Are you procrastinating? Is there an essay or a blog post you just can’t seem to get done? We could suggest:
“Don’t put off until tomorrow what can be done today.”
Though, it won’t likely help. Why not? Professionals, students, educators, writers, and so on have all heard this advice, and we all feel compelled to follow it, but—let’s be frank— as with anything, it’s not so simple. We don’t procrastinate for the sake of procrastination or laziness. There are emotional and psychological barriers that manifest behaviorally as “procrastination,” and it’s important to understand these before trying to overcome procrastination.
It may be useful for you to think for a few minutes about why you are postponing a given task. Often, the cause of your procrastination differs according to the task. What are the top reasons for procrastination? Generally, they are:
- feeling overwhelmed
- lack of motivation
When I have to write, for example, procrastination normally comes from confusion or feeling overwhelmed. When I have to do the dishes, it comes from boredom. It’s important to understand the enemy before it can be defeated. Isolate the root(s) of your procrastination.
To start, we’ll address methods of dealing with confusion and feeling overwhelmed. In later posts, we’ll deal with boredom, lack of motivation, and distraction.
Coping with confusing and overwhelming tasks
1. Make written to-do lists.
To-do lists are a tried-and-true way of getting your bearings and keeping yourself from getting overwhelmed. They also help you organize your thoughts and can prevent confusion. It’s ideal to make a new list at the end of each day to prepare for the next day. Keep in mind, however, this tip won’t help much if you over-plan or set actionable tasks that cannot be completed in less than half an hour. If a task takes longer than 30 minutes, break it up into smaller tasks.
2. Start each list (and day) with one important task.
Being unsure how to manage all the steps of a larger task makes it feel overwhelming. The antidote? Proactivity. Accomplishing something toward your goal is a great way to empower yourself to take on the next step in the task or to free up your energies for other tasks throughout the day. For this reason, it is helpful to choose one task or group of tasks each day that you should complete in order to feel productive. Do these tasks first.
3. Seek information and support.
When we are overwhelmed or confused by how to move forward with a task, it can come from feeling inadequately prepared for taking on the task. If this is true for you, work in some time (and tasks on your list) for seeking guidance. For example, if you are confused about an essay or writing task for school, a good place to seek guidance is from your professor, your adviser, or from a writing center tutor.
While it does take time to plan and organize for productivity, it will pay for itself over the life of your project or goal. These steps can prevent the crippling effects of anxiety and stress that go along with feeling overwhelmed and confused. The peace-of-mind you’ll experience will free up your mental energy for thinking, focus, and creativity. The best of all reasons to deal with your procrastination is, of course, that you may even begin to enjoy your work!
How do you cope with confusing and overwhelming tasks?
Part II of this series is scheduled for Thursday, 30 August 2012.