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Why procrastination is about managing emotions, not time

Procrastinating and emotions

According to traditional thinking, procrastinators have a time-management problem. They are unable to understand how long a task will take and need to learn how to schedule their time better.

However, psychologists increasingly realize that procrastination is an issue with managing our emotions, not our time.

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Why procrastination is about managing emotions, not time

Why procrastination is about managing emotions, not time

https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200121-why-procrastination-is-about-managing-emotions-not-time

bbc.com

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Key Ideas

Procrastinating and emotions

According to traditional thinking, procrastinators have a time-management problem. They are unable to understand how long a task will take and need to learn how to schedule their time better.

However, psychologists increasingly realize that procrastination is an issue with managing our emotions, not our time.

Short-term mood lifters

Studies show low mood only increases procrastination if enjoyable activities are available as a distraction. In other words, we're drawn to other activities to avoid the discomfort of applying ourselves.

Adverse consequences

Procrastination leads to two primary consequences.

  1. It's stressful to keep putting off important tasks and failing to meet your goals.
  2. Procrastination often involves delaying important health behaviors, such as taking up exercise or visiting a doctor.

Overcoming procrastination

The next time you're tempted to procrastinate, focus on this question: "What is the next action I would take on this task if I were to get started on it now?"

Doing this will take your mind off your feelings and onto an easily achievable action.

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Helpful procrastination

Procrastination is the action of delaying or postponing something.

From the outside, postponing your work can seem like a big waste of time. However, procrastination can help you do your wor...

Meaningful work

Doing creative and deep work requires you to let go. Procrastination allows one to get rid of the thoughts that are still occupying your mind. It helps you to loosen up.

Letting go

When you have been able to delay your work, your thoughts are empty and you are better able to work with challenging ideas. The work that follows is highly productive.

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Procrastination is an emotion management problem
Happens when we feel uncomfortable (anxiety, overwhelm ) toward a task. We want to do it, but end up doing something else that feels better.  We run away from our negative thoughts and emoti...
The #1 skill to overcome procrastination

Facing a task, experiencing the uncomfortable emotions associated with it and doing the task despite those  emotions.

Our mind is a reason-giving machine

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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Procrastination as a coping mechanism

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...

The science behind getting started

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.

Implementation intentions for better focus

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.

Why we procrastinate

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.

...
How to overcome your procrastination habit

We have two ways of dealing with our procrastination:

  1. Make whatever we’re procrastinating on feel less uncomfortable, and
  2. Convince our present selves into caring about our future selves.
Make getting started ridiculously easy

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.

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Why you procrastinate

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.

Make a task less aversive

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.

Unproductive responses

... people have when they procrastinate:

  • Distracting yourself, and thinking about other things
  • Forgetting what you have to do, either actively or passively
  • Downplaying the importance of what you have to do
  • Focusing on your other values and qualities that will solidify your sense of self
  • Denying responsibility to distance yourself from what you have to do
  • Seeking out new information that supports your procrastination.

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Procrastination is a lifestyle

20% of people identify themselves as chronic procrastinators. For them, procrastination is a lifestyle, albeit a maladaptive one. 

It cuts across all domains of their lives...

Not taking procrastination seriously
Procrastination represents a profound problem of self-regulation. 

There may be more of it in the U.S. than in other countries because we are so nice; we don't call people on their excuses ("my grandmother died last week") even when we don't believe them.

Not a planning problem

Procrastinators are not different in their ability to estimate time, although they are more optimistic than others.

Telling someone who procrastinates to buy a weekly planner is like telling someone with chronic depression to just cheer up.

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Procrastination is not an identity

Procrastination is something you do, not someone you are. When you stop making procrastination part of your identity, you free yourself up to change.

Don't judge yourself for how you f...

Clarify

Figure out why you avoid taking action. Find out all the reasons that prevent you from moving forward. 

For example:

  • You find the task challenging.
  • You don’t know how to do the project.
  • The activity is boring.
  • You don’t have a clear block of time to work on the task.

  • You need a quiet workspace.

  • You expect your work to be perfect—and fear it won’t be.

  • You don’t have a deadline.

Address the issues

Once you understand the reasons for procrastination, address those specific issues. 

Keep on dealing with the issues one by one. This will build momentum and move you toward completing your projects.

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Addiction to information
Addiction to information, to the infinite and immediately available mental stimulation the internet offers in the form of information is real and is a perfect outlet for procrastination...
Neuroplasticity

... is how the brain changes (for better or worse) in response to repeated experience: the things we do often we become stronger at, and what we don't use fades away.

Learn yourself out of procrastination
  • Accept that you are going to procrastinate sometimes
  • Disconnect from your smartphone. Otherwise, it will demand your attention subconsciously 
  • Be mindful with your emotions when you catch yourself procrastinating
  • Focus on one thing at a time, to avoid feeling overwhelmed
  • Take breaks
  • Celebrate your accomplishments.

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Plan the Rest of Your Day

When you don't feel like working on your tasks, take a few moments to plan your day.

Even if you do it as a form of procrastination, to postpone doing the actual work, it will help you...

Smaller Manageable Parts

Break the project you don't want to start into smaller pieces.

Breaking it down into small tasks and adding those to your to-do list isn't exactly fun, but it is less overwhelming than working. And it's also useful: When you finally do get around to starting, you've got a strategy.

Clean Something

Clean something every time you don't want to get started on a work project. Don't listen to a podcast or turn on the radio. Just clean. Make it as boring as possible, so that your mind wanders.

This does two things: it delays actually working on your project and it gives you time to think, possibly generating ideas that will come in handy whenever you get back to the project you're trying to put off. 

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Self-Efficacy

A person’s belief and expectation that they are capable of completing a task. 

When we don't trust the fact that we'll be able to complete a task (with good results), we're mor...

Value

The more enjoyable a task, the less we procrastinate on it. 

Boring tasks are more likely to lead to procrastination than difficult ones, that's why we keep postponing all the busywork (work that keeps us busy but has little value in itself.)

Impulsiveness

Difficulty maintaining focus in the face of immediate and more appealing distractions.

If we work in an environment where we're bombarded with distractions and we are not capable of resisting them, we're more likely to procrastinate.

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