Written by Dolores Gallo*
Translated by Delfina Morganti Hernández
Procrastination is the attribute or habit of putting off tasks that we find uncomfortable, boring or frustrating. Just as the saying goes, “Play now, pay later.” In his latest book, Psychologist Timothy A. Pychyl shares a series of guidelines to help us spring into action.
Q&A with Tim Pychyl
Do we tend to procrastinate?
Procrastination is a response based on our emotions. We long to feel good now, but there’s this task we have to complete that keeps buzzing around our heads and that we find either frustrating or annoying. By avoiding it, we feel better—at least for a while. We emotionally focus on our short-term needs, instead of targetting our long-term goals.
Is it an attribute or a habit?
Both, actually. We all avoid certain tasks so we don’t experience fear of failure, frustration, boredom or uncertainty. In fact, it’s highly likely that we’ll do that over and over again, regardless of the negative consequences of this. What prevails is the instant gratification that we gain, instead of the fulfillment we could get in the long run.
What kind of people are more prone to procrastinate?
Those who’ve never developed their own identity. Worried about who they are, they never get to focus on self-regulation. At the same time, procrastination is closely linked with other character traits, such as fussiness, impulsiveness and socially prescribed perfectionism, which includes those who live to meet other people’s expectations.
In a culture that will never stress too much the importance of instant gratification, how can we manage to put that off for duties whose rewards we’ll reap in the long run?
In our current studies, we’re asking our interviewees to use meditation techniques in order to envision their future. Worrying about having a clearer picture of our own future self leads us to procrastinate less, and can help reinforce the decisions we’ll make later on.
What would be the first step to stop procrastinating?
Well, stop setting extremely vague goals for yourself like, “I’ll get it done over the weekend.” This is way too equivocal to call us to action. We need to be more specific: What will our next action be? When and where are we going to perform it? Write it down, if necessary. We should be aware that, when the time comes, we may not feel like getting things done, but we musn’t let our emotional state get in our way, right? “I don’t feel like it” sounds like a child speaking—it just can’t be an adult’s excuse for not doing something. So, here’s my tip: bring yourself to do something for 10 minutes. Once you’ve managed to do that, you’ll be heading for the right track.
Every time we put something back, we feel guilty…
We’re currently researching that feeling of guilt and the cognitive dissonance that's causing it. However, if we act according to plan, then guilt will eventually go away by itself. We always need to keep in mind what our next move will be. That will nourish our well-being and foster our motivation.
“We all avoid certain tasks so we don’t experience fear of failure, frustration, boredom or uncertainty.”
What sort of tasks are most likely to drive us into procrastination?
Boring tasks, the kind that we find frustrating or challenging. So how can we turn them into less repellent chores? By turning them into a game. For instance, how many problems can I solve before my friend’s done? How fast can I get the job done? We can also ask for help if we get stuck in something, so as to make things seem more manageable. Alternatively, we can remind ourselves why we’re performing that task and how it relates to our values. In that way, we'll end up attributing more meaning to it.
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|| THE COMPANY WE KEEP ||
Internet and procrastination aren’t exactly on the best of terms. According to Tim Pychyl, “We need to unplug ourselves. Internet is the highway that drives us right into procrastination. So we check our emails or Facebook and, three hours later, we’re still there. While there aren’t any quick solutions to those who are addicted to the instant gratification that the Internet supplies, there are a few apps that will help us avoid distractions nowadays—these tools can remind us of the fact that we don’t actually want to be there, or block certain pages for us. The key is to admit that we’re not surfing the net because it’s cool but, rather, because we’re using that time to put off something else.”
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Are there any tools to help us manage our negative feelings?
Life is full of that kind of emotions. What we need to do is develop the right emotional intelligence to become aware of them and handle them appropriately. Mindfulness is a great choice when it comes to building awareness in a way that it won’t pass judgement on your emotions but, rather, understand that they will eventually lapse. The fact that we can experience emotions doesn’t mean that we have to be those emotions. In fact, we can gain control over them.
The first step is breathing. Deep breathing helps us make the strong, negative emotions lapse. Also, there are other strategies we may follow to spring ourselves back to action, such as using implementation intentions. This kind of strategies will often come up in the form of “If..., then....” statements—for example, “If I finish going over my students’ activity sheets, then I can go out for dinner.”
We are living in the era of multitasking. How does that impact on us?
Sometimes, multitasking is only a myth. What we actually do is switch roles. My piece of advice is, have a go at multitasking only when the tasks at hand are really simple, like watching a video on YouTube while training on the treadmill. The reason why we should make a note of this is that our brain can only handle multitasking as long as the tasks to be processed simultaneously belong to the automatic sort.
Whenever a new year is about to begin, we are all full of good intentions: rejoining the gym, going on a healthy diet, learning to save more money… But by this time of the year, it’s more likely we’ll have broken all those promises.
New Year’s resolutions are the very institutionalization of procrastination! We wait until the following year to step into action. Instead, what we should be asking ourselves is, “What can I do now to achieve my goal?” We need to commit to a major aim and, once we’re there, set out specific implementation intentions. Reporting to someone else can also help a great deal. For example, we could ask for a member of our family or a friend to help us stay true to our intentions.
So the all-time catchphrase “I’ll start on Monday” is actually…?
Forget about that. Why wait until Monday? Begin now! What’s the next move that could get you a step closer to achieving your goal? Always initiate one action at a time. Let me put it this way: we don’t embark on projects, we carry out actions. That’s what we learn from David Allen’s Getting Things Done.
Tim, if you could give us one final tip to avoid procrastination, what would that be?
Be good to yourself. If you’ve been procrastinating for a while, change is not something that will come overnight. You’ll go two step forward, one step backwards as you try to pursue strategies for change. That’s why self-pity is essential. Just as you need to be determined and stick to your commitment to change, you’ll also have to come to terms with the idea that to fail is human. If you can forgive yourself, you’ll feel driven to try again. Otherwise, you’ll just want to escape tasks. And that, in fact, is precisely where the problem lies. ◘ ◘ ◘
Photo Credit: Google Images.
This article was originally published in NUEVA Magazine, April 12th/19th, 2015 edition, which is published every Sunday, together with the newspaper edition of "La Capital" (UNO Medios) in Argentina.