3 Strategies to Overcome Procrastination

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Proven Strategies to Overcome Procrastination

So many of us struggle with procrastination. This “thief of time” decreases our productivity, increases our anxiety, and steals our focus. The tendency to procrastinate is common, but it is manageable. The first step to stopping this productivity drain is simply being more self-aware of our tendency to procrastinate. Couple this self-awareness with some proven strategies and we can control the delays and distractions to effectively set ourselves in motion to overcome procrastination.

Why We Procrastinate

Why do we procrastinate? Let’s look at what is happening in our brain when we procrastinate. Two parts of our brain are in conflict. Our limbic system, the part of our brain which triggers us to pull our hand away from a hot surface or flee rather than fight. The limbic system will always choose pleasure over pain. Our more evolved part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, is responsible for decision making, planning and other meaningful logic. The prefrontal cortex is what drives us to get a job, make money, contribute to our family and community; even though, in the moment, sitting on the couch seems more appealing. Our limbic system, pleasure center, can and often will override our more responsible prefrontal cortex which focuses on greater rewards. Being mindful of this conflict happening between these two parts of our brain is the first step in overcoming procrastination.

It’s Not a Lack of Motivation

Have you ever thought, “If I could only get motivated, then I could get it done.” Or been told, “Just get motivated and get it done.” Procrastination is not a lack of motivation, but rather it is linked to two common states of mind – perfectionism and overwhelm. Perfectionism often presents as “I’m not good at this so I’m not even going to try” or the fear of not wanting to fail. And overwhelm produces thoughts such as “I don’t even know where to start. There’s no way I can get this done.” Because these powerful thoughts and feelings often reside in our sub-conscious, it can be tricky to recognize perfectionism and overwhelm. All we know is that we simply – don’t or can’t get started on a task.

Manage Perfectionism

Perfectionism, the fear of not wanting to fail or fall short of perfect, can be managed. The key is to recognize those few instances which require the highest standards or our maximum level of performance, but not everything we do needs to be perfect.

Consider a tiered performance level approach: minimum, moderate, and maximum. If you were tasked with hiring a new employee, what might these three levels of performance look like?

  • Minimum – publish the open position on your website and interview a few candidates.
  • Moderate – post the position in several places, prescreen candidates via telephone, and then schedule in-person interviews for the most promising candidates.
  • Maximum – post the position widely, prescreen, personally interview, and then have your top candidates complete detailed assessments.

The maximum level would take longer, but minimum level could produce the same result. Moderate performance may be all you need to meet certain criteria. Being mindful about perfectionism means analyzing a situation to determine if maximum performance is warranted. In fact, if an anticipation of the maximum level of performance is keeping you from even engaging in or completing the task, you may already have your answer. You have the freedom to choose your performance level. This performance level strategy can help you manage perfectionism.

Reduce Overwhelm

Feeling overwhelmed, not knowing where to start, can be stressful or even paralyzing. One highly effective way to reduce the sense of overwhelm is to break the project or task into manageable parts. Rome was not, after all, built in a day. The sum of individual efforts becomes the whole of the finished product. If you are tasked with creating a new company manual consider scheduling one-hour time blocks on your calendar, spread out over the course of a month. Each block gets you closer to completing the manual. Or if you need to write a paper, start by writing the opening paragraph and walking away until the next day.

Time blocking, an effective time management strategy, can reduce the overwhelm. Schedule digestible amounts of time to work on the larger task or project. Stick to your schedule and stop when time is up. Your anxiety and stress will reduce when you know you have a plan and an end in sight. As a bonus, as you complete each block of time for the project, you will begin to see your progress which will bolster your motivation. Before you know it, you will have completed the project using this systematic strategy.

Get Started

Procrastination is real. Our brain is conflicted between pleasure or logic. By understanding this, we can learn to recognize our procrastination tendencies. If you are struggling to get started or move forward, check in with your brain. Which part is in charge? The limbic (pleasure) or prefrontal cortex (logic)?

Have you created unnecessary standards of perfection? Are you flatly overwhelmed?

You can take control of procrastination. First, breathe. Next, identify the appropriate level of performance. Then break tasks into manageable pieces. Congratulations, you have created your plan with the end goal in mind. And finally, get started today.

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Sara Genrich & Nancy Kruschke, founders of Productivity Training Academy, came together with the vision of creating practical, results-driven online on-demand courses for time management, productivity and technology training.  With over 50 years of combined productivity experience, Sara and Nancy’s knowledge, skills and talents illuminate valuable paths to business gain, serving as an effective catalyst for positive change.