Leaders at Mindability enjoy Shirley S. Wang’s column for The Wall Street Journal, and she recently reported on a compelling piece, To Stop Procrastinating, Start by Understanding the Emotions Involved. The following includes five key tips along with highlights and a video interview granted by Dr. Pychyl that can help you can win the procrastination battle.
STRATEGIES FOR WINNING THE BATTLE OF PROCRASTINATION
Tips from research led by Timothy Pychyl, Piers Steel and Alexander Rozental
No. 1 Break a long-term project down into specific sub-goals. State the exact start time and how long (not just “tomorrow”) you plan to work on the task.
No. 2 Just get started. It isn’t necessary to write a long list of tasks, or each intermediate step.
No. 3 Remind yourself that finishing the task now helps you in the future. Putting off the task won’t make it more enjoyable.
No. 4 Implement “microcosts,” or mini-delays, that require you to make a small effort to procrastinate, such as having to log on to a separate computer account for games.
No. 5 Reward yourself not only for completing the entire project but also the sub-goals.
In The Lab
Experts say the consequences of chronic or extreme procrastination can be serious: Marriages break up, people lose jobs and often feel like impostors. Fuschia Sirois, a psychology professor at the University of Sheffield, in England, recently began studying the effects of procrastination on coping with chronic illness.
Less is known about physical effects, and especially serious health problems. In a recent paper, Dr. Sirois and colleagues found procrastinators with hypertension and heart disease were less likely to engage in active strategies for coping with the illness, such as finding meaning or taking action, such as arranging to exercise with a friend. They were more likely to adopt maladaptive behaviors, like being avoidant or blaming themselves for the illness and trying to forget it.
“A lot of us think, I’m doing it for me” and that in the future we’ll benefit because of what we’re doing now, says Dr. Sirois. But procrastinators aren’t as good at envisioning this. Dr. Sirois, Carleton’s Dr. Pychyl and others are testing interventions for helping procrastinators better envision and connect with their future selves.
Noteworthy, focusing on time management alone will help procrastinators, but only so much, the scientists say. The emotional regulation component must be addressed as well.
Dr. Sirois and Dr. Pychyl also have focused on short-term mood repair as an anti-procrastination strategy. They teach people to recognize that they might have strong emotions, such as anxiety, at the start of a project but to not judge themselves for it. The next step is just to get started, step by step, with a narrow focus.
As a reminder, the mental-health effects of procrastination are well-documented: Habitual procrastinators have higher rates of depression and anxiety and poorer well-being. Start winning your battle with procrastination today, by moving forward with these five important tips.