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Procrastination: Our sloths and monkeys and how to change them

It is so easy to lose motivation for even the most basic of tasks if they are mundane, or if they are in a long list of other things to do, and especially if you’re tired, or if you’re just feeling overwhelmed by the multitude of stuff that the universe has put on you. When we feel like this, we tend to have two approaches…super slow or warp speed. When faced with a mountain of jobs or something we really don’t want to do our plodding buddy, Procrastination, can tell us “Nah, don’t bother with all that stuff, let’s go on Facebook instead!”. Whilst we are scrolling and fretting that we aren’t doing what needs to be done, we inevitably delay addressing the problem, the tasks grow in magnitude, we can forget the details of what needs to be done but rest assured they will be ready to jump into our brain in the early hours of the morning. With enough procrastination and worrying, what was once a simple task can now feel unachievable. On a different day, our speedy buddy, Anxiety, can make an appearance, telling us that it must be done, it must be finished, and there will be dire consequences if you don’t complete it all. Doing things at this pace means we can miss the finer details, we do hundreds of things except the actual job that needs doing, we don’t do the tasks properly, and we can exaggerate the importance of the job at hand.

Sometimes you may procrastinate and be anxiously multitasking on the same day or even the same hour (deadlines are great for that last minute panic of getting stuff done). Put them together and it’s like your brain is full of sloths and sugar fueled monkeys all distracting you from actually doing the thing you could be doing. So, whether sloth, monkey, or both, what can we do to break the cycle and do the darn thing that needs doing?

Be kind to yourself. When has moaning or shouting at someone to tidy their room, pick up their mess, do the washing up, or finish that report ever worked without some sort of negative come back? You either feel icky for moaning or the job just doesn’t get done because the other person doesn’t like being told what to do. Equally, would you shout at someone who is clearly anxious and moving at the speed of light through worry and overwhelm? I am hoping you answered that it doesn’t work, and you would never shout at someone clearly on the verge of a meltdown. So why would you talk to yourself in this way? Giving yourself abrupt orders most likely won’t work and beating yourself up is not going to help you or the situation. Instead, be kind and rational. Ask yourself, does the task really need doing? If there are lots of things to do, which bits really need completing? What is the worst that can happen if it doesn’t get done? Is it really that bad? Can you control and handle the outcome if you don’t finish it? The message here is to measure the need of doing the task with the consequences, in other words, “what if I did it” versus “what if I don’t”.

Temptation bundling. Try and tag something you like onto the task. If you’re doing housework listen to a podcast, if you’re on the exercise bike read a book, if you’re doing the ironing put a film on…there are lots of ways of suddenly making a droll job an accompaniment to something far better. This won’t work for all tasks obviously but see the opportunity to add something you like to something you don’t.

Reword the need. Switching your language can make a huge difference, so instead of “I’ve got to go to the gym, but I’m tired” try “I’m tired, but I’ve got to go to the gym.” Instead of “I have to take the dog for a walk but it’s raining” try “It’s raining, but I have to take the dog for a walk.” Powerful stuff, eh! Rewording helps to rewire the brain over time as well, so not only does it work as an immediate effect, but longer term adapting this approach will provide a strong foundation to help with overwhelm and a more positive mindset when dealing with anxious moments.

Commitment setting. So, this can be marmite technique as a lot of us don’t like being held to ransom or being checked up on but if accountability helps you, this could be useful. If the tasks are related to health and fitness, there are plenty of gyms and clubs that you can pay for to attend classes, sessions and workshops. This is a hard commitment as you are exchanging money for your commitment to complete activities. Personal trainers, dieticians, physios etc. are all great ways of being held accountable and enabling you to stick to your commitments. Softer commitment setting can also be effective if you like accountability without exchanging money. Just telling someone you will do something makes you feel an obligation of sorts to complete the job, but you also know they aren’t going to scream and shout at you for not going to Tesco (unless of course it’s their dinner they are waiting for). Lists are also a great way of softly committing as it is lays out exactly the responsibilities you need to undertake. The act of crossing jobs of a list is a powerful one as well!

Sequencing. As much as someone who is busy can say they are great at multitasking, there is no such thing as someone who multitasks perfectly. It’s impossible. If you spend 10 minutes doing 5 jobs which when doing them one at a time properly usually takes longer than 10 minutes each, how have you done an effective and perfect job doing them altogether? Multitasking is doing lots of things quickly, but not doing them thoroughly. For me multitasking is satisfying until I see how much I forgot to do and the things that I missed. Instead of trying to lump everything together and doing it in haste (to get the torture over and done with), try sequencing. What job logically could be done first and does this mean that the next job doesn’t need your attention? Does it nicely flow into another activity that needed to be done? Before you know it, it’s a gliding effect that highlights how some of the bits on your list didn’t actually need doing, and that what you have completed has been done well…and you can finally sit down with that cup of tea and a biscuit.

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