How to Stop Procrastinating and Start Planning
How often have you procrastinated on a task that felt overwhelming, and then once it was completed felt relieved? This emotional process is normal and actually means that you care about your work! Let’s explore how you can take the negative emotions behind procrastination and transform them into positivity and action.
Why do We Procrastinate?
Let’s take a moment to realize something: procrastination is not laziness, lack of time management, nor a personal failure. Instead, it’s a way we protect ourselves from uncomfortable emotions such as anxiety, boredom, self-doubt, etc. The feeling of short-term relief when we procrastinate overrides our big picture motivation.
Often, those that procrastinate do not do so because they don’t care, but because they care a lot. Many perfectionists fall into this mindset, or those with many responsibilities. Additionally, individuals with executive dysfunction (not having the typical abilities to plan, organize, and complete tasks) or ADHD experience the same issues. Sometimes the idea of completing an undesirable task will almost feel like experiencing actual pain.
So How Can You Manage Procrastination?
Start by being kind to yourself. “Forgive” yourself for procrastinating - let go of any self-chastising thoughts or feelings. If you kick yourself for procrastinating, it’ll just create a cycle of negativity. So let go and give yourself grace. You’re human, not a machine, so you likely won’t feel like completing every task that appears. That’s okay - engage with your feelings and understand it’s only natural to want to avoid some chores.
Then, the first step for starting tasks is to plan them. Nope, we don’t mean pen to paper, or even digitally. Planning starts mentally! Mentally map out how you’d accomplish a task. For example, say you have a sink full of dishes. Imagine how you’d tackle it: “First, I might clean the dishes. I would walk to the kitchen, pick up the sponge, and clean what’s dirty. Then, I’ll likely rinse the sink. I know I’ll feel really relieved if I complete those steps.” Envision the process as clearly as possible; try to engage with the feelings of accomplishment. By picturing how you’ll complete a task, you put motivation behind it and feel more comfortable with the process.
An alternative “hack” for procrastination is: when you find yourself with free time and remember a task - do it right then and there. Don’t give yourself time to ruminate: if you think it, do it. By already putting yourself in motion, you’re less likely to abandon a task, whereas when you think on a task beforehand, it gives an opening for those negative emotions to bubble up and you might remain stagnant.
Experiment with these two methods to identify which thinking/emotional patterns work best for you. Try to also identify any roadblocks: Are you unable to complete a certain task because that means you’ll need to finish another? Example: I need to clean the dishes, but first I’ll need to collect any dishes from other rooms, and that feels like a lot of work. In cases like this, start with just bit-sized chunks of work. Dedicate some time to only collecting/organizing dishes. Then, the next set of chore time can be dedicated to actually cleaning them.
How Can You Incorporate it in Physical Planning?
A key to planning for tasks when you procrastinate? Making things as simple as possible for yourself. Create a compact, simplified checklist using something like Memo Sticky Notes or the Everyday Carry Notebook.
Only write three pressing tasks at a time, and dedicate timeframes for them, not exact times. Then, describe how you’ll feel once it’s been accomplished, or give yourself a reward. Continuing our example, a checklist may look like this:
After I’ve completed this, the kitchen will feel refreshing and I’ll enjoy a relaxing evening reading.
You’ve taken one task that feels like a mountain, and broken it up into digestible pieces while engaging with the positive feelings behind accomplishing it. Make completing chores feel as relieving and rewarding as it should be: Light a candle, put on some music, or watch a cozy planning video while you work. “Hack” procrastination by chasing away the negative feelings, and welcome positive feelings!