Procrastination

Procrastination [pro/cras/tin/a/tion] is a major waste of time. It can severely harm your mood, school work, career, quality of life, and your health. That is the bad news. The good news is that there are very good solutions for this very common problem.

 


Consider Asking the Following: 

  • Do you often postpone activities you need or want to do?
  • Do you often delay starting projects almost to the deadline?
  • Do you often delay studying for exams until the day before?
  • Do you often postpone cleaning and organizing projects?
  • Are there projects you dread starting because they are large?
  • Are important decisions often delayed?
  • Do you get depressed and/or anxious because of procrastination?
  • Do you lose sleep because of procrastination?
  • Do you make excuses and do these sound familiar?
    • "There is no hurry to get this done."
    • "I know what I need to do but I do not have the time."
    • "I will start when I have a large block of time available."
    • "I'll wait because I work better under pressure."
    • "I'm not in the mood right now."

Brief versus Extensive.  If you have a lot of time available, many hours spread over weeks or months, then you can do a lot of reading about procrastination, enroll in a stress management or time use management class that includes procrastination, and/or seek individual professional help such as counseling/psychotherapy with a specialist in this topic. Well, of course you probably don’t have that much time, and even if you do, you likely will put it off or otherwise not do most of the tasks recommended and needed. Counseling/Psychotherapy can be costly. I started with this intentionally to help make the following points.

• I am going to keep this brief because otherwise many readers will not benefit.
• Many resources are listed at the end for those readers who want much more information, ideas, and help.

Briefly. I always recommend at least Action Before Mood (ABM) and often also including the  TIC-TOC technique (TIC =Task-Interfering Cognitions. TOC = Task-Oriented Cognitions.). These are adapted from David D. Burns, M.D. excellent books (1980 & 1989).

The rationale for brief recommendations does not mean that the other factors are unimportant and unnecessary. Reading most of the recommended materials or the appendix to this document or longer draft version of this document shows that managing procrastination often needs consideration of more factors and inclusion in intervention of more than ABM and TIC-TOC.

However, I believe that many people (including me) can effectively manage their procrastination by using only ABM, without any or most of the other factors, so this is what I focus upon here.

Action Before Mood. If you are not in the mood, start anyway. Action very often precedes motivation. Whatever you do, do something now. Instead of saying, “I’m not in the mood” start anywhere for a few minutes (e.g. 10-15 minutes). Then, if you want to stop – stop. That can be helpful because each time you do this you will know that you can stop and have stopped sometimes. However, I predict that many times, perhaps most of the time, you will work longer and do more. It does not matter whether it is 30 minutes or 3 hours. The bottom-line is that you did something, started with a few minutes, and then did more. The next time you work on the task there will be less to do to complete the project.

I have used this successfully many hundreds of times for decades to:

  • write chapters and books
  • write patient reports
  • clean and organize my office, closet, and garage
  • to do yard & landscaping projects including weeding, planting, & many more
  • to prepare lectures and slides
  • to exercise on the treadmill

Unrealistic thoughts and the TIC-TOC Technique.
It might be your unrealistic thoughts and beliefs that are affecting your procrastination. If so, then replace them with positive thoughts. Burns (1989) refer to this as the TIC-TOC technique. TIC means "Task-Interfering Cognitions." TOC means "Task-Oriented Cognitions ." Write down the pros and cons of postponing versus doing the task. This can help put the task into better perspective.
Examples of TIC statements are: 

  • I do not feel like doing this.
  • I will never get that project done. It is too big.
  • I do not think I can do this large, complex project.

Examples of TOC statements are:

  • "I will work on it for 15 minutes. I can do that much."
  • "If I do small parts every day for __ weeks, it will be   done. I will feel much better when done."
  • "I don't need to be capable yet. That's why I am dividing it into parts and learning to do each."

Getting started.
This is often the most difficult hurdle. Starting a task will often make it easier to proceed. If the project is very time consuming or appears overwhelming, consider dividing it into small, workable sections. Even a few minutes are enough to make some progress. The Swiss cheese method by Alan Lakein (1974) is the model solution referred to by many experts. He suggests poking holes into complex and long jobs. Write down the sub-tasks or short tasks that you can do in just a few minutes. You nibble away at it by doing a little bit each time, perhaps only 10 to 15 minutes. You might need a few holes before you spark enough motivation to continue. Of course, if the action for 15 minutes results in working longer, that is usually fine too.

Some  Reasons for Procrastination.
There are many possible reasons why people procrastinate. Discussion of all or most of these is beyond the scope of this document. The list below contains many examples of reasons. These are not mutually exclusive. Thus, several can be valid for any person. Readers will find more information among the Resources at the end of this document.

  • Are you unsure where to start?
  • Do you feel overwhelmed by the task?
  • Do you feel inadequate to do the task?
  • Do you have attention problems and get distracted easily?
  • Do you avoid some tasks rather than risk failure?  If you wait until it is too late to do it perfectly you will have an excuse for a less than perfect performance.
  • Do you overestimate the time needed for the task?
  • Do you think the task will go away if you wait long enough?
  • Do you think that someone else will do it for you?
  • Do you think you must do the task perfectly or not at all?
  • Do you like the excitement of doing tasks near the deadline?
  • Is the task boring, uninteresting, or bothersome?
  • Are you angry with the person who gave you the task to do?
  • Do you think you are the best person for the task? Are you keeping it on your list rather than delegating it?
  • Do you believe that you must first be "in the mood" before working on a task?
  • Do you assume that productive people achieve their goals easily? Do you assume they do it without frustration, uncertainty, and failure experiences?
  • Do you discount the value of small steps toward a goal?
  • Did you agree to do the task to avoid displeasing someone?
  • Are your problems with depression contributing?

References and Recommended Readings:

Websites:
Overcoming Procrastination
How to use the Tic-Toc technique.
      [from BloggerSpot, written by a lay person but he does a nice job]
Procrastination Wikipedia article