Procrastination – the assassin of time, the harbinger of stress and at the very least, an irritating inconvenience. Procrastination always seems to rear its head at a time we have an important task to complete and involves us delaying this task and…. doing pretty much anything else instead. Examples would be giving yourself a 2 hour Netflix break to warm you up for starting the task or checking social media and scrolling down the rabbit-hole for the rest of the day. We get nothing important done, feel guilty knowing we could have used our time better and in turn, feel anxious, stressed, or depressed afterwards.
Now anxiety, stress and depression can also be the cause of procrastination but we can’t overlook the simple fact that we may simply just not be interested in doing the task, which makes it tough when the task needs to be done. Many times, procrastination appears before starting the task and comes alive especially when you view it as uninteresting or substantial. So I have listed five strategies that have previously helped get me through university and also writer’s-block with music. Now, my aim here is to suggest ways of approaching tasks that are more in line with preventing procrastination or getting on top of it before it becomes anxiety inducing. Hopefully there is something here that you will find helpful to get you through times where procrastination creeps into your life.
1. "You Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'"
As mentioned, it is usually starting the task that causes the most procrastination so the best thing I can say is start… something. When doing a big assignment, I used to start it by hitting the web for 5 hours and then wondering how I ended up doing nothing all day. Obviously anxiety was kicking in a little and to avoid any incoming stress, the best course of action I thought I could take was to avoid the work in front of me. Now, learning that this wasn’t optimal, I decided to do the same thing, but in a more useful way. So before starting assignments, I would spend most of the day just researching and finding PDFs to cite, even with music or Netflix on in front of me. Just brushing over these, highlighting passages, and saving them into categories was quite effortless, but it got me moving. Believe me, when it came to thinking about putting my assignment together and I had all that information already there and catalogued, the writing part came a lot more quickly. This brings me to my next point.
2. “I love you Chunk!”
This is especially relevant to tasks that seem almost insurmountable. Divide the task up into chunks and look at the most interesting, easy or important task first. This seems almost elementary and is taught to everyone everywhere, but you will be surprised at how often procrastination appears due to this alone. So use this one as a friendly reminder.
3. “Wax on, Wax off”
I believe in martial arts and self-defence training, the object is to go with and direct incoming energy rather than push back against it. Now this is a fantastic metaphor to use anywhere but I also considered this when procrastination hit. If I felt I was pushing against the tide and continuing to work was futile, I would give in to the attraction of leaving the computer for a bit of Netflix…. but with conditions. I would take a pen and notebook and write down some ideas whilst watching. Sometimes, I would set a subject to think about and a target (a paragraph) of dot points, musings, ideas to achieve. This worked really well for me as I often ended up heading back to the computer before my program finished to flesh out the notes more fully. Sometimes, working against yourself is just not viable so if you are going to procrastinate, allow it but try to find a way to get something done too. At least procrastination is on your terms then.
4. "You've Got Mail"
Whether cooking dinner, at work, going for a walk, hanging washing out or at the pub, the task is usually not far from your mind if you are in the grips of procrastination. In the same vein as above, take note of any ideas for the task you have and email them to yourself. I suggest email as you often check those a lot more and phone notes can easily be forgotten about. Remember, you need to get the task done so this may mean being a little creative with your time if you find it hard to knuckle down at set times. At least when you return to the task, you can hit the ground running with some ideas already formulated.
Many artists, especially musicians will be familiar with Brian Eno’s ‘Oblique Strategies’ card deck for overcoming creative blocks. These cards contain random phrases such as “Try faking it!”, “What to increase? What to reduce?”, “Work at a different speed” and “Honour thy error as a hidden intention”. In many cases, this is enough to distract your procrastination and direct your thinking towards your goal, even if it is 15 minutes of trying to figure out how the phrase fits with your task. Other ways of using oblique strategies is by reading a line picked out by random from a book or the psychoanalytic technique of free-expression writing. This involves setting a timer for 5 minutes and writing about a subject without stopping the pen for that set time, letting the unconscious come out to play. There will be some gibberish in there but it is very effective in freeing your thoughts and directing them to the task at hand plus, you may be surprised at just how effective it is in generating ideas.
Remember, the aim of procrastination is to delay you from starting or completing a task by using your time for other things. At least if this is happening and you are still finding ways to chip away at the task, you will still be moving forward and in turn, have less chance of being overcome by stress, guilt and anxiety. It is best to acknowledge its presence and work with it rather than letting procrastination burn up your time, energy and add to the work you already have on your plate. Keep in mind, you have successfully completed difficult or disinteresting tasks before and you will continue to do so. Disarming procrastination just makes it a little more pleasant.