goal timer and repeat as necessary. Remember, this is an experiment for yourself and the goal each time you do this is to do it according to the time (or other method you choose that is not related to the outcome). 

Setting the intention to yourself that whether you accomplish anything related to the outcome goal to still be accepting of yourself and understanding is very important here too. If you were able to ‘just do it’ then it would already be done, so go easy on yourself and give breaks as necessary. By being intentional during your breaks and using a timed method, this will support you to feel purposeful in what you are doing and perhaps you can even begin to acknowledge that despite the outcome not being reached within a certain deadline, you are still actively working and trying new ways of supporting yourself to change the procrastination habit.

All this being said, if you continue to struggle with procrastination, that may be because there are other, deeper, reasons for the procrastination. If this is so, feel free to reach out to me for a free consultation here to see if counselling would be a useful approach for you. 

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