Overcoming procrastination

Year after year, most teachers’ Winter Breaks go something like this:

  1. Ruminate on all of the activities we should be engaged in: grading papers, planning out the second semester, responding to work e-mail, etc.
  2. Do none of the aforementioned things.
  3. Spend most of the break feeling guilty about not doing these things.
  4. Begin chipping away at these tasks the Sunday before we go back to work.
  5. Question why we had not just gotten these tasks out of the way the first weekend of break.
  6. Vow never to go through this vicious cycle again.

The six steps above describe the well-known, completely human (albeit completely frustrating) phenomenon of PROCRASTINATION.


According to the CBS News article “The Staggering Cost of Procrastination,” procrastination is not just an issue for individuals–it’s an issue for the country as a whole.  The article cites a study conducted by the research firm Basex, which claims that the U.S. is losing $650 billion a year in “lost productivity and innovation” because of “answering e-mail, composing IMs, and trolling Twitter.”  I would add that time spent on Facebook, composing text messages, and even merely having the television or radio on while trying to get work done are major culprits in zapping one’s time.

Then why do we procrastinate?  After all, most of us logically know what the cycle looks like, feels like, and how it will inevitably end (hint: not well).

About.com’s “Stop Procrastination–Now!” article outlines the four major reasons why we procrastinate:

  1. Self-Doubt This is the same as perfectionism; one can become so worked up over how much work needs to get done on a particular task to make it just right, that s/he inevitably feels overwhelmed, and does not begin the task at all.
  2. Discomfort Dodging One who exhibits this behavior does not feel like beginning a task because s/he knows (or thinks) that it will be unpleasant. Ironically, the guilt from not diving in to the task is probably just as uncomfortable as the discomfort s/he is avoiding.
  3. Guilt-Driven One may feel guilty for not doing a task, but will continue to put it off in an attempt to deny that s/he is feeling guilty at all.
  4. Habitual In this case, procrastination has become a routine, and someone who is a habitual procrastinator will usually attribute his/her procrastination to his/her personality (and possibly even brag about it as a character trait).


The Spanish say that “tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week,” so, for the sake of enjoying a happier, healthier tomorrow (and rest of your vacation), follow these simple tips on how to get started from (suitably) The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Overcoming Procrastination:

10 Things to Do When You Can’t Get Started

  1. Think of all the bad things that might happen if you don’t do the task or complete it too late.
  2. Remember how unpleasant it was the last time you put off something until the last minute.
  3. Think of a time when you had a similar project that seemed overwhelming or difficult but that turned out to be not such a big deal once you started it.
  4. Tell yourself you’ll work on the task for just 10 minutes.
  5. If #4 doesn’t work, tell yourself to spend 10 minutes merely organizing the task or getting out the supplies for it.
  6. Ask something for advice, instructions, or hand-holding.
  7. Listen for any negative self-talk going on in your head and turn it into positive statements.
  8. Remind yourself why this task is a priority.
  9. Daydream about a reward you’ll give yourself or that you’ll receive from others for completing the task. Or, if it won’t be a distraction, treat yourself to that reward while working on the task.
  10. Don’t panic over your deadline. Focus on do dates, not due dates.”

Tullier, L. Michelle. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Overcoming Procrastination. Indianapolis, IN: Alpha, 1999. Print.


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