Self-management

Pychyl’s Anti-Procrastination Guide

Procrastination is one of my biggest challenges in life. I’m a born procrastinator. So today I went to a workshop led by Tim Pychyl, a Psychology Professor at Carleton University.

Procrastination is an exercise in “short-term mood repair”.  It feels better to avoid unpleasant or difficult tasks. So we create short-term gain for long-term pain.

Dr. Pychyl noted that studies suggest that 30% of the variance in student well-being can be explained by procrastination.  Search the term “procrastination blog” and you will get over 3 million results in about 2 seconds.

There are all kinds of contributing factors to procrastination. If you want to learn more about the causes of procrastination, check Pychyl’s blog. 

Professor Pychyl’s completely destroyed all of my excuses for my procrastination.  First, the adrenaline junkie excuse.  That is that we need a lot of stimulation or pressure in order to complete a task.  His research suggests that there is no evidence that additional stimulation improves task performance.  Additionally, the excuse that “I work better under pressure” has also been disproven.   People make more mistakes and experience lower task performance when working at the last-minute, especially for cognitively complex tasks.

I personally need to create an environment that minimizes distractions which include cell phones, computers, social media, email, refrigerators and televisions.  But it turns out that I need to decide that I’m going to get started.  To paraphrase Nike, “Just Start It”.

Bottom-line? Willpower and self-regulation are critical skills to managing procrastination.  Being aware we are procrastinating is only the first step to managing it.  One thing Pychyl said stuck with me.  The way to support our willpower is to ask our selves, what do we value.  If I put a task off until a later day, what will I give up then in order to complete the task? Will I give up time with friends and family?  The satisfaction of creating something excellence? What are my values, and how does procrastinating go counter to those values?

Okay, so now I have a great big to do list to complete.

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6 replies »

  1. His advice makes intuitive sense, but still, many people (me included) do not learn. I am an Olympic-level procrastinator, with the scars to prove it, but not the learning. That’s the part I’d like to understand – why doesn’t a procrastinator’s behaviour change, given the evidence?

  2. Changing beliefs, values and behaviours are very difficult. Especially those that have become habitual. Other factors may also be involved, such as depression, or stress. In order to change behaviour, these other factors have to be dealt with first.

    Creating an environment that supports you can help. A good friend has downloaded something onto firefox that limits the amount of time she can spend on Facebook, for example.

    My own experience is that the gap between intention and action with me usually involves one of two things: I’m afraid it will be too hard or I’m not in the “mood”. Usually once I get started it isn’t as bad as I thought, and I feel better once it is done. I just have to remind myself of these facts when I’m in avoidance mode.

    That said, I’ve still got a pile of stuff I’m currently avoiding. So I’m no expert here.

  3. Good point. How “hard-wired” are we to procrastinate? Me – a mantra – there is nothing hard, except that which I have made hard by delay. Truly, I have done nothing in life that is hard. But all the hard things have been made worse by delay. Go figure. I guess I’m not a learning organization.

  4. Procrastination: The art of staying away from something you don’t like doing.
    I have fine tuned the art to a point where I no longer feel guilt around it. I employ the Dr. Garfield methodology. When I feel the guilt coming on because I’m procrastinating I simply lie down until the feeling goes away. I do have an alternative methodology developed by Dr. Bobby McFerrin – “Don’t Worry Be Happy”. Both work wonders. I’m told that they’re not real doctors but they should be. I’ll have to write and thank them, one of these days.

  5. As a student, I can say that I have been confronted with a lot of postponement of important jobs to do. But why do we delay our important tasks? I have made a website that examines the whole problem of procrastinating and offers a few good solutions to the problem.

    In my personal experience, I noticed that I – and I assume a lot more people – am/are afraid of failing. Mostly, there is a lot of pressure and it just seems easier to say: “I didn’t really try my best” than to say “I tried my best and failed”.

    (admin.. I made this post without the link in the comment… feel free to post either one)

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