Bite Off Only What You Can Chew
Ever notice how broken up large shopping malls are? Lots of twists and turns, levels, and side corridors? There's a very good reason for this. If malls were laid out straight we could see just how far we are really walking. If we actually knew how far apart stores are, we would probably leave the mall, get in our cars and drive from store to store. By having our view broken up into small chunks, we feel as if it's a smaller distance. This same psychological trick can be used to help us overcome procrastination. Break large projects up into smaller tasks. For example, doing your taxes can be broken up into: pick up necessary forms, get records organized, fill in forms, double check forms for accuracy and mail. It won't seem nearly so burdensome if you take a small bit at a time.
Just Do It!
Next time you catch yourself saying, "I can do this later", think Nike. Just do it! Push on through the feelings and do it now. The feeling you get when you finish will be so much better than any relief you get from putting it off.
Schedule Reward Time
As you go work through your tasks, you may find your mind drifting off to all the activities you'd rather be doing. You will find it much easier to concentrate on your work if you know that you have scheduled time for these activities. Tell yourself, I will work hard today accomplishing my goals because tomorrow is Saturday and I have scheduled time to go fishing. Knowing that you have finished your tasks will also make it easier to relax and enjoy your leisure time.
Does the thought of performing a certain task fill you will anxiety? First, try this:
- Inhale deeply while counting five heart beats (you may check this easily by feeling your pulse).
- Exhale as you count five heart beats.
You should notice after each breath that your heart rate is actually slowing and you are feeling less tense. Now, do something, not matter how small. Just make a start. The very act of accomplishing something will ease your anxiety.
Change Your Expectations
Perfectionism and feelings that things should be a certain way, can be stumbling blocks to beating procrastination. Next time you catch yourself using language like "should" or "must", evaluate if these are only restrictions you are imposing on yourself or they backed up by the reality of the situation.
Perfectionistic thinking: "I must get an A on this paper or I'll be a total failure. There's just so much work to do. I'll wait until tomorrow when I am feeling better and can do a better job."
Reality: Not doing your work now will lead to a sloppy, rushed job just before your deadline and will leave you feeling too anxious and depressed to do a proper job.
Coping Strategy: Look at why you are procrastinating. Does the thought of failing make you feel anxious? Take deep breaths, replace your negative thoughts of failure with thoughts of your previous academic successes, and select a smaller task (such as preparing a bibliography) to begin chipping away at.
Mental Tricks to Give You Momentum
If you have several small items to do which are directly related to the project at hand, do these first. Even though you have some larger tasks left, psychologically it feels as if you have less to do when the list isn't so long. It gives you a feeling that you have accomplished something. Just remember, it must be a task that is relevant to accomplishing your goal. Raking the leaves may be a quick and easy task, but if what you really need to accomplish is a big term paper, you won't be helping yourself.
When you have accomplished a task, mark it out on your list with a pen. It gives you visual confirmation that you are getting somewhere. Again, this gives you a psychological boost. Sometimes I feel as if I'm getting nothing done, but when I look over what's marked out I see I've actually done quite a bit. I'm just constantly adding new tasks.
The Best Laid Plans...
Remember, if something can go wrong, it will. Allow yourself more than adequate time to finish each task. If you do not need all the time you've allowed, you will be able to progress ahead of schedule. This will be a psychological boost to you. At the very least, you won't be left rushed to finish.
Don't panic if you get behind schedule. If you've allowed yourself extra time each day, you will simply shift everything forward until you catch up. The key is to leave yourself room to be flexible.
What if you really don't have time to finish everything? Get creative. Request extensions on deadlines, get help from friends and relatives, delegate tasks to others, drop non-essential items from your schedule (the world won't end if you can't redecorate before your mother-in-law visits), or hire outside help. I haven't found a situation yet that couldn't be solved somehow once I let my expectations change about how it should be.