Science and Sensibility

A psychological potpourri

Stop Procrastinating on Preparation and Excel

Seven Ways to Act Efficiently and Effectively

Do you procrastinate on preparation, putting off doing the groundwork for making reasoned decisions and achieving higher levels of efficiency and effectiveness? For example:

  • You habitually wait until the last possible minute to start an assignment. If that hasn't worked too well for you, you'd wisely prepare to prevent this pattern from recurring.
  • You use slogans to get out of a procrastination rut: a stitch in time saves nine; look before you leap. If you find slogans insufficient, you need to find another way. Perhaps advanced preparation would pay.
  • You over prepare, and, thus, procrastinate in a different way. Over preparation may seem like a safe path. But, when you get bogged down with details, and put off timely tasks, you may find yourself on a procrastination path. Prepare enough to get started.

Can you do a better job preparing yourself to follow through and to prevent procrastination? You can if you take the time to find out what to do and to make directed efforts to do better. However, a big part of reducing procrastination involves mastering yourself as you master the tools to combat procrastination.

Procrastination on Preparation Test

If you suspect you procrastinate on preparation, take the following test and see. Answer true to questions that sound like something you might do, and false to questions that don’t reflect what you do. Next, we’ll look at what the test tells us, and then, I’ll share seven ways to prevent procrastination on preparation.

Do you:

  1. Second guess yourself too often?
  2. Believe you can rely on intuition to make good decisions?
  3. Dodge productive actions where you might feel tense?
  4. Have avoidable emergencies?
  5. Believe you don’t have enough time to prepare?
  6. Think you need better organizing skills before starting?
  7. Make major purchases on impulse?
  8. Avoid addressing emotional problems, like anxiety?
  9. Delay as long as you can before starting?
  10. Fantasize about doing great things effortlessly?

When you address procrastination, you will normally have more than one issue to face. Each test question suggests a procrastination hotspot that can coexist with other factors, such as a need for certainty, rumination, and putting off studying by relying too heavily on intuition.

Secondary procrastination refers to procrastination triggered by a problem condition such as anxiety. You feel anxious about an upcoming meeting. You put off preparing for the meeting because this work conjurs unpleasant images and feelings. You put off combatting your anxiety. You find yourself in an escallating anxiety-procrastination mess. While in this vicious circle, you feel blocked. However, you can start your exit anytime.

Preparatory efforts to reduce anxiety includes working at doing what you put off. You can get a two-for-one benefit. Reductions in anxiety can correlate with reductions in procrastination-related areas.

What the Test Tells

Let’s look at possible interpretations for each test situation, and sample remedies:

  1. Second guess yourself too often? This rumination style suggests a need for certainty. By acting on what you can do, you’ll gain clarity as you go. As a byproduct, you can build tolerance for uncertainty as you develop  an exploratory interest. By sidetracking yourself less, you'll get more done.
  2. Believe you can rely on intuition to make good decisions? An overreliance on intuition often leads to expedient decisions. Prepare yourself by filling gaps in your knowledge with quality information. You may have wiser insights.
  3. Dodge productive situations where you feel tense? Intolerance for tension often interferes with productive actions. Show yourself that you can live though tension by taking charge of your actions rather than stewing over tension.
  4. Have avoidable emergencies? You may let things pile up and feel overwhelmed by too many things that come due around the same time. A classic time-management intervention may help. Take preparatory steps to meet your most pressing challenge first. Act. Then, move on to the next.
  5. Believe you don’t have enough time to prepare? Think this way and you’ve given yourself an excuse to repeat procrastination patterns. If you get negative results from a lack of preparation, how do you justify saying you don’t have the time to correct a recurring problem?
  6. Think you need better organizing skills before starting? Mentally prepare yourself by acting as if you had the ability to organize your actions. Follow this line of thought and you may get more done with less sweat. (How to Get and Stay Organized.)
  7. Make major purchases on impulse? Instead of mindlessly going for the gusto, practice developing your delay of gratification skills. For any significant purchase, do your homework. Start with the pros and the cons and the costs and the benefits. As you think things through, you prime yourself to make better decisions.
  8. Avoid thinking about your worst emotional problem, like anxiety?  Writing out a course of action can give you a sense of self-control. Believing you have control over what you do, can help mute anxiety. (What Makes Thinking Things through So Hard to Do?)
  9. Delay as long as you can before starting?  When you associate certain activities with discomfort fears, these fears can trigger discomfort dodging. If you allow yourself to act productively, and to live through discomfort, would you do and feel better?
  10. Fantasize about doing great things effortlessly? Fantasies can have a dark side when they substitute for attainable accomplishments.  However, you may find fantasies useful for visualizing achievable goals and then mapping how to proceed. However, you’ll have to do the work if you want the results. (How to Change Fantasies into Productive Actions.)

