I have a habit of putting off doing things I know I need to do . . . a lot.
Let me know if this sounds familiar to you:
You’re a social worker with progress notes to write, treatment plans to review, and return phone calls to make.
What are you doing instead?
Checking your Facebook newsfeed, pinning something on Pinterest . . .
. . . Or maybe you’re reading a blog article about procrastination instead of getting work done. (oh the irony 🙂 )
And that’s just at the office. Wait until you get home.
You’ve got laundry piling up, dishes to wash, and dinner to make.
And if you’ve got young kiddos:
Lunches to pack, bath time, and God help us . . .
But what are you doing instead . . .
Binge watching Netflix.
You win this time HGTV. Score: Chip and Joanna 1 – Nate 0
If any of these behaviors sound like you, keep reading.
In today’s post I’m going to show you how to stop getting in your own way.
You’ll learn what procrastination is, why we do it, and strategies to overcome it in the future.
You may have thought that procrastination was just being lazy.
Turns out procrastination is way more complex.
The term procrastination comes from Latin word procrastinatus, translating to “forward tomorrow”.
The phrase “Due Tomorrow, Do Tomorrow” comes to mind.
Here are two procrastination definitions from renowned researchers:
- Dr. Tim Pychyl, Carleton University researcher and author of Solving The Procrastination Puzzle, defines procrastination this way:
The emphasis here is on needless and voluntary.
Nothing stops you but your reluctance to take action on your own intention.
- Joseph Ferrari, PhD, researcher at DePaul University in Chicago arrived at a similar procrastination definition:
Millions of us procrastinate, everyone delays sometimes. And sometimes “strategic delay” can be a a good thing.
Check out this graph:
A significant amount of procrastination literature has focused on the undergraduate college student.
In fact if you are a social worker student, I bet you are procrastinating on an assignment or project as you read this.
Ferrai identifies three types of procrastinators:
- Thrill Seekers: people waiting until the last minute for the adrenaline rush
- Avoiders: people avoiding fear of failure or even fear of success
- Decision Delayers: people who cannot make a decision or defer to others to make it
Which type of procrastinator are you?
So you’ve got a handle on what procrastination is and who is procrastinating. So why do we procrastinate?
Why you procrastinate
Factor 1: Personality/Genetics
One of the contributing factors to procrastination, not surprisingly, is your personality. And your personality, is in part linked to heritable traits.
Genetics play a significant role in your personality development.
According to this identical twin study genetics contributed substantially to the variance in procrastination of twins in the study.
Factor 2: Negative Feelings
Procrastination, according to Pychyl, is a result of “a failure in self-regulation”.
Let me give an example.
Imagine you’ve got a big project due during Social Work Month. Cue your negative feelings of dread and overwhelm.
Procrastination becomes a coping mechanism to escape anxiety and worry. In the short term you “give in to feeling good” by avoiding the task at hand.
Watching Frank Underwood give speeches in back-to-back episodes of House of Cards feels way better than preparing for your own.
Procrastination feels better than doing the task . . . until it doesn’t.
Factor 3: Unpleasant Tasks
This likely comes at no surprise:
We don’t like to take on tasks we find boring, ambiguous, or unpleasant.
Factor 4: Impulsivity
Are you prone to checking your email inbox every few minutes, logging on to Facebook throughout the day, or finding yourself in random chit chat with fellow social workers?Impulse control and procrastination are highly correlated.
12 Ways to Crush Procrastination
1. Acknowledge it: The first step to changing a behavior is becoming aware and acknowledging the need to change. You can acknowledge your procrastination when you are aware of it. Higher mindful awareness is correlated with lower procrastination. Literally naming the behavior gives you more ownership to do something about it.
2. Do it early: Legitimate
excuses reasons arise during the day to avoid a task. If a task is what you are avoiding doing, do it as early as possible in the day. You have more energy and less decision fatigue earlier in the day.
3. Chunk it: Any large assignment or project is going to be comprised of smaller tasks, actions, and “chunks”. What is the smallest chunk you can take action on now? This post is a 1000+ word article, but I started it by typing a sentence.
4. Celebrate small victories: This is the paradigm shift of enjoying the journey not just the destination. If your goal is to graduate the MSW program, celebrate passing your research class exam.
5. Implementation intention: I’ve written about the importance of scheduling. This form of intentional action is explicitly outlining the “where, when and how” you will work on a task. Break the “due tomorrow, do tomorrow” cycle.
6. Time travel: Imagine the future consequences of finishing. Really get a concrete vision of your future self with the task finished. Envision your future self with the task finished: What do you look like? How do you feel when it’s finished?
7. Forgive yourself: When I’m being too hard on myself, I look to social work demi-goddess Brené Brown and her book The Gifts of Imperfection. Read Brown’s book to release your self criticism, self doubt, fear of making mistakes.
8. Night time preparation: Spend time the night before planning your next day, like what to wear or what you’ll eat, so you’ve got more energy for more important decisions.
9. Use the “2-minute” rule: Simply, if you can finish a task in 2 minutes, do it now. I’ve gotten more done by applying this rule than probably any other productivity strategy I use.
10. Make long term rewards more immediate: Visualization is key. Example: Imagine yourself working in your dream career after graduation. What will life look like then?
11. Make short term costs really sting: Consequences for not taking action are often not felt right away. One way to change this is to raise the ante. For example for each deadline I miss, I’ll take my daughter to Chuck E. Cheese.
12. Change the environment to avoid procrastination triggers: Certain environmental cues will trigger procrastination. Example: When I see my TV, I’m tempted to turn it on and watch something. I’ve removed the TV from direct sight lines in my den, which hides my visual cue and in turn changes my couch potato pattern.
Before launching Social Worker Success, I was spinning my wheels. And procrastination was a major culprit.
You may have been bitten by the procrastination bug too.
Hopefully after reading this article, you’ve got a better handle on what and why you’re delaying taking action.
Test the suggested strategies and see what works for you.
Did you find this article helpful? If so, share it with another social worker.