What’s going to stop you from achieving those New Year’s Goals? If you’re like most people – the answer is procrastination. And it is never helpful. Research shows that procrastinators end up with higher stress, more illness and lower grades at university. In my workshops and keynote engagements, this is one of the topics that consistently pops up.
Why do we procrastinate?
People procrastinate for many reasons. The main ones are that a) a task is too difficult, so they make themselves feel good by doing things that give them an immediate reward, or b) the reward or consequence of not doing the task is too far away – there is actually not enough stress to get them motivated.
To sum it up very simply, when we procrastinate, we are doing it because we would rather have something right now, than wait for something in the future. We opt for a smaller, sooner reward, instead of doing something that will deliver a larger, later reward.
What does the smaller sooner reward look like?
Let’s say you should really get started on a project that’s due in four weeks’ time. But instead, you decide to check facebook and answer some emails that aren’t particularly urgent. What just happened?
Now, you could have a bigger reward later in the future. If you did some work on that project, then you may not get stressed out down the track when the deadline comes around. Or you will probably do a better job because you won’t be so rushed, and this might lead to a promotion or at least making your life a lot easier.
But you didn’t do that. You took the smaller, sooner reward.
You opted for something that you could get right now. You got some social connection (facebook) or maybe a sense of achievement (answered some emails…. tick!), or maybe you just got to do something easy, which made you feel comfortable. Either way you got a little reward right now.
And it’s not just you. A lot of people do this. We are actually hard-wired to believe that something we can get right now is more important than something we can get in the future. It’s evolutionary biology. Scientists call it Temporal Discounting
What to do about it:
But there are some simple ways to beat procrastination, and boost performance:
1) Connect with your ‘future self’ more clearly
Simply try to imagine yourself in the future, having NOT worked on the project and being under enormous pressure because of the deadline. Imagine your boss getting angry at you, or those sleepless nights. Then maybe also imagine how good you’ll feel if you actually do a great job, with a bunch of time to spare.
2) Manufacturing self-imposed deadlines
Set a timer for no more than 30 minutes. Ask yourself ‘what could I get done in the next 30 mins that will help me get closer to getting this project done. It doesn’t matter how small the task, but if you just get started, you might find that you continue to work on it once you build some momentum. The key is don’t get started on the simple task – get started on the harder task.
Try these things to beat procrastination in 2017. They’re simple but they are very effective at tricking our hard-wiring.
* Tony Wilson is a workplace performance expert focussed on helping leaders build the environment for high performance. His insights into performance science and it's application in the workplace will make you re-think the way that you approach leadership and culture change. Tony has an MBA and a BSc majoring in physiology and combines the two for a different perspective. He is also the author of Jack and the Team that Couldn't See, and is highly sought after for workshops, programs and keynotes around the Asia Pacific Region. www.teamcorp.com.au