You may find you can use techniques from different areas to help in one targeted area.

Prepare Adequately

Which of the above situations bothers you the most? Target that area first.

Use the following seven steps to improve your preparation skills and to execute action to prevent yourself from procrastinating in that area.

  1. If you drag your heels before you start, the following question can help set you on a productive course. What do I need to know before I proceed? By exploring answers to this question, you may get new ideas you had not considered before.
  2. If you sidetrack yourself with excuses, what do you tell yourself to get yourself off the hook? Do you think the project will take too much of your time right now? Do you tell yourself that you’ll get to it later, perhaps, when you feel refreshed? By recognizing and refusing to accept lame excuses like these, you’ve prepared yourself to get started.
  3. You come to a decision point where you can go in either a procrastination or productive direction. At that choice point, do you insist on a guarantee that you’ll achieve all that you expect if you take the productive path? This artificial conflict interferes with good decision-making. However, you can have a guarantee in this regard. Stalling in indecision impedes your ability to get and stay on a productive path.
  4. In fluid situations, if you wait to get a complete picture, you may wait too long. The 19th century Prussian general, Carl Von Clausewitz, instructs that waiting too long to act leads to defeat. You’ll often have to make a judgment call about how much you need to know before taking action.
  5. Some of what you’ll learn will come from trial and error.  Expect to make adjustments. The famous educational psychologist, Edward Thorndike, thought you may feel a drive to discover new ways to move forward due to the dissatisfaction of not knowing.
  6. Do you start to meet a challenge, lose your focus, and have trouble getting back on track? In addition to procrastination on preparation, you may fall into this version of the behavioral procrastination trap: you stop and do something different. If you tend to stop midstream, prepare yourself to plow through your mid-stream lapse. (Pursue Your Interests without Stopping Prematurely.)
  7. The ancient Greek story-teller, Aesop, understood the relationship between overconfidence and procrastination. He told a story of a tortoise and a hare. An overconfident rabbit invited a tortoise to a race. The rabbit started fast and then snoozed by the wayside while dreaming of cruising to an easy victory. The tortoise plodded along and crossed the finish line first. Now, how can you make persistence pay for you?

If you bog down, push yourself! (You don’t have to limit yourself to one of the 10 test questions. If you have a more pressing issue—or more than one—apply the seven steps to them.)

I wrote this without the use of the verb to be. (This idea comes from the General Semantics school of thought.) Presumably, eliminating the verb reduces irrational either/or thinking that can cloud thought with overgeneralizations about the self, others, and life. The tone also suggests a positive momentum.

For those who want a quick reference to one of my original descriptions of procrastination on preparation, click on How to Conquer Your Frustrations and go to chapter 4. You’ll find additional solutions for procrastination on preparation there. In chapter 9, “Mastering Your Time Frustrations” you’ll find a ten-step stall-stopper program for preventing procrastination.

I wrote How to Conquer Your Frustrations without the use of the verb to be. The book gives many more examples of how this style works. See if this form of preparation aids you to develop greater emotional and behavioral control, and to procrastinate less.

 

For techniques on boosting your personal productivity, click on End Procrastination Now.

For techniques on combatting complex forms of procrastination, click on The Procrastination Workbook.

To prepare yourself to deal with anxiety and procrastination, check out The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety.

© Dr. Bill Knaus

All rights reserved

Bill Knaus, Ed.D., is the author of more than 20 books; one, "Overcoming Procrastination", was co-authored with Albert Ellis.

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