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Overcoming Procrastination

Technically, procrastination is the avoidance of a specific task which needs to be accomplished. However, the technical description does not convey the associated feelings of guilt, laziness, anxiety or stupidity experienced by people who generally have a problem with procrastination.

THE CAUSE
To identify the cause of procrastination, you must analyze why you're not accomplishing tasks. Is it a time management problem? If so, have you yet to learn helpful skills, or is it rather that you don't use the skills you've acquired? Many individuals cite the following reasons for avoiding work:

  • lack of relevance. If something's irrelevant to you, motivation may be hard to find.
  • Lack of incentive. If the project has been imposed upon you, it may not be consistent with your own interests.
  • Perfectionism. Unreachable standards will discourage the beginning of a task, and remember - perfection is unattainable.
  • Evaluation anxiety. It's easy to become overly concerned by someone's response to your work.
  • Ambiguity. It's difficult to start a project if you're unsure of what's expected of you.
  • Fear of the unknown. If you're venturing into a new field, not knowing what to expect can inhibit your enthusiasm to start.
  • Inability to handle the task. You may avoid a task completely if you feel you lack the training or skill to tackle it.

PROCRASTINATION TAKES MANY FORMS
Once you have acknowledged your procrastination (and the emotions that go with it), and you have analyzed the causes, you need to identify how you procrastinate. Here are some examples:

  1. Do you act as though, if ignored, the task will go away?
  2. Do you underestimate what's involved in achieving the task? Do you tell yourself that you'll grasp the concept quickly and so don't need to start right away?
  3. Do you allow yourself to believe that a mediocre performance will do (e.g. that you can squeeze into medical school a 3.3 GPA almost as easily as with a 4.0 GPA)?
  4. Do you deceive yourself by thinking you'll be satisfied with a lower goal?
  5. Do you believe that "minor" delays (even though they may be repeated) are acceptable?
  6. Do you maintain a state of unproductive readiness to work (e.g. taking your books on vacation) but never actually do anything?
  7. Do you write and re-write one portion of the paper instead of progressing with even a draft of the whole thing?
  8. Do you become paralyzed by choice, and take so long to decide on the paper's topic that you have no time to write it?
WHAT TO DO ABOUT PROCRASTINATION
If you recognize yourself in the above, here are some suggestions:
  • Extract from the above examples those principles which apply to you. Write them down.
  • Make honest decisions about your work. Weigh the consequences of various amounts of investment in a project and find the optimal return for your investment. This step exposes intentional reasons for avoiding work. Admit to any reasons so exposed. Settle upon reasonable goals and accept the responsibilities involved in meeting those goals.
  • Work to acquire an adequate understanding of what is necessary to accomplish the task.
  • Develop an overview of the entire project and visualize the steps that are needed to reach completion. Devote only that much time which is appropriate for each step.
EFFECTIVE PLANNING
  • Segment the task.
  • Distribute the small steps reasonably within a given time frame.
  • Intersperse these steps with breaks for recreation and relaxation.
  • Monitor your progress on the small steps and reassess time commitments as necessary.
  • Be reasonable in your expectations of yourself - settle for less than perfection!

View Text-only Version Text-only Updated: 12/17/08
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