Lately, we’ve spent some time examining the phenomenon known as procrastination and where it comes from. To close the book on the subject, we wanted to go over how you and your team might be able to procrastinate less moving forward so that your business might get more done.
Why is It So Hard to Stop Procrastinating?
While we’ve already discussed how and why people procrastinate, we really haven’t touched on what really motivates us to, paradoxically, be unmotivated to do something…despite all the frustration and stress that we know it will bring. What is it that leads us down this path?
Well, as studies conducted by Florida State University suggest, any one person has a limited capacity for self-control. The more we have, the less likely we are to procrastinate, but as we utilize it, we have less self-control in our reserves. The resulting procrastination is effectively a coping mechanism. Plus, the more negative feelings we have about a task, we’ll actually use procrastination to protect ourselves from it. This takes shape in the form of something called the avoidance loop.
The Procrastination Avoidance Loop
The avoidance loop is more or less our brain’s way of protecting ourselves from those tasks that we just don’t want to do. Stop me when this starts to sound familiar: you have a task that needs to be done, but instead of getting started, you start figuring out other things that “need” to be done before the task you’re dreading can be. That’s the avoidance loop—our brain’s tendency to subconsciously find any excuse to keep us away from the undesirable task at hand.
In this way, the problem of procrastination seems to be primarily rooted in how well we can manage our mental energy, despite the influence of internal and external factors, throughout the workday. The real trouble comes with the fact that just about every moment during the workday will involve at least one of these factors—maybe a task is notoriously monotonous, or it involves working with a coworker that another isn’t too fond of. Any reason can be enough to trigger a procrastination response in someone’s subconscious, and will need sustained and conscious attention to overcome and resolve.
On the subject, let’s discuss some ways that you can help give yourself a bit more mental energy to commit to your tasks.
Motivation and procrastination are opposite ends of the same spectrum, so it only makes sense that having a greater level of motivation than you have procrastination-based inertia is what it will take to accomplish anything. Take a moment to consider what value you personally get out of a task being successfully completed. Whether it’s a growth opportunity, a pay increase, or just avoiding the repercussions of not completing your task on time, identifying what will motivate you is a great first step to getting more done, more efficiently.
Now that you’re effectively motivated, it’s time to create a plan that helps keep you out of the avoidance loop. This process can be outlined in a few relatively simple steps.
- Split up your goal into actionable and productive steps. In other words, outline the process you need to follow in order to meet your intended outcome. Let’s say you were responsible for evaluating your business’ supplies and ordering anything that was needed. Your steps would be to confirm what the company typically keeps on hand, inventory the current state of your supplies, compile a list of what is needed and submit it to your vendors.
- Identify the inspiration of any avoidance loops. With your plan outlined, you can then do a bit of introspective thought to catch yourself thinking of ways to procrastinate the actual task at hand. It can help to write out the “reasons” that you can’t complete your task, because you’ll either more effectively identify what triggers an avoidance loop or you’ll identify an actual problem in the process. Keeping with our example for a moment, you may find yourself worrying if any circumstances may have impacted (or will soon impact) the company’s needs, or if another order has already been submitted.
- Take your avoidance loops and incorporate them into your existing process. Instead of allowing the triggers to your avoidance loops lead you to procrastinate, reexamine your steps and adjust them so they account for these triggers. By repositioning your triggers into opportunities in this way, you actually make your plan more likely to succeed. In the case of our example, you might adjust your process so that your inventory evaluation involves checking for pending deliveries or orders, or leaning on a managed service provider for assistance in managing your vendors.
While habits tend to have a bit of a bad reputation, all they really are is a somewhat-subconscious pattern of behavior or action. Therefore, if you can turn the activities and behaviors you tend to procrastinate on into predictable workplace habits or even larger processes, you can help reduce the urge to put off the task in question and even make you less likely to generate new avoidance loops. You’ll just be used to doing that process in that order, relatively automatically.
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