Making coffee, checking Facebook, thinking how I really must mow the lawn right now. What should I have been doing? Working.
There were a couple of aspects to the workshop project I was doing that I was dreading. So I started procrastinating big time.
However, one great thing about developing your expertise in a subject is that you start to try it out on yourself.
So I set aside the time, I asked my family to go on a cycle ride (no hardship there) and had the house to myself for a couple of hours.
I replaced the ‘I can’t stand doing it’ thought with ‘It’s going to be better if I get on with it as I will deliver a super awesome workshop’ and ‘If I don’t get on with it I am going to feel really bad later’. After a while I become so immersed in it I was IN THE FLOW!
Getting in the flow means there are times you have started something and before you know it you have been inspired to continue.
It started with psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who wondered why artists, especially painters, got so immersed in their work that they would forget to eat, drink and sleep.
The flow research became big in the 80s and 90s and was used by psychologists Maslow and Rogers when they were developing the humanistic tradition of psychology – which studies the whole person and the uniqueness of the individual.
But back to procrastination… why do we do it so much?
It may be linked to perfectionism. For example, you think whatever you are doing won’t be good enough. Rather than challenging those negative thoughts and self beliefs, it’s easier to lower your stress levels by doing something that makes you feel good temporarily.
It’s only later when you realise you’ve run out of time to finish the project that your stress levels go through the roof!
Or it could be that low frustration tolerance kicks in. This is your perceived inability to cope with frustration, boredom, hard work or uncomfortable feelings that doing that task you dread brings up.
So again you procrastinate.
How to beat procrastination:
- Think about how you’ll feel when the task is done. Try to recognise the negative thoughts you have at the outset and challenge them. Research suggests that those who have the attitude ‘I have just got to get on with it whether I like it or not’ are the ones who manage the tasks.
- My research has shown me that the optimum time to spend on a task is 90 minutes. If you haven’t finished, take a 15-minute break before starting a new 90-minute segment.
- Go with your natural rhythms. We’re all different, so work out what’s best for you. When are you naturally most focused and alert? Try sectioning your day into timeslots and keeping a log, so you can see when you’re at your most productive.
- Consider your location. It’s all about keeping distractions to a minimum, so you might need to take yourself off to a coffee shop to write an article, for example.
- Be unsociable. Facebook and Twitter are great – for procrastinators. Take a social media break so you can focus on the task at hand.
When you’re in the flow it feels fantastic, but don’t make the mistake of shutting everything else out. Remember you need to eat and sleep, and may have commitments in your family life. Achievement is great, but don’t focus solely on it.