Top 10 Ways to Stop Procrastinating – Part One

“Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.” – William James

Many people struggle with avoiding or feeling overwhelmed by unwanted tasks or chores.  During these times, there can be a natural tendency to want to sweep things under the rug that we would rather not deal with or to simply procrastinate undesirable activities.  It is a simple fact of life that a great deal of long-term rewards depend upon doing things in the moment that aren’t always desirable.  We all make the choice, consciously or otherwise, to dig in and get our work done or to simply put it off.  What patterns and tendencies can you identify in your own personal style?

Reflect upon tasks that you commonly avoid doing.  What is it about these tasks in particular that results in a tendency to procrastinate?  Take a moment to examine your true values.  Is it possible that the tasks you most commonly avoid or dislike doing are incongruent with your most deeply cherished values?  We often find tasks and activities particularly distasteful or unpleasant when they conflict with our true values – the things which matter the most to us in life.

For example, if you strongly value your autonomy and freedom, having to do tasks that result in a subjective feeling of being constrained or controlled may be more unpleasant for you than for someone who does not value autonomy as highly.  We are all different in these ways and it is important to remember that when it comes to true values, it is not important to judge values as “better” or “worse” than any others… they are those parts of life that make it most meaningful and they vary from person to person.

If you find that tasks you habitually avoid or put off are conflicting with your true values, step back and ask yourself some honest questions.  How willing are you to take a stand against doing these tasks in the future (or not)?  If it is not realistic or desired to take this stand, ask yourself what you can do to change your life’s circumstances so that you can more adeptly avoid having to do this task in the future.

What about times when you find yourself procrastinating tasks that are congruent with your true values and are necessary to reach your goals?  These are the tasks that are worth learning how to complete in a more effective and timely manner.  It is these tasks that it are in your best interest to complete.

Davis and colleagues (2008) suggest the following 10 ways to stop procrastinating:

(1) Stop Worrying

Take a moment to mindfully notice how much time you spend worrying about what you need to do versus how much time you spend actually doing what you need to do.  It is quite possible that if a greater amount of the time spent worrying about all that needs to be accomplished was redirected in a more productive manner, you would already be halfway accomplished with your task(s).

This is easier said than done.  To begin this process, begin to use mindfulness to notice times in the present moment when you find yourself engaging in worry and rumination.  When you notice this, use this experience as an opportunity to remind yourself to redirect your energy in a more productive manner.

(2) Start Small

Most tasks are much less intimidating than they appear once you actually dig in and start working.  When you are faced with a seemingly insurmountable task or obstacle, make the choice to break it down into smaller pieces. This is a natural habit of people who tend to be productive and effective in their courses of action.

If you have a looming pile of paper on your desk, it is easy to glance at it and feel overwhelmed by its sheer magnitude.  Rather than engage in this self-defeating process, make the choice to look at the pile of papers for precisely what it is… simply one sheet on top of another sheet.  Take things one step at a time.

(3) Count the Cost

Imagine that you have a task or chore that you have been avoiding for some time.  Notice that no matter how long you avoid something unpleasant, distasteful, or boring, it rarely disappears on its own.  It will patiently wait for you to attend to it, and during the time that it has spent waiting, it is quite possible that it has accumulated some nasty barnacles for you to pluck off.

Take out a sheet of paper and divide it into two columns.  Under one column, make a list of all the compelling reasons to do the task (i.e., the benefits and rewards).  Under the other column, make a list of all your reasons to not do the task (i.e., what you believe you will gain from avoiding it).  Which column is longer and more convincing?  It is likely that you will be better off in the long run if you make the choice to take care of it.

(4) Look for Hidden Rewards

Notice what potential rewards and payoffs may come along with accomplishing (and not accomplishing) the undesirable task that you may not have noticed.  What short-term and long-term secondary gains can you reasonably expect as a result of completing (or not completing) the task?  For example, some people choose to procrastinate due to an unconscious fear of failure or a need for perfection.  Conversely, consider how choosing to complete the task will likely result in alleviating anxiety and reducing stress.

(5) Confront Negative Beliefs

Cognitive distortions commonly get in the way and interfere with completing undesirable tasks in a timely manner. Begin to notice and observe your own thoughts with greater mindfulness and clarity.  What messages might you be sending yourself through repetitive or habitual patterns of thinking?

Begin to defuse from your thoughts by taking the stance of a mindful observer.  Notice them for precisely what they are… just thoughts.  They are words and images floating through your mind.  They have meaning when you give meaning to them.  Confront your irrational and negative beliefs and question the validity of your thoughts with greater mindful awareness.

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I look forward to exploring five more ways to stop procrastinating in my next post, “Top 10 Ways to Stop Procrastinating – Part Two.”

Davis, M., Eshelman, E.R., & McKay, M. (2008). The relaxation and stress reduction workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Featured image: the time is now by Asja. / CC BY 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.

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