Friday 30 September 2016

Breathing space... Tomorrow land

Procrastinators need to get proactive, writes Katie Byrne

Published 16/06/2015 | 02:30

David O'Doherty
David O'Doherty

In the lead-up to writing this very article I got sidetracked looking at pictures of Caitlyn (nee Kris) Jenner and watching a woman called Crystal Sanchez plead her case to Judge Judy. This was punctuated by several tea breaks, countless WhatsApp conversations and at least one plan to just go to bed and get up very, very early…

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Fellow procrastinators will relate. "Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today" goes the well-worn productivity advice of Benjamin Franklin.

The procrastinator, on the other hand, spends today agonising over the things that they will eventually postpone until tomorrow.

Everything will be different tomorrow. They won't sleep past their alarm clock and they'll tick off all the niggling items on their to-do list. There's a proverb in Spain that goes "Mañana, es como casi siempre, el día más ocupado de la semana" - tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week.

Some consider procrastination to be a byword for laziness. On the contrary, procrastinators work 24/7... it's just that they apply more energy to thinking about what they have to do rather than doing what has to get done.

They make all the necessary sacrifices and go through all the motions. You could even say that procrastinators are over-achievers - on paper anyway.

The reasons are manifold. Fundamentally we procrastinate because we are scared. We are scared of failure, just as we are scared of success. Some procrastinators are self-saboteurs, some are perfectionists.

Professor of psychology and author Joseph R Ferrari breaks it down even further. Chronic procrastinators, he says, are either 'arousal' types, who wait until the 11th hour for the sheer thrill of the dopamine rush, or 'avoidance' types, who shirk from their to-list because they fear being judged.

Elsewhere, he describes 'decisional' procrastinators. This breed is especially canny. They put off making decisions until the very last minute, or better still, until someone else makes them for them. "They're actively, consciously, strategically postponing," he writes.

Understanding the whys and wherefores of procrastination is helpful, but those that have this behavioural trait would benefit more from action than theory. It's about swapping bad habits for good ones.

Every procrastinator should start a morning/evening routine. Before you go to bed each night, make a list of everything you would like to achieve the next day.

In the morning, take the list and structure the items into a timetable.

This is an example of dividing a task into smaller, manageable parts, which is another essential tool for the procrastinator. The list is prepared in two steps, which makes it feel much less daunting. You could also try visualising how it feels to complete the most intimidating tasks - this strengthens neural circuits and makes the task itself easier.

The way we construct our to-do lists can be improved too. Procrastinators have a tendency to populate these lists with vague and unconquerable tasks.

Think 'start Q3 report' and 'learn French'. You may as well write 'visit Mars' because generalised tasks simply don't get done. They need to be broken down into their constituent parts. For instance, 'start Q3 report' would be better phrased as 'email last year's report author and ask for methodologies and advice'.

I previously wrote about the five-minute rule, which is a fantastic tool for those that have difficulty starting tasks. Allocate just five minutes to a task that you would otherwise procrastinate into next year and you'll more than likely be compelled to work past the time allowance.

Once you make the first step, you'll realise that objects in motion tend to stay in motion.

Motivational author Brian Tracy recommends that we 'Eat that frog!'. The philosophy is borrowed from the Mark Twain quote: "Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day". This is a form of delayed gratification. When we take on the hardest task first, we think of all our other tasks as easier by comparison.

Tracy also recommends the 10/90 rule. "The 10pc of time that you take to plan your activities carefully in advance will save you 90pc of the effort involved in achieving your goals later". In short, we need to plan how we're going to take on our tasks before we start them.

When we have a plan, we become more rational about time management. Procrastinators are often wildly unrealistic. They think they can be in the gym at 6am when they haven't been out of bed before 7am for the last year.

They think they can shape their entire life plan during their upcoming week-long holiday. We need to understand our limitations, and this often means learning how to say no. If saying no is an issue, try the delayed response - "Can I double check my diary and come back to you?"

Finally, procrastinators need to mind their language.

We have a tendency to imbue our self-talk with a sense of burden - "I have to finish my project" or "I need to go to the gym". Notice how much better you feel when you use affirmative language like "I'm starting my project" or "I'm going to the gym" instead.

Comedian David O'Doherty quipped, "If procrastination was an Olympic sport... I probably wouldn't turn up". Yet turning up is often all we need to do. If you want to write a book, put your bum on the chair. If you want to run a marathon, pound your feet on the pavement. The rest will take care of itself.

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