According to the Harvard Business Review (and they HAVE to be right because they’re WAY smarter than I’ll ever be) there are three main reasons why we procrastinate:
1. We put things off because we’re afraid we’ll screw them up
2. We put things off because we simply don’t feel like doing them
3. We put things off because it’s hard, boring, or otherwise unpleasant.
OK… that sounds about right. But how to we break through our own procrastinational (is that a word?) tendencies?
(I need this today… I have a to-do list with WAY too many items on… many I moved over from last week because of one of the three reasons above!)
Here’s what Harvard says (well, more specifically, Heidi Grant Halvorson):
1. If you’re not doing something because you’re afraid you’ll screw it up, you just need to take on a ‘prevention focus’. This is thinking about how you can end up better off rather than hanging on to what you’ve already got. In other words, you want to avoid loss. For many of us, successfully completing a project is a way to keep your boss happy. For this type of task, it’s better to complete the task than to leave it undone (just ask your boss!) The moral: The consequences of doing nothing are greater than just buckling down and doing the task. Not fun, but just do it (essentially).
2. If you just simply don’t want to do something, Heidi says to ignore your feelings. Again this one is not fun. Essentially, you just have to start. The moral: “If you are sitting there, putting something off because you don’t feel like it… remember that you don’t actually need to feel like it. There is nothing stopping you.” Personally, I find that the first 15 minutes of a task is the hardest part. I just simply need to get started.
3. If you’re putting something off today because it’s hard, boring or unpleasant, Halvorson suggest you use the ‘if-then planning’ method. Here’s what she says:
Do yourself a favor, and embrace the fact that your willpower is limited, and that it may not always be up to the challenge of getting you to do things you find difficult, tedious, or otherwise awful. Instead, use if-then planning to get the job done.
Making an if-then plan is more than just deciding what specific steps you need to take to complete a project – it’s also deciding where and when you will take them.
If it is 2pm, then I will stop what I’m doing and start work on the report Bob asked for.
If my boss doesn’t mention my request for a raise at our meeting, then I will bring it up again before the meeting ends.
By deciding in advance exactly what you’re going to do, and when and where you’re going to do it, there’s no deliberating when the time comes. No do I really have to do this now?, or can this wait till later? or maybe I should do something else instead. It’s when we deliberate that willpower becomes necessary to make the tough choice. But if-then plans dramatically reduce the demands placed on your willpower, by ensuring that you’ve made the right decision way ahead of the critical moment. In fact, if-then planning has been shown in over 200 studies to increase rates of goal attainment and productivity by 200%-300% on average.
Bottom line: procrastination is a beast. At least it is for me.
Halvorson knows that they advice she’s giving (to think about the consequences of failure, to ignore your feelings, and putting emphasis on detailed planning) aren’t easy answers to procrastination… but she says that they are the EFFECTIVE ways to deal with procrastination.
I think I may put these in to practice… tomorrow.
Just kidding… later today sometime, probably.