It’s almost always something you know has to be done no matter what, yet you can’t get yourself to start it, stay focused, and finish. Almost no one is immune to putting some of their work off, however if you’ve recently moved to remote employment because of COVID-19 you might find your displacement from the regular office setting pushing you to say “I’ll do that later!” to more and more of your responsibilities. So what’s the deal with procrastination, and more importantly, what can we do about it?
Contrary to what one might think, procrastination usually isn’t a product of laziness or poor time management. Professor of psychology and member of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa, Dr. Tim Pychyl, told The New York Times,
“Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem.”
Procrastination can be detected in our brains. When faced with a task that makes us feel anxious or insecure, the amygdala — the ‘threat detector’ part of the brain — perceives that task as a genuine threat, in this case to our self-esteem or well-being. Even if we intellectually recognize that putting off the task will create more stress for ourselves in the future, our brains are still wired to be more concerned with removing the threat in the present. Researchers call this an “amygdala hijack”.
So where do we start to combat procrastination? Well, if only one major idea could be taken away from all this writing, it should be that procrastination stems from negative emotional connections and responses and not necessarily laziness and/or bad time management. Because of this, logically our potential solutions should focus on replacing these brain responses from procrastination to something positive and proactive instead.
Whenever you feel tempted to procrastinate, try to consider the exact feeling or combination of feelings driving the temptation. Maybe you're worried about how the pandemic will affect your long-term work so you're anxious and distracted. Here you could think about potential outcomes of working remotely or with reduced contact with the public, then create a plan to address those outcomes. Even if you never end up using it you'll feel better having it and completing something will encourage you to tackle your next task
Try focusing only on the next step you need to get done within a certain task and consider what hypothetical effort you’d make if you were to start on that task right now. For example, if I were to start writing this NextRequest blog post right now, I would first sit down at my computer and open a new document. Basically, this mental trickery can lead into you actually starting your work because “motivation follows action”, according to Dr. Pychyl. Working through a task in smaller pieces and creating visual reminders will encourage you to complete it.
Focusing again on the emotions that lead to procrastination, one of the most common culprits is fear. So for this technique, instead of thinking about the fear surrounding your task, focus on the fear that surrounds the alternative option: what could happen if you don’t buckle down and get to work. Imagine tomorrow, next week, maybe even your next year if you continue to do nothing.
For example, a lot of governments have had governors orders allowing for PRAs to be delayed. What happens when those are lifted? Why not spend time solving how to process PRAs remotely instead of procrastinating.
If you can, investing in an accountability partner other than just yourself can motivate many to not put work off for later. Try scheduling check-ins with an accountability-buddy throughout the week to stay on track. Then at the end of the week you can celebrate with a virtual team game night or happy hour! A reward system is a strategy as old as time that can effectively push you into the thick of things (just be sure not to reward yourself before you’re supposed to if you lack the outside accountability partner!)
A study composed in 2010 found that participants that forgave themselves for procrastinating after the deed had already been done were more successful in future attempts to complete the same task.
For example, maybe you were working on a project but with COVID all your planning went out the window so you weren't able to meet your deadline. By approaching that with compassion you might say something like "it's understandable that I didn't meet the deadline with shifting priorities and resources. Now that I know what I know I'll do better next time"
Working on one or more of these strategies can help you increase your productivity and focus! For more information check out the source material below which includes the articles referenced in this post but also a good YouTube video about the science behind procrastination and Piers Steel’s popular book about the subject.
Stop putting off what can be done today! Check out NextRequest for any and all public records management needs to get ahead of the never-ending onslaught of records requests.
Find out more at https://www.nextrequest.com/
The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done by Piers Steel