According to 19th century psychologist William James, “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.” A lot of things have changed in the past hundred years, but we are still plagued by procrastination. It’s part of the human condition. One of the most important – and most challenging – skills to learn is how to manage those inevitable bouts with procrastination
In order to beat procrastination, you need to face it. Acknowledge that that is what’s happening. Don’t kid yourself that because you always seem busy, you must be getting the important things done. The master procrastinators I know are always busy doing legitimate tasks. Busy-ness is the best way to mask the fact that you’re avoiding something else.
Once you’ve acknowledged your procrastination, you have to make a firm commitment to overcome it. This takes great courage and perseverance for several reasons:
1.) Like any change, it’s hard.
2.) You have to deal with your personal fears – of failure, of less than perfection, of commitment, of success. (The idea of being productive and efficient is very scary if you generally aren’t!)
3.) It won’t gain you popularity, and it might not be fun.
It’s easy to see why so many people put off dealing with procrastination. Avoiding procrastination requires a combination of attitude and technique.
Let’s start with attitude. You have to convince yourself that you can manage your behavior with regards to time. Yes, you can.
Let go of perfectionism. Conditions are rarely perfect for working, and people are rarely capable of achieving perfection in their work. Strive for personal excellence and satisfaction instead.
Appreciate deadlines: don’t fear them. The adrenaline rush caused by an approaching deadline may be exactly what you need to get those creative juices flowing!
Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. You are responsible for turning that light bulb over your head. It’s not magic, and it only happens after you’ve invested some time and energy.
Once you believe you can manage yourself through time, work on your technique:
1.) Become a list-maker and a prioritizer. Before you go to bed at night, make a list of tasks you need to accomplish the next day. Note which things are most important in terms of time or significance. Write them down so you can’t conveniently forget them or rationalize them away.
2.) Make sure your goals are realistic. Break huge, overwhelming jobs into smaller, doable chunks.
3. ) Tell the people around you what are you are planning to do. The added pressure will help you stick to your plans.
4.) Get started with something! Keep your planning and prioritizing simple, but don’t waste time debating where to start. When it’s time to work, pick something on your list and plunge in. It all needs to get done.
5.) Have patience with yourself. Once you start, give yourself time to focus on the task at hand. If it’s hard to get focused, try a different perspective or approach.
6.) Reward yourself when you’ve achieved a goal. Take breaks when you need to – but make yourself get back to work and finish things. Whenever you finish a task, cross it off your list.
7.) Pay attention to the things on your lists that never seem to get done. If they’re not worth doing, drop them from your list and forget them. If they are worth doing, acknowledge that those are the things you’re really avoiding and get help dealing with them.
If you need help dealing with your procrastination, don’t delay getting help another day! The longer you wait, the more overwhelming the looming tasks become, and the less likely you are to be able to salvage the semester – and your well-being.
Becky Eno is the Academic Counselor at Castleton University. She also teaches in the English department.