Personal Finance

How to overcome procrastination


Procrastination stands as one of the critical stresses in the lives of professional Kenyans. PHOTO | COURTESY

I will get to it tomorrow. I will do it later today. Maybe tomorrow morning I will finish the project. I know I was supposed to work on the report right now, but I do not feel like it. I know I promised to do your performance review yesterday at 4pm, but something else came up.

Procrastination stands as one of the critical stresses in the lives of professional Kenyans.

Millions of very well-intentioned individuals desire to finish tasks on time, reports within the timeframe, and projects by the due date. But humans struggle and struggle and struggle with procrastination while we desperately want to triumph and become organised. We desperately want to finish everything on time. We desperately want to look at our to-do lists and feel pride that we finished what we wanted to complete in a given week.

Why do humans retain such a hard time finishing our tasks? We possess powerful brains. We can reason, we can imagine, we can strategise and develop excellent time schedules.

However, despite being able to fly to the moon and beyond, humans can still not finish our taxes by the Kenya Revenue Authority deadline or any number of missed deadlines that we go through in our daily lives.

But when we look at other species, they do not seem to hold procrastination issues. Birds always seem to finish building their nests. Elephants always seem to travel long distances to find water. But it is precisely because of our human complicated brain that we struggle with finishing tasks and goals.

Our powerful logical conscious brain battles with our brooding and emotional subconscious over the completion of unpleasant duties.

Parents often chastise their procrastinating children, teachers lodge disdain towards their procrastinating students, and managers condemn their procrastinating employees. But insults, reminders, and begging procrastinators to change their ways do not solve the problem and get to the root issues. In fact, over pushing a procrastinator or calling them lazy can often make the situation worse, giving them over to their subconscious feelings, and cause them to delay even further no matter how deeply they consciously desire to get the work tasks done.

Thankfully, business professionals can turn to an explosion of behavioural science research covering solutions to procrastination over the past several years.

Alisa Crossfield discusses how in attempts to procrastinate on unpleasant responsibilities, we instead find ourselves doing other long-pending tasks that we had previously neglected and get those done to make ourselves feel better, but we fail to address the original deeply unlikable duty. She emphasises that we postpone often not due to laziness, but rather that certain activities elicit difficult feelings.

Many people procrastinate because those chores may cause anxiety and we try to avoid that anxiety by focusing on more pleasurable things to do. We might fear our grammar, so we postpone working on a report, as an example.

So, intentionally sit and ponder what emotion you hold for each of the big tasks that you avoid. Identifying that underlying emotion stands as the first step towards finding a solution.

Marty Nemko highlights solutions to conquer procrastination when the issues stem from low motivation.

Some of his recommendations include first, acknowledge that you decide either consciously or subconsciously whether to do every chore or divert to a more pleasurable or more interesting task.

Second, progressing to get started often proves the hardest part of finishing tasks. So, get into the habit of beginning the first few-second sub-tasks, even if only to open your computer to the right program and open the needed files. Just such a nudge can help launch you towards working on the task by reducing the anxiety of starting.

Third, go to your mobile phone and set the timer for 20 minutes. Commit to working very hard for those few minutes. Next, give yourself a five to 10-minute break to do things that you enjoy, perhaps watching some YouTube comedy or reading the news, etc. Then repeat the process again and again until you become fully launched into the task.

Fourth, if you become stuck, use the one-minute struggle technique. Attempt to aggressively tackle the challenge for only one minute. If you do not succeed, then either seek assistance or put it out of your mind for at least two hours or more and come back to it later.

Next week, Business Talk will walk through techniques for overcoming anxiety-based procrastination.

Dr Scott may be reached on [email protected] or on Twitter: @ScottProfessor