The main strategy in this book is to just get started on whatever activity you're putting off. This strategy is different from the Nike slogan "Just do it" because the focus isn't on finishing but on starting, which is much less intimidating. You may have to "just start" many times as you do the work, if you find yourself repeatedly stopping.
The strategy of just starting cuts through all the excuses we come up with for not starting. It cuts through our fears and the tendency to "give in [to procrastination] to feel good," which is the basic reason we procrastinate.
The other major strategy in the book is to plan ahead using implementation intentions. These are if-then or when-then statements that give yourself triggers for taking particular actions. For example, "When I walk in the door, I will immediately begin cooking dinner," or, "If I feel the impulse to check Twitter, I will stay put and continue working."
Then there are ancillary strategies, which have the effect of increasing your motivation for getting the activity done or counteracting the thinking that enables procrastination.
Strategies to increase motivation:
- Think through the costs of procrastinating on particular activities and the benefits of acting on them in a timely manner.
- Realize that you'll often feel more like doing a task once you've started doing it, and you'll feel better about yourself and life too.
- Realize that some of our greatest strengths can come from dealing with our limitations, such as the personality traits that keep us procrastinating.
Antidotes to procrastinatory thinking:
- Become aware of your procrastination thinking patterns. List the thoughts and feelings you have when you think about particular activities you put off, and notice any commonalities.
- Become aware of your unpleasant feelings about a task while they happen so you can deal with them constructively and tell yourself to start or keep working.
- Realize that you won't feel more like it tomorrow.
- Realize that you don't have to feel like doing something to get started on it.
- List the ways you rationalize your procrastination, and create implementation intentions to counteract them and just get started.
- Realize that you underestimate future rewards compared to near-term rewards.
- Realize that you underestimate how long tasks will take.
- Notice when you procrastinate to handicap yourself in an effort to protect your self-esteem.
- Remember that if you keep thinking tomorrow is a better time to start than now, eventually you'll feel that now was actually the best time to start.
- Notice when perfectionism keeps you from starting.
- Notice when you reduce the inner conflict of procrastinating by distracting, forgetting, trivializing, self-affirming, denying responsibility, justifying your decisions, or making downward counterfactuals ("It could have been worse.").
- Notice when you wait for pressure to motivate you to work, and realize that you make more mistakes in those conditions rather than working better.
- Realize that even a small or messy start helps.
- Split a complex task into subtasks, and give each subtask an order or priority so you'll know what to just get started on.
- Realize that momentary distractions often expand into hours without our awareness.
- Realize that few people can multitask well.
- List potential distractions (especially online ones) or obstacles to continuing your work, and either remove them proactively or come up with implementation intentions to deal with them.
- When your willpower feels depleted, motivate yourself to continue by reminding yourself of your overall goals and motivations for this task. Know that it's more possible to keep working than you think.
- Make it easier to keep working by doing it in ways and at times that increase your willpower.
- Be aware of the kinds of work that will tire you, including social interactions.
- Willpower increases with practice, so exercise small amounts of it on a regular basis.
- Get enough sleep.
- Do your harder work earlier in the day.
- Find sources of positive emotion so your motivation overrides your fatigue.
- Make implementation intentions to keep working. These make your work more automatic and overcome self-regulation depletion.
- Blood glucose increases the energy for self-regulation, so restore it with fruit when you get tired.
- Notice whether you have an impulsive personality, and make implementation intentions to delay decisions on potential distractions so you can think about them.
- Notice whether you tend to be disorganized, and include organizing tasks like cleaning up your work area or dividing your tasks into subtasks. Do these as a precursor to work and not a substitute for it.
- Notice whether you tend to worry about failure, and challenge these thoughts when they arise.
- When addressing your procrastination habits, pick one or two issues to start with rather than trying to change everything at once.
- Forgive yourself when you slip back into your procrastination habits. Then you'll be less likely to procrastinate in the future because you won't avoid the tasks you feel guilty about.
Pychyl, Timothy A. 2013. Solving the Procrastination Puzzle: A Concise Guide to Strategies for Change. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin.
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