Do you have trouble with procrastination? Is â€œlaterâ€ always the perfect time to do something? Are you stressed, missing deadlines, and constantly playing catch-up? Wellâ€¦..hello! Itâ€™s so nice to meet a kindred spirit! Procrastination has always been one of my worst habits. But I recently finished an online course in â€œLearning How to Learnâ€ (www.coursera.org) that has taught me something new about procrastination.
Brain researchers have discovered that when we dread doing an activity, the thought registers in the same physical area of our brain where pain registers. So naturally, we do the same thing we do when confronted with pain â€“ we attempt to avoid it. However, the minute we refocus or re-frame our thinking by looking at the first step needed to successfully tackle a project â€” well, then the thought moves out of the area where pain registers and into an area I call the â€œgetting things doneâ€ area. More focus â€“ without the pain association! This has been such a tremendous help to me.
Now, instead of looking at years of files that need to be sorted and thinking, â€œIâ€™ll get to that first thing tomorrow,â€ I focus on what my beginning step should be to get the job started. In this case, my beginning step included:
â€¢ using a filing crate and creating categories for the files I want to keep
â€¢ purchasing a shredder
â€¢ making a commitment to go through at least 5 files a day.
This has really jump-started my file de-cluttering process. I usually end up purging and sorting more than 5 files, but if not, I still pat myself on the back for the progress I am making.
Another helpful tip is to use a timer. Our brains tend to function better if we alternate 20-25 minutes of focused activity with a 5 minute break. The key is set your timer for both the activity time and the break time, so your breaks donâ€™t end up getting you side tracked. (Can you tell I am speaking from experience?!) If possible, try to walk during some of your breaks, even if it is just walking in place for those few minutes. The process of moving first your right foot, and then your left (or left and then right!), activates the connection between your right and left brain sections. This helps you think more creatively and effectively.
Re-focusing my thinking on the process instead of the end result has helped me so much. I hope it helps someone else, too!
P.S. The â€œLearning How to Learnâ€ course is being offered again by Coursera. It is free and worth checking out. The course began on October 3, but you can jump in at any time during the four week course. Here is the link: https://www.coursera.org/course/learning
It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when Iâ€™m slow
Hi Jackie! Real helpful post, from one procrastinator to another! I’ll will try your method to get some stuff I have been procrastinating for months now will get done. Thanks!
Deb J says
Good post Jackie. I’m normally not a procrastinator but right now I’m finding I am. I have just come through a bad bout of the flu and I am still without energy to do a thing. You have reminded me of a way to at least get something done.
Vicki K says
This is so interesting – I’m going to give it a try with some paper-filing too!
What an interesting post Jackie, thank you! I shall try the technique to avoid the pain association next time I have to clean the bathrooms, which is a job I really don’t enjoy. I also like using a timer and find I get more done that way. I think I need a timeframe to do things otherwise I can quite easily string a job out for hours and end up feeling very irritated with myself.
I have always found that breaking a project down into manageable parts is always the way to go.
The added bonus is that very often, you will continue on and do more than you promised yourself you would on any given day, because the results are self-motivating.
The best to you on your paper decluttering, Jackie. One, or in your case, five files at a time 🙂 You will be done before you know it.
Jo H. says
So interesting to hear there is actual science behind this approach – which happens to be the approach that has worked best for me, a fellow procrastinator. Somehow, breaking down a job into “next steps” turns it from a chore into something I can actually get excited about. Great post!
Kayla @ Shoeaholicnomore says
Love this post! I never knew that procrastination and pain registered in the same part of the brain. Now I get it! Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Thank you all so much for the sweet comments, and thank you Colleen for the opportunity to post. Learning about how we process “dreaded” projects has done so much to help me avoid procrastination! I’m glad passing this on has helped someone else! Now, on to slay a few more dragons — er, um files! 🙂
This was a very interesting idea about dreading something being interpreted by our brains as avoiding pain. It seems to me there must be a lot of truth to that. Most routine things get done on time, but some things really hit a snag and get put off. So today I got up determined to do one business task I had been putting off (a revision) and waded in to it and think it will be right now. Also it didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it would. Which I guess is usually the case, the dread seems to help a task grow in our imagination.
Thank you so much for this post. I’ve always been a procrastinator and I struggle a lot with how much stress that creates for me! I love how you describe the steps to jump into projects by breaking them down and how you divide your time. These are awesome strategies that I hope to try out!