Beyond Time Management: Why We Really Procrastinate and How to Finally Stop - Ambition & Balance
Procrastination is more about our emotions than our tendencies for laziness or just being “bad at deadlines”. At its core, we procrastinate to keep ourselves happy in the moment.
We procrastinate because our brains are wired to care more about our present comfort than our future happiness.
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We have two ways of dealing with our procrastination:
Often starting a task is the biggest hurdle. Research shows that progress—no matter how small—can be a huge motivator to help us keep going.
Set the timer for just 5 or 10 minutes. While the timer’s running, you don’t have to work, but you can’t do anything else. You have to sit with your work, even if you don’t get started.
Since negative emotions are the cause of our procrastination, what if we could manage our negative emotions while working?
Behavioral economist Dan Ariely calls this method reward substitution. It is essentially getting yourself to do the right thing for the wrong reason.
When my work directly affects others, I find it much harder to accept the consequences of procrastinating.
You could ask a friend or colleague to help you get started on something you’ve been putting off.
Encouraging people to imagine the future can help them make better decisions now.
“Structured procrastination” is a clever way to stay productive even while you procrastinate. Procrastinating doesn't mean you are doing absolutely nothing.
Next time you feel the urge to procrastinate, go for it. Avoid that Big Scary Task that makes you feel really uncomfortable. Instead, work on more important things than what you’re avoiding.
Set a timer for 30 minutes. During that time stay focused on your work. When the timer goes off, set it again for 10 minutes, and rewards yourself with a fun activity like YouTube videos, chatting with friends, or reading a book. After 10 minutes, reset the 30-minute timer and get back to work.
Forgiving yourself for procrastinating can help you overcome negative feelings about the work you’ve put off in the past, so you can more easily approach future tasks.
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Procrastination is fundamentally an emotional reaction to what you have to do. The more aversive a task is to you, the more you’ll resist it, and the more likely you are to procrastinate.
When you notice yourself procrastinating, use your procrastination as a trigger to examine a task’s characteristics and think about what you should change.
By breaking down exactly which attributes an aversive task has (boring, frustrating, difficult, meaningless, ambiguous, unstructured), you can take those qualities and turn them around to make the task more appealing to you.
... people have when they procrastinate:
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Facing a task, experiencing the uncomfortable emotions associated with it and doing the task despite those emotions.
It rationalizes the shit out of anything that’s just a little bit uncomfortable and create excuses as to why we shouldn’t do something now. Those excuses are irrational, but sound superficially reasonable.
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People tend to procrastinate to avoid emotionally unpleasant tasks - so they choose to focus on something that provides a temporary mood boost.
This creates a vicious cycl...
Progress on our goals feeds our well-being. So the most important thing to do is bootstrap a little progress: get a little progress, and that’s going to fuel your well-being and your motivation.
This is a self-regulatory strategy in the form of an "if-then plan": "If the phone rings, then I’m not going to answer it." "If my friends call me to say we’re going out, I’m going to say no." So you’ve already made these pre-commitments.