Beat Procrastination: Do It Now!

What are you waiting for?

Posted Aug 07, 2010

Friday, 4:15 p. m. Glenn realizes the grant proposal has to be in the mail today or he stands no chance. The proposal is still in outline. Can he finish it, polish it, and mail it by 5:30? Tuesday. 6 p.m. Geneva will chair the PTA subcommittee on recreation programs in an hour. She hasn't looked at her notes since the last meeting, a month ago. As she gathers her materials, she realizes that she was to report estimates for the cost of referees for the after-school basketball program. She has made no effort to get the necessary information.

Everyone occasionally puts off doing things, feels unmotivated, or avoids taking action. For most people the tendency to procrastinate is a basically normal attribute that, at worst, results in a little inconvenience or unnecessary time pressure.

Some people, however, seem to have enormous difficulty getting started and seem incapable of initiating tasks. Consequently these "expert procrastinators" frequently find themselves one or two steps in front of a virtual tidal wave of deadline stress, unfinished business, and loose ends.

Fortunately, regardless of whether you are a novice task avoider or a veteran activity delayer, there are several very powerful methods for beating procrastination and thereby increasing productivity while at the same time reducing stress.

The first and probably most important anti-procrastination method is simply to understand the relationship between motivation and action. Most people mistakenly believe that motivation must precede action - that before you can actually do something you must first feel motivated to do it. Right?

Wrong! The fact is that in most cases action precedes motivation ~ that is, once action has been initiated motivation tends to gather momentum and it becomes increasingly easy to continue what has been started. As the old saying goes: "Getting started is the hardest part."

• Don't wait for motivation before taking action - make motivation by taking action!

Many are deterred from starting a task or attending to a situation because it will only amount to a drop in the bucket. "So why bother?" they say, and simply proceed to do nothing. But one drop becomes two, then four, eight, sixteen, and fairly soon, significant headway has been made.

The next time you feel the creeping paralysis of procrastination taking hold of you, make a commitment to do just a few minutes of the task you are avoiding. You'll probably find that after the first few minutes elapse, the momentum of motivation will be solidly upon you and you'll continue the task with ever-increasing interest and enthusiasm.

Another useful method for beating procrastination involves recognizing that the way you think will either stimulate and facilitate or deactivate and interfere with the process of getting started. Most procrastination causing ideas can be called Task Interfering Thoughts or TlTs. Alternatively, ideas that tend to motivate action can be called Task Activating Thoughts or TATs.

"I can cut the lawn tomorrow." "The report is not due until Friday." "I'll take out the recycling after I watch the news" are all examples of Task Interfering Thoughts or TITs. "If I cut the lawn now, I can relax the rest of the weekend," and "Better get started on that report in case something comes up between now and Friday," and "Let me take out the recycling right now so I can enjoy the rest of the evening without unfinished chores hanging over my head" are all examples of Task Activating Thoughts or TATs.

You've heard of the old saying "tit for tat"? Well, when it comes to beating procrastination, TAT for TIT is much more effective.

• Whenever you find yourself delaying or avoiding undertaking a chore, assignment, or job because of Task Interfering Thoughts -TlTs - try to change them to Task Activating Thoughts- TATs - and see what a difference it makes.

It is also often useful to

• Give yourself certain rewards after completing a task.
"If I finish this report on time, I will treat myself to a round of golf" (or some other reward that fits into your lifestyle).


• Just getting started, no matter how far behind you may have fallen, will ignite the momentum of motivation.

By developing these anti-procrastination skills, you can become more productive while at the same time reducing stress.

Remember:  Think well, act well, feel well, be well!

Copyright by Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D.

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