Abundant Optimism

Helping people regain and keep an optimistic outlook in challenging circumstances and improve their creativity, mind, and skills.

Procrastination and Mind Improvement

By Tamara Martfeld

Procrastination and mind improvement may not seem to be related topics, but they are. Procrastination happens because we decide, with our mind, to put off something we think needs to be done. Thus it makes sense to use our mind to solve any procrastination issues we have.

The first thing we need to do regarding the things we are procrastinating about is to decide if the thing really needs to be done. For example, you might be procrastinating about reading War and Peace. If you do not need to read it for school or work, why do you need to read it? Are you trying to show off by saying that you read it, or do you want to read it for your pleasure? Look at the reasons the item is on your “to do” list. Some activity has no value and can be eliminated without consequences. If the thing about which you are procrastinating can be eliminated without consequences, then the problem is solved – cross it off your list and stop thinking about it.

If the thing really does have some value and you don’t have a reason for doing it personally, see if it is possible to delegate the task or pay someone else to complete the task. Do this with honesty -- it is not OK to pay someone to take a test for you, but it is OK to pay someone to do your yard work.

If you determine that you need to accomplish the thing on which you are procrastinating, then start using techniques to improve how you think about completing the thing. Many times procrastination happens because the task is unpleasant or huge. Other times procrastination happens because other tasks have a higher priority and the procrastinated item gets pushed down the list until it becomes a crisis. All these reasons for procrastination can be easily addressed.

If the procrastinated thing is unpleasant it is best to just do it and get it done. The longer you think about doing it the less pleasant it is in your mind. Frequently we think something is worse than it really is. For example, many people think they will die of embarrassment if they give a speech, give the speech, and find that it was not really that bad or that they actually enjoyed it once they started. If you are having trouble getting started, find one small part of the task you can do quickly and do it. If there are no parts small enough, set a timer and spend just 15 minutes working on the task. At the end of 15 minutes you can stop or continue, but you have now started and have something done on the task. If you are breaking down the task this way, do a small step or spend 15 minutes every day or week depending on when the task needs to be done.

If the procrastinated thing is huge, break it down. If it is that big there is no other way to complete the task. If you have project management skills, treat the thing as a project even if it is not technically a project. (If you do not have these skills, look for guidance on the internet. The skills are very useful for non-project activities.) The real mind trick here is to start thinking of the huge task as several smaller tasks so that the size of it is not so discouraging. Then as above, do a portion of the task or set a timer and work for 15 minutes. The 15 minute trick works well. Frequently you will find yourself engrossed in the task and choose to work longer than the 15 minutes. In any case, frequent 15 minute sessions will eventually complete the task.

If the item keeps being shifted to the bottom of the list, again use the 15 minute sessions to get the task done. It is rare to have days so busy that one cannot find 15 minutes to set aside. Schedule the 15 minute session within your day. Yes, the 15 minute session trick is powerful and a good solution to most procrastination issues.

How does all this improve the mind? You are training your mind to look at things more realistically and teaching it to solve a common problem. I would guess that there are very few adults who have absolutely no procrastination issues. Training the mind to asses the issue and tackle it will also help in general problem-solving tasks as your mind will have another avenue to use in solving the problem. You are also training the mind to realistically determine the length of time an activity will take. I, and many people I know, have significantly over-estimated the time an activity will take. We set the timer for 15 minutes and get the task done before the timer goes off. The mind will also learn to find activities that can be done with time currently “wasted”, such as time in lines or waiting for meetings to start. By training the mind in this way you will find that you can get more done in less time and have more time for enjoyable activities.

Have a wonderful November and enjoy the changing of the seasons!