Procrastination is a national pastime. A recent study found that more than 25% of Americans consider themselves chronic procrastinators (among college students, it’s 75%). Putting things off may masquerade as a time management issue. But it can actually be a form of self-sabotage that may harm your health (“That mammogram can wait…”), relationships (“I was only 20 minutes late…”), and self-esteem (“I’m a flake!”).
“The stress and guilt that procrastination causes wind up being much worse than actually tackling the task at hand,” says Kelly McGonigal, a psychology instructor at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., and author of The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It.
But you can break out of procrastination prison:
Identify the obstacle
“Procrastinators are either afraid of something, or they get an adrenaline rush from the last-minute pressure,” McGonigal explains. If you’re afraid of negative history repeating, focus on what went wrong before and how you can improve things this time. If you’re going for the thrill, “create artificial deadlines or turn the task into a competition,” she suggests.
Max your motivation
Create consequences for your inaction. For several years, some people agreed to PAY if they didn’t attain their set goals. A short-lived service called ProcrasDonate made it happen. You’d save banking or credit card information and register your important tasks. Then, the program billed for every hour you wasted online. The money was donated to charity.
People have used a version of this model for ages. Bring a trusted friend, family member, or co-worker into your process. Tell them what you need to get done and by when, and give them the authority to hold you accountable. Consider using a small monetary incentive (i.e., $5.00 goes into a jar under their care for each task that you miss the mark on).
Don’t scold yourself for procrastination
A study found that treating yourself kindly after procrastinating can break the cycle and increase your motivation to keep at it. Think about people you respect who have had similar struggles and the words of encouragement you would offer them, McGonigal advises.
Excerpts from Natural Health Magazine, December/January 2012