Ask MCG: How do I overcome procrastination?

Dear Ms. Career Girl,

I am a huge procrastinator. I know the things I should be doing, but I just can’t help putting them off.  How do I overcome this?



Many people believe that procrastination is an imbedded trait.  No matter how hard you try, you just can’t help but procrastinate on the things you need or want to do.  It’s just easier, right? So instead of doing something about it, you continue to leave everything to the last minute. If you’ve ever found yourself saying that you “just can’t help but procrastinate”, take a moment and realize this:  Procrastination is a habit, not a trait.  It’s not fixed into your genetics; it’s something that can easily be changed by no one else but you.

I used to be the queen of procrastination.  Back in my undergraduate years, I would always pull all-nighters for every test I took.  In my mind, it was easier.  I wouldn’t have to deal with studying each day; Instead, I would leave it to the last several hours before the test to cram everything into my head.  After taking the test, not only was I extremely exhausted, but it threw off my entire day (or sometimes, even my entire week, depending on how long I studied).  I slept well into the afternoon, I made poor eating choices, and, overall, I was feeling groggy.  To top it off, I would have to re-train my body to sleep at night after spending the entire afternoon recovering from the all-nighter.  The results from one little decision worked like a domino effect that lasted much longer than the time I’d spent pulling the all-nighter.  Procrastination creates this domino effect.

Procrastination can be a very hard habit to break, but it is breakable–like many other habits, it takes time, self-control, and effort.  Take a step back and reflect on a certain project that you’ve been procrastinating on.  Identify the area(s) that is making you push it back.  What part of this task do you hate?  For example, if you’ve been putting off writing a proposal paper, are you procrastinating because you can’t decide on a solid topic?  Ask for help in deciding exactly what to write about.  Is it because it’s not a fun task to do?  Well, get creative and make it fun!  Once you identify the problem, find the solution.

Just how do I make such a boring task fun? Something I like to do is to put on my favorite show (The Big Bang Theory) and watch it while I do my task.  For instance, when I have a huge pile of clothes to iron, I watch a marathon of The Big Bang Theory online and iron away.  Since I’m watching something I like, it makes the task less miserable and more enjoyable.  You can substitute watching your favorite TV show with listening to your favorite songs.  Perhaps you can even have a friend help you out with your tasks.

Another way to conquer procrastination is by chipping away at the task little by little.  Incorporate it into your daily or weekly planner to serve as a constant reminder.  Setting aside as little as 10 minutes a day gets you one step closer to completing your task.  Incorporate a timer to time yourself for those 10 minutes.  The time will fly by each day and before you know it, you won’t even realize how much you’ve done when you’ve reached the end.

In my experience, once you start the task you’ve been procrastinating on, you’ll gain momentum and won’t even want to stop.  You’ll even think to yourself, “This wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated!”  I like to explain this using my marathon running analogy (runners, you’ll be able to relate to this): the first few miles will not feel very good. This is when your body is warming up, and your breathing and heart rate are getting used to the running.  But once you overcome the initial hump and reach that magical point (for me, it’s around 3.5-4 miles), you start feeling awesome.  You feel as if you could run forever!  You’re pumped, and nothing can stop you.  Once you’re finished, you will realize that the experience was a lot more pleasant than you thought.  To top it off, once you’re done, you won’t feel any guilt or stress that you would’ve felt if you hadn’t done the task.  The feeling of satisfaction will make your task worth it in the end!  So go ahead and tackle on all of the tasks, projects, and goals you’ve been putting off.  If not now, when? Quit making excuses for yourself, and erase your habit of procrastination.

“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” -Aristotle

Vivian Ta

Vivian is a running fanatic and founder of The Daily Runner, a website dedicated to inspire people all over the world to start running. Currently pursuing her Ph.d in Experimental Psychology at the University of Texas at Arlington, Vivian is also a certified fitness instructor. Her fitness and wellness column is featured on MCG every other Wednesday. Connect with Vivian on Twitter @dailyrunnerpage and on Facebook Facebook.

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