The last time I had an essay to write I found all sorts of jobs to do instead. Suddenly tidying the cupboards, washing the kitchen floor and even cleaning the drains seemed very urgent – anything that meant I didn’t have to sit down and concentrate.
Delaying things, procrastination, is a common problem. It is part of the ‘freeze’ response that our subconscious activates to protect us from anything new or that has a fear attached to it. Setting up good habits can take a while to achieve. Whether it’s starting a new fitness regime, studying or doing something new at work, overcoming procrastination starts with recognising what is going on and planning to do something about it.
The first thing to do is to set yourself a goal and plan the steps towards achieving it. Writing down the goal and the plan makes it more real – don’t just think it, ink it! If you can commit to your goal and plan in front of other people that will make it even more powerful.
Next, identify the things that are stopping you from getting on with what you need or want do. At this stage you can be easily put-off by small obstacles or distractions. In a book I read recently* the author suggested that if you want to go running in the morning, sleep in your running clothes – that way you won’t have the excuse of looking for your gear and putting cold clothes on! If the Internet and emails distract you, make it harder to switch the computer on or put in additional passwords. To make studying easier, keep your books, notepaper, pens etc in one place so that you can get going quickly.
If there’s a fear that’s attached to the task, what can you do to overcome it? Could you get advice from someone you trust? Do you need some training or a new skill? Could you do some research?
Finally, set yourself some rules that you know you can stick to. For example ‘I’ll study for forty minutes and then I’ll have a 10 minute break to look at my emails” or “I’ll run for 10 minutes, walk for 5 minutes and run for 10 minutes”. Once you have the good habit established you can start to break the rules.
You’ll be surprised how much happier you will feel when you just get on and do that thing that’s been bothering you. So, make a start today.
*The Happiness Advantage, 2011, Shawn Achor