Procrastination is the tendency to delay or hesitate to act on something. All of us procrastinate from time to time, but some of us do so more than others. If you want to reduce your tendency to procrastinate, start by reflecting on why you procrastinate. Your motivation to complete any task is dependent on four factors: expectancy, value, impulsiveness, and delay. By understanding these four factors, you will be able to make changes in your thinking and habits that will allow tasks to be more readily accessible and approachable to get done on time.
If you expect to do well on a task, and are confident in your abilities to do so, it is more likely for you to be able to tackle a task. In order to increase your optimism about your ability to succeed at a task, try the following:
- Set yourself a challenging goal and achieve it, then remind yourself of this accomplishment when you tackle challenges in other areas of your life.
- Connect with others who are persevering and achieving their own goals (i.e. those in support groups or friends), or read inspirational stories of others overcoming challenges.
- Break large tasks into smaller tasks, then focus on completing one task at a time. Completing the first small task will increase your confidence in completing the task as a whole.
- If you struggle with overconfidence, try to be more realistic by reminding yourself of obstacles that may stand in your way of task completion, and the cost of your pattern of procrastination (e.g. missed deadlines, incomplete projects).
We are also more motivated to complete tasks we value and care about. If a task is boring or unenjoyable, it may be hard to value it.
- Connect the task with larger, more powerful goals, and your core values.
- Reward yourself for task completion.
- Combine a less enjoyable task with a more enjoyable task (e.g. workout with a friend).
The more impulsive you are, and the less willing you are to delay gratification, the more likely you will be distracted by activities that are immediately gratifying. Counter or prevent unproductive impulsiveness by doing the following:
- Remove cues for temptation, and increase cues to remind yourself of your work and its importance (inspiration board, images of completed project).
- Make more rewarding tasks more difficult, so you are less likely to choose to do them. For example, keep your technology in the least accessible room of the house so you have to make a conscious decision and effort to check your email, send a text, or check social media.
- Schedule time for activities you find fun and enjoyable, so that when temptation strikes, you can tell yourself, “I can do that later.”
- Ask someone to hold you accountable.
The longer you must wait to see the benefits of any task, the less motivated you will be to complete it. If the benefits of a task are in the distant future, you will need to remind yourself of those benefits in a way that is vivid and motivating.
- Imagine yourself succeeding at your goal, and then imagine yourself not succeeding at your goal, use the discrepancy between the two to remind yourself why you set this goal.
Other factors that may be impacting your ability to complete tasks include lack of sleep, depression, emotion dysregulation, executive functioning difficulties, lack of clarity regarding your priorities, and unrealistic expectations about what you can or should be able to accomplish in the time you have.
For more strategies to beat procrastination, read The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Things Done by P. Steel, or book an appointment with Jeffrey Zeuner, Occupational Therapist at New Leaf Psychology Centre.