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Procrastination is a subject that is very much linked to time management discussions and debated in many of the time management forums across the Internet. These discussions always intrigue me as I do not think of procrastination as a time management problem for most people. Let’s review the definitions of procrastination and what it means to procrastinate. See if this stays together as the article unfolds time management systems versus project management systems.
Procrastination according to Merriam-Webster is: to put off intentionally and habitually : to put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done. This is a pretty clear and simple definition of the problem.
Time management systems are quite simply organization systems. You need a list of what you must accomplish over a certain time horizon, so you get it done. You organize your files so information is readily available when you need it saving you the time of hunting around for things. So by definition time management systems help those who are in motion. The procrastinator is not yet in motion. They have put off doing what they need to do. So logically, time management systems do not help procrastinators. In other words you don’t need a map if the trip has not started.
Causes of Procrastination
I think there are some simple categories into which most procrastination falls.
Pleasure/Pain Impact is Not Currently Felt Nor Imminent
In simple terms people are motivated to act by either pleasure or pain. If the task is very pleasurable to them the motivation is there and it will be accomplished. Clean your room and I will take you to the toy store is an example. If the task will avoid a lump of pain, again the motivation will be there. File your taxes on time to avoid a large penalty is an example here. If the procrastinator does not have the awareness to and mindfulness to project the pleasure to be enjoyed or the pain to be felt from their delayed action, they will continue to delay taking action until opportunities are lost and situation are uncorrectable. So in our examples, Dad lost his patience waiting for the room to be cleaned and left without you. In the pain example, you waited so long, that all the accountants in town are booked up and have no time to see you and there is no way you can get your taxes done on time now.
The feeling of overwhelm is one that can impact many people. Simply put, the task is so daunting that you simple defer it because you don’t know how or where to start. The thought of writing a 20 page research paper overwhelms you so you go out for a beer with your friends.
Cures for Procrastination
I find it funny that there are many cure procrastination programs advertised on-line with most of them asking people to take fill out lengthy questionnaires or read long books. Just what someone who has a procrastination problem needs is more on their plate. They probably have a bunch of reading and tasks to they have not gotten to, why do they need more. What procrastinators need are simple ideas that will get them focuses on the tasks they must get done.
The first tip is awareness. You must use awareness to bring the future into the present. You can only act now. By being aware now of the pain or pleasure completing a task will provide, you will be more apt to take the required action now to avoid the pain, or experience the pleasure. Think about the outcome and consequences of delaying action and what the future looks like with the actions undone. Play that as a movie in your mind like it was now. This simple technique will provide you the motivation needed to begin the actions needed to get started and to reduce the anxiety you are feeling knowing the task has not started. To quote DK Reynolds, “Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action.”
As the old saying by Lao-Tzu goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Use this advice to break bigger projects down into smaller easier to accomplish tasks. A 20 page research paper is daunting, but a 10 minute on-line search for books on the paper’s topic is not. Take the whole task and break it down into smaller mini-projects in sizes that do not overwhelm you. Then schedule the tasks into your calendar leaving plenty of extra time for slippage of the schedule. This method ensures the project is done on time and in a manner that relieves anxiety instead of creating it.
Like everything else in life the cure to procrastination can be simple and effective.