Four ways to beat procrastination

Procrastination: even the smallest things can serve as a distraction
An “active” approach and making use of others can help you take the bull by the horns.
If you procrastinate, you’re not alone. A survey last year, released by Crucial.com, showed that 75 per cent of Brits are living with the constant burden of procrastination guilt – even putting off simple household tasks. And while deferring the hoovering is not the end of the world, the myriad of opportunities to procrastinate that the workplace throws up has the added complication of intensifying stress. We all know that “just doing it” is far easier said than done. So what steps can you take to stop wasting time?

THE VOICE OF AUTHORITY

While you might like to keep your procrastination guilt to yourself, several experts have highlighted the importance of authority in beating time wasting. Behavioural economics professor Dan Ariely asked 60 students to proofread three passages. Divided into three groups, one was given a weekly deadline for each piece, the next had just one deadline for all three, and the last group was told to set their own deadlines. The students were rewarded for errors found and penalised for each day they were late. Group two performed the worst, and those given the staggered external deadlines did the best. Ariely pointed out that people often try to “curb [procrastination] by using costly self-imposed deadlines,” or they let work build up until it’s practically – not just psychologically – impossible. But if you’re given fixed, external deadlines for a larger project, time management can take care of itself, thus making it far easier to get things done.

THINK LIKE A LEADER

Leadership expert Peter Bregman has another insight to help break the procrastination cycle: turn to the behavioural characteristics of successful leaders. When they have an unpleasant task to do, they are willing to embrace the “cringe moment,” he says. While some of us might put off a job because we know that it involves making difficult choices, by not being afraid of tripping up, successful leaders are far less likely to delay, says Bregman.
This tolerance of risk, in turn, can help nurture long-term thinking, he argues, because you’re not overcome by short-term challenges. Bregman gives the example of saying no to someone. Lead with the worst bit first, he recommends: “get to the conclusion in the first sentence. Cringe fast and cringe early.” Training yourself to be direct will cut out self-imposed time delays, and mean you can focus on long-term goals over short-term challenges.

SHORT-TERM GAINS

Procrastination can be made worse by a tendency to tackle the easiest tasks first. The little jobs we manage to complete give us a shot of dopamine – the hormone associated with pleasure and reward. Fuschia Sirois and Timothy Pychyl say procrastinators rely on this short-term satisfaction, reassuring themselves in the present moment with the false belief that they’ll be more able to handle something in the future. So to push forward, you should consciously pick out something in the task ahead which you think is enjoyable or meaningful, says Sirois. Alternatively, break it into smaller chunks, simulating the bursts of pleasure more simple tasks bring.
City University London’s Anna Ambramowski offers an even rosier approach to last minutism. She recommends so-called “active procrastination” – deliberately pressing on with useful but smaller tasks instead of larger, weightier ones. Doing something more menial gives you time to find inspiration – a lack of which could be holding you back in the first place, she suggests.
Or if none of this has you inspired, you could follow the advice of Pablo Picasso: “only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone”.

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