The Procrastination Loop of Doom

When you imagine a highly productive person, you likely think of someone who focuses effortlessly on the job and never succumbs to procrastination. You know, the type who can sit on the ground in a subway station with their laptop and still manage to get more done in an hour than you would in a day at the library.

The truth is, ridiculously productive people face the same procrastination challenges as the rest of us. The difference is, they beat procrastination by using a calculated approach. First, they understand why they procrastinate, and then they apply strategies that beat procrastination before it takes hold. Anyone can follow this two-step, research-driven process to overcome procrastination.

The Procrastination Doom Loop

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You can’t hope to stop procrastinating until you first have a firm understanding of why you procrastinate. New research from Joseph Ferrari at DePaul University shows that procrastination is more complicated than most people think. People tend to think of procrastination as coming from poor time management or laziness, but Ferrari’s research shows that procrastination stems from negative emotions that hijack your mood. Once you’re under the influence of these emotions, you can’t bring yourself to work.

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Instead of being lazy or disorganized, people usually put things off because they aren’t in the right mood to complete the task. Doing so places you firmly inside the procrastination doom loop. Since you’ve decided that you aren’t in the right mood to work, you distract yourself with other tasks—checking email, checking the news, cleaning your desk, talking to a coworker, etc.—and by the time you come up for air, you feel guilty for having wasted so much time. This only worsens your mood, and as the deadline draws closer, you feel worse than you did when you first put off the task.

Escaping The Doom Loop

Beating procrastination is a simple matter of exiting the doom loop by taking control of your mood. With the right strategies in place, you can take the reins and get yourself in the mood to get things done. The strategies that follow will help you to make this happen.

Figure out why. When you aren’t in the mood to work, procrastination is telling you something important. It could be something simple, such as you need to take a break or get something to eat. It could also be something complex, such as you’re carrying the team on your back or you’re dissatisfied with your job. Whatever it is, instead of punishing yourself for procrastinating, take a moment to reflect and figure out why you’re procrastinating. This could end up being the most productive step you take in conquering your task.

Remove your obstacles. Prior to getting started on a task, take a moment to carefully consider the obstacles that might get in your way. Then, develop a plan to ensure that they don’t. For example, you might have instructions for a task in your e-mail inbox, and if you don’t do anything about it, you’ll repeatedly go back to your inbox to look at them, only to get distracted by other incoming e-mails. In this case, your management plan should be to get the instructions out of your inbox prior to starting your work. By planning ahead, you can maintain your focus and avoid procrastination. After all, it’s much harder to regain focus than it is to maintain it.

Jump right in, no matter what. Sometimes it’s really hard to get started on something, even when it’s something that you love to do. I might be staring at a blank Word document or standing on the beach on a cold winter morning. That first step is difficult, but once you get going—typing that first paragraph or taking off on that first wave—your mood improves dramatically. When you focus your attention on how difficult and cruddy it is to get started, you discourage yourself from doing so. When you dive right in no matter what, your mood quickly improves, which helps you to stay on task.

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