A few months ago I had an interesting discussion about procrastination and prioritizing (read the comments on this post). According to Tim Pychyl, author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, everyone procrastinates.
Different people procrastinate in different ways, and for different amounts of time. According to Salary.com, 31% of people admitted to consciously wasting an hour each day, and 26% admitted consciously wasting 2 or more hours every day. (Imagine how much time is really wasted when you factor in the unconscious amount!)
For the sake of this post, I’m defining procrastination as NOT doing the task you’ve set out to do, the one you’ve determined is the most important task to complete at this time.
Why do we procrastinate? According to Pychyl, we procrastinate when we find a task unattractive. The more unattractive, the more we procrastinate. Unattractive tasks have one or more of the following traits:
- Unstructured or ambiguous
- Lacking in personal meaning
- Lacking in intrinsic rewards (not fun!)
So, wouldn’t it make sense that all the tasks that would move us forward in our business would be HIGH in personal meaning, therefore we would find them attractive, and we wouldn’t procrastinate? These are the tasks that are most valuable, right?
Well, actually, no. The most valuable tasks usually require more time, attention, and energy. These tasks are usually frustrating and difficult – and typically unstructured. So, we tend to procrastinate these tasks.
“Becoming more productive can be so challenging; although every single person on Earth wants to get more done, accomplishing more involves taking on tasks that are more aversive. Procrastination gets in the way of accomplishing more since it is, in its simplest form a gap between your intention and action.” ~ Chris Bailey, The Productivity Project.
So, how can you procrastinate less? One way is to adapt the task to engage your prefrontal cortex (the logic part of your brain – the part that KNOWS this task is important) and bypass the limbic system (the emotional part of the brain – the part that wants FUN).
Look at the 6 triggers above.
- How can you overcome boring? Change the location of where you are working. Set up your environment with your favorite drink or snack.
- A solution to frustrating – set a timer for a 30 minutes and JUST GET STARTED. If you feel like you are on a roll, keep going.
- The task seems too difficult? Work during the time your brain is most active and most engaged. Use your mental resources when they are the strongest.
- Feeling like you don’t have a strong grasp on the task? It’s unstructured or boring? Make a detailed plan including your smallest next steps. (For more on how to do this, read this post.)
- Is the task lacking in Personal Meaning? First, determine it IS the right task! If it lacks in meaning, it may no longer fit your vision. However, if it does fit your vision, then ask yourself, “Once I finish this task, what is possible?” Often, knowing what is possible later will help motivate you to finish it now.
- How do you flip “Lacking in Intrinsic Rewards”? Create a reward system for when you finish a task, or even when you complete each step on a task.
A key to success is making unattractive” tasks more “attractive.” This helps you create motivation and balance your intent and execution. If you decided the task is important enough to write on your to-do list and is critical to your business growth it's certainly worth completing!