Stopping Procrastination in its Tracks - Slow Week


By Dane Feldman

Photo courtesy of UNR Knowledge Center

Renowned authority on procastination, Dr. Timothy Pychyl once told BTR’s Jennifer Smith that procrastination is not a time management issue, but rather an issue of willpower, saying that “all procrastination is delay, but not all delay is procrastination.”

Psychology Today mentions that 20 percent of people procrastinate regularly while an astounding 70 percent of college students procrastinate. So, the real question is how do we fight it? What can we do to avoid procrastination and stop ignoring the tasks we know we must complete?

Well, just as Pychyl explains the issue, he also offers some solutions to the problem. According to the research he conducted, there are a number of ways to kick the habit of procrastination, many of which have to do with helping to strengthen our inner willpower.

Many of the ways in which we can stop procrastination are simple steps we should be taking each day anyway in order to stay healthy and alert. One of the most obvious steps is to ensure that we sleep and rest enough. On the topic of being restful, Pychyl also says we are more likely to effectively complete tasks earlier on in the day. As we become more and more fatigued, our bodies lose the ability to self-regulate and we can no longer complete the tasks we planned for ourselves.

Less obvious, however, is the research that shows how important or blood glucose levels are in moderating willpower. Pychyl writes, “Even a single act of self-regulation has been shown to reduce the amount of available glucose in the bloodstream, impairing later self-regulatory attempts,” so consuming low levels of sugar (preferably natural sugars, like those that come from fruit) can help maintain blood glucose and keep us on the right track.

If all this still isn’t sinking in, research also shows that those who procrastinate are equally likely to put off seeing a doctor for medical issues. Not only is poor health a catalyst for procrastination, but it appears procrastination can contribute poor health as well.

Cal Poly Student Academic Services suggests a number of ways to overcome procrastination for students, which also apply to non-students. Working and studying with friends who have good work ethics can help kick start concentration, as well as working in a new environment. If working at home is mostly unsuccessful, going to a local café or library deliberately may help because there are less desirable distractions (like watching television).

Other tools include writing down a list of tasks with start and stop times, working for just five minutes at a time, and breaking down each task into even smaller tasks. Camille Dieterle, OTD, OTR/L and Director at the USC Occupational Therapy Faculty Practice tells BTR that after starting a task for five to 10 minutes while using a timer, “[clients] usually go beyond the [allotted] 5-10 minutes without even trying.”

This shows that it is quite possible that by beginning with even the smallest of steps, it could lead to completing the task altogether. Dieterle also reminds us to “plan for the next time [we’ll] use the timer – later that day or the next day, depending on the task,” once we’ve stopped.

Even peer pressure can be an aide when it comes to preventing procrastination. Explaining plans to others can also help guide procrastinators to finish their work.

While keeping all of this in mind, it’s extremely important to know what tasks are priorities over others. Often, procrastinators will spend all day completing smaller, less important tasks in order to avoid the important ones, according to psychology professor, Clarry Lay. Lay also notes that delaying unimportant tasks isn’t exactly procrastination, but rather a sign of understanding priorities and maintaining good organizational skills.

In order to focus on the important tasks, keeping a to-do list and creating small rewards for each small task completed can be quite helpful. Dieterle tells BTR that rewarding ourselves with activities we enjoy doing in order to fuel our ambition to complete the “undesirable task.”

Clarry Lay also backs the argument that peer pressure as well as breaking bigger tasks up into smaller, more manageable ones are successful tools in combating procrastination. Dieterle suggests finding ways to make the tasks more desirable by adding in details we love.

The first step to stopping procrastination is recognizing its signs immediately. Once it is apparent that procrastination is taking place, the next steps to task completion can be difficult, but starting small will certainly help.

So, grab an apple and get going on that to-do list! The longer you wait, the longer that list will be.