No one feels good about procrastinating.
That simple fact is giving researchers a powerful tool in their efforts to figure out why we procrastinate, and what we can do about it. While popular approaches to procrastination often aim to maximimize one’s willpower or develop better time-management skills--both good ideas--a variety of new studies show that tackling the emotions associated with procrastination can also help us get moving, according to a story in today’s Wall Street Journal.
The key is to realize that we often procrastinate because something about a task makes us uncomfortable. To compensate, we do something that we think will make us feel good. We spend a few minutes on Facebook, eat a snack or take a nap. Researchers call this “giving in to feel good.”
As we all know, that’s counterproductive. Instead, the Journal article quotes Timothy Pychyl, an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottowa, and author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, saying that “The real mood boost comes from doing what we intend to do--the things that are important to us.”
Pychyl advises we regulate those same emotions in a healthier way. Here’s how:
Admit that something about the task at hand makes you uncomfortable. No one gets really excited about confronting an employee about poor performance, for example, or reviewing one’s expenses. That’s okay.
Consider how you’ll feel after the task is completed--or not. Here, a little bit of what Pychyl calls “time travel” is in order. Sure, you’re a bit uncomfortable now, but think about the future for a minute. How mad will you be if your employee leaves another task half-finished or if you start bouncing checks? Alternatively, think about how happy you’ll be once your dreaded chore is over. This will distract you from the emotions that are keeping you from getting started.
Set the bar low. When it comes to beating procrastination, nothing is more important than just getting going. If you can’t stand the thought of getting all your tax receipts in order, commit to just spending an hour on it.
Don’t beat yourself up. Reprimanding yourself for procrastinating is not helpful. Again, we're trying to regulate the emotional component of procrastination, and no one needs extra self-blame and guilt. Michael Wohl, one of Pychyl’s colleagues at Carleton, found that students who forgave themselves for procrastinating on studying for a test were less likely to procrastinate the next time around.