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10 Tips for Procrastination

  1. Read this blog! Just joking. Reading this blog post doesn't count as procrastination! This blog is only going to take you a few of minutes to read, and will give you insights into your procrastination and also practical tips for things you can do about it.

A lot of people ask me for help, as their therapist, with procrastination. These people often feel that they "ought to" want to do the things they are not doing, without having to reward themselves for doing those things. Well, I have news for you! Rewards and incentives are great motivation for people to do things, whereas punishments are not. By focusing on what you are not doing and not feeling, you are shaming and punishing yourself emotionally, and making yourself feel bad. You've probably been doing this for a long time, and it hasn't been working. So please give rewards a try, instead, using these 10 tips:

  1. Create a list of rewards. This is a list of things you enjoy, or things that make you feel better. Examples might be: watching a show, eating a snack, taking a walk, stretching, talking with a friend, even drinking a glass of wine.

  2. Do nothing. Don't necessarily get out of bed and start working on the procrastinated tasks, but also don't reward yourself until you've started.

  3. Schedule a time to start on one of your tasks. Reward yourself a little for this step of just putting a reminder on your calendar.

  4. Identify a small baby-step you can do to begin with, a step that itself will take less than 30 minutes. People are often daunted by procrastinated tasks because they get bigger and bigger the more you don't do them, like washing dishes when the sink is overflowing, or going the gym when you're really out of shape, or opening the mail when you know that by now the bills will be overdue. Baby-steps might be spending 10 minutes on washing dishes, calling the gym to find out about an orientation with a trainer, opening and sorting all the mail without reading it. Put on your schedule exactly what you plan to do and how long you plan to spend working on it.

  5. Schedule yourself a reward immediately after this task time. Put down exactly how you plan to reward yourself, so that you can visualize the reward when you start working on the task.

  6. This is the opposite of Yoda's advice. Don't do, try. Another big reason for procrastination is perfectionism. The perfect is the enemy of the good. Make sure that you are setting reasonable goals for yourself, for example working out for 20 min to the best of your ability vs. lifting 100 lb weights. Doing dishes for 10 min, vs. washing all the dishes. Writing a page vs. writing a novel. Reward yourself for good enough. It sometimes helps to visualize how the baby-steps add up to completing the project. Apparently, it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything!

  7. Get help. You don't have to do everything alone. Check out your resources. Maybe you can apply for a home-help aide if you are disabled. Maybe you are making enough money at your job that you can afford a housekeeper or cleaner, so that you can focus on your knitting projects or yoga. Reward yourself for thinking about these questions: who can I ask for help? What kind of help might be useful, and where can I get it? There are many apps available for creating good habits and letting go of bad habits. Consider looking into online coaching, calling a coach or therapist, or joining a support group.

  8. Maybe what you are calling "procrastination" is actually much-needed downtime for yourself. We live in a society with a strong work ethic, which is valuable and boosts productivity and our own sense of effectiveness, but people also need to rest and enjoy life. Remember to schedule unscheduled time on your calendar, when you can just go with the flow, take care of yourself, read a book or chat with friends. Give yourself time to breathe! Start feeling good about it!

  9. Break down large tasks into smaller chunks. Estimate how long each chunk will take and schedule chunks no longer than 1 hr. Most people can only focus for 20-40 min! Schedule reasonable amounts of time that work for you. Schedule rewards between the chunks. Now that you have a plan, you can visualize yourself completing the task!

  10. Look at your calendar often. There isn't a lot of point in putting all these things on there if you don't look. Make a habit of looking at your calendar at regular times, eg. morning and evening, and rescheduling anything that you haven't completed, including the rewards! Reward yourself for looking at your calendar.

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