(And how to stop it from draining your mental batteries)
Just take a look at this procrastinator’s cry for help:
“I’m having a serious procrastination problem at the moment.
The more work I have, the more I try to avoid it.
I just think ‚ I’ll do that another day but ‚another day’ never seems to come.
I have deadlines approaching. I don’t want a mad rush at the last minute.
It seems actually the more I procrastinate, the more tired I get… which seems quite strange to me.
Any advice to a serious procrastinator?
Procrastination is a tough habit to break and comes in many flavors.
You can procrastinate for a dozen different reasons, and, unlike many discounts, different reasons can be bundled in one big task avoidance festival.
Procrastination is a tricky beast, and it can manifest in many different ways for many different reasons.
Have you ever had a long list of things to get done, NOT done much, and still felt exhausted?
Sounds a bit crazy, right?
After all, it’s one thing to feel exhausted AFTER you’ve worked relentlessly, not just from avoiding the work.
And yet, it’s often a common thing in every procrastinator’s life.
First of all, it’s perfectly normal to procrastinate on something once in a while; we all do that.
However, if you’re to-do list is always getting longer, and you just let tasks sit on in without ever trying to tackle at least some of them – we have a problem.
ACKNOWLEDGE THE PROBLEM
The first thing is to acknowledge the problem. Only then can you look into it, bring some more self-awareness, and look to solve the problem.
So before googling for ‚anti-procrastination tips & techniques, I would suggest getting to the root of the problem.
BUT I hear you, the deadline is on the horizon, and you don’t have the time for deep soul-searching right now.
You just know you should have started working a long time ago, but simply cannot bring yourself to start!
So here are my best SUGGESTIONS to tackle procrastination due to feeling overwhelmed.
SELF-COMPASSION IN TASK AVOIDANCE
Start with a healthy dose of self-compassion.
Mind you, self-compassion is NOT self-pity or self-indulgence. It’s simply showing yourself some kindness and acknowledging your imperfect, human nature.
Basically, it is what it is, no point in making and guilty trips here.
Then, JUST START SOMEWHERE. ANYWHERE, REALLY.
One of the problems with feeling overwhelmed with a task is that often leads to procrastination is simply not knowing where to start.
There are so many urgent things to accomplish that you freeze and decide to watch funny cat videos or play games instead.
Many decide to do an ambitious Marie Kondo-style house cleaning because even THAT seems more appealing than writing the report.
But as the report (or filing taxes, or studying for your exam, etc. ) is most likely not going anywhere, no matter how clean your windows are, it’s probably better to take the bull by the horns. However unappealing it sounds.
So – if you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, JUST START SOMEWHERE.
PROCRASTINATING ON MAKING A DECISION
Don’t let the decision-making paralyze you. Decision-making is a very energy-draining activity, and you know you need to invest every ounce of that energy somewhere else.
Are you still debating where to start?
For bigger tasks, try the SALAMI TECHNIQUE (starting with tiny actions that help you gain momentum, and if stars align, get you into the state of FLOW)
Write down all the urgent things on small pieces of paper and draw one. Here you go, a decision made!
Now, you may feel VERY RELUCTANT to start. That’s ok.
Remember: you don’t have to feel elated to start.
In fact, you can feel totally uninspired, hesitant, worried, repulsed, bored, and DO IT ANYWAY.
But it’s definitely better to tame your anxiety towards the task and tame it with a timer.
USE A TIMER TO TAME PROCRASTINATION
So grab a timer – any timer! (One on your phone or computer, or an egg timer – recommended – or an hourglass) and set it to a very short period of time and think of how you’re going to reward yourself for just starting.
A SIDENOTE ON THE REWARD TO TAKING ACTION: make it proportional to your effort, and don’t reward yourself with an hour-long cat video for doing a 5-minute work!
For a very short action, I would recommend a high five, a quiet ‚yesss! You did it” type of reward.
You still want to celebrate, just ADEQUATELY.
Having an interval timer is also a great idea. It gives you a clear start, a definitive end, and a break (a reward) as well. The Pomodoro Technique is like that (usually 25 minutes of work, 5-minute break intervals), but we’re here to start with baby steps right now.
WHY A TIMER IS A CHRONIC PROCRASTINATOR’S BEST BUDDY
The timer will give you two great things: a clear beginning and a clear end.
Many chronic procrastinators have a problem with just starting as the ignition point is being moved from one moment to another.
You know, till AFTER you’ve had your coffee, or till AFTER you’ve watched that youtube video, or AFTER that last game…
I know the voice in your head may sound like it means it, but don’t be fooled by its siren’s song.
That AFTER is like a horizon, forever escaping you when you approach it.
Another amazing thing about the timer is that it also tells you when the ordeal is going to END.
Many chronic procrastinators can’t bring themselves to start working on a project because they suspect it will be a very long and arduous thing to do.
It is not unlike walking into a dark cavern where you expect to meet a Hydra and spend a night there.
Who would willingly do that???
But if you know that it will only take a very short time, just a super brief in-and-out type of endeavor, your fear may lessen.
How long should you set for your timer?
That very much depends on the amount of resistance you’re feeling towards a particular task.
If it’s just something you’re not overly excited about but generally don’t hate it, you can go for a healthy 10 or 15 minutes.
If it’s something that gives you a healthy dose of anxiety – go for 2 minutes.
And hell, if it’s something that you’re feeling extremely reluctant to start – go for as little as 30 seconds. You can do just about anything for 30 seconds.
USE A NON-INSANE TO-DO LIST
When you are procrastinating because you’re feeling overwhelmed, the last thing you want to see is a long list of to-dos.
Try a very short list instead. You can find one here.
It gives you three to-do items. I would even go a step further and put JUST ONE thing you decide to accomplish, and maybe two more as an option.
For the ONE TASKS on your TO DO LIST, make a little tree diagram, and break it down into tiny actions.
When you’re dealing with SERIOUS PROCRASTINATION, no task is too small! Those who don’t understand the resistance don’t. And those who FEEL IT with the entire body know what I’m talking about.
SO: instead of writing down FINISH THE REPORT put: “START WORKING ON THE REPORT” and then list all of the tiny steps you can think of, like:
– Find the folder
– Open the file
– With the first sentence
It may sound ridiculous to some, but!
It’s not about the logic here; it’s about EMOTIONS that don’t have to be rational in order to govern your life.
Whether you decide to work on something or avoid the task and procrastinate, you will still need some energy to do it.
The difference is, working on a task is an investment and, although you may feel tired from work, you will get some of that energy back in a positive mental boost (and raise your self-efficacy).
If you decide to procrastinate, the energy will be forever lost.
Procrastination due to feeling overwhelmed – tips
0. Start with a healthy dose of self-compassion.
1. Start small, and it will get easier once you’ve started.
3. Start anywhere. Your job right now is not to conquer the mountain but to make the first step.
4. Set a timer.
5. Observe your emotions in a detached manner while you start working towards the task. You don’t have to “feel like it” to just start.
6. Inch forward, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
7. If you gain momentum and feel like working more – awesome!
8. If it’s becoming too much to handle, stop, take a deep breath, relax. Then try again.
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