Do you regularly succumb to a voice in your head telling you to put something off until later?
New research from marketplace lender SocietyOne has revealed that the average to-do-list for each Australian has 21 tasks on it. These include unfinished tasks around the home, as well as leisure and lifestyle tasks, and life event tasks. So how can we tackle our to-do list and make things happen?
Psychologist and SocietyOne spokesperson Jocelyn Brewer says procrastination has long been thought of as a time management problem. However, she says it’s increasingly seen as an issue of emotion regulation and the ability to exert self-control to complete a task, which are aspects of emotional intelligence.
The good news is there are two main tactics that can be used to overcome procrastination and maximise efficiency to get stuff done – to manage your mood and manage your time.
Jocelyn Brewer offers some practical ways to tackle both.
5 Ways To Manage Your Mood
1. Connect with your future self
Create a vision of yourself having taken the action, completed the task or realised the dream. Practice hanging out and imagining that version (or versions across different time frames) of yourself and how you feel at that time. Anchor in those feelings, visualise and rehearse them regularly, especially when starting a task that you’re not looking forward to doing. Olympic athletes do this for every step or stroke of their race, right through to standing on the winner’s podium. When you feel the distraction and urge to deviate off task – use the vision as a magnet to draw yourself back on track.
2. Accept you’ll never be in ‘the right mood’ and just start
Telling a procrastinator to ‘just do it’ is like telling an angry person to ‘calm down’ – ineffective and annoying! To activate your goal behaviour it’s best to address the underlying thoughts and feelings of resistance blocking you. We rarely feel in the mood to do unpleasant tasks and put them off in the hope that our attitude will change at some point in the future, waiting for this to happen to start a task. The problem is time marches on while we passively wait for feelings to shift. The best way to move them is to accept them (difficult for most of us) or ignore them (not something a psychologist would usually recommend!), put them on a metaphorical shelf, or to outwit them.
3. Have a ‘real talk’ with yourself
Imagine yourself sitting in an empty chair across from you and have a radically honest conversation with yourself. Assess the excuses you are creating, and examine the barriers you perceive are stopping you from completing your task. Then play devil’s advocate and rebuke them. Become aware of your own bad habits and get out of your own way, make an agreement with yourself to call yourself out on self-sabotaging behaviours.
It’s also a good time to get real with what the true cost of postponing is to your overall happiness and wellbeing. It might be increased stress, feeling guilty, or not being able to truly enjoy yourself or be present to your family while a deadline looms.
4. Strengthen your ‘Executive Functions’
Executive Functions are not some kind of mental secretary waiting to take over the boring admin tasks in your brain – they’re a set of mental processes used for planning and carrying out tasks, and organising and regulating behaviour over time. These functions include activation, focus and effort, and are ‘soft skills’ which can be developed through explicit learning and practicing strategies which build cognitive habits.
5. Get an accountability buddy
Ideally this is a person who inspires you, who can hold you accountable on your declared intentions and will call you out on your excuses. By having another human to share your goals with you are externalising these thoughts and can be coached through completing the task by someone who you trust to crack the proverbial whip, not put up with your excuses.
5 Tips To Manage Your Time
Once you’ve got your mood/thoughts/mind in check, there are a smorgasbord of tools, tricks and hacks that you can put in place to get things done.
1. Sort tasks using the Eisenhower matrix
Based on urgency and importance and start with the least appealing tasks first. Use the less urgent and less important tasks (organising your undies, CD collection, etc.) as rewards for doing the tougher stuff like filing your tax return.
2. Make a (solid, realistic) plan and build helpful habits.
If you want to build a house, you need to start by laying foundations – planning and project management tools will help you scaffold the steps required to complete the task. Try apps like Strides, Asana and Evernote to organise your actions.
3. Broaden your toolkit.
Develop adaptive habits using a range of tools to help you work smarter not harder. Use the Pomodoro technique, set ‘power hours’ to get the nagging smaller tasks done and consider dedicating time to being in ‘monk mode’.
4. Hack the deadline.
There’s a range of ways you can do this to suit your style of thinking and the way your brain creates excuses, behaviours, and problem solving strategies to justify the procrastination.
5. Manage distractions, especially the digital kind.
The internet is a massive enabler of procrastination with its endless stream of clickbait content. Remove distractions by installing apps and plugins which disconnect you from the LOLcatz and meme wormholes. Try Moment, Anti-social, Freedom.