Edmonds: How to fight the urge to procrastinate

McCoy Edmonds, Staff Writer

Procrastination haunts all but the most elite of us. It is persistent, seductive and easy. But it’s also a choice and it’s not one that has to be made. Battling procrastination is not for the weak of heart. It’s a decision to fight one of the most pervasive influences in your life. It’s freeing knowing you can get your work done on your own time instead of whenever your brain allows you.

A good way to begin fighting the urge to procrastinate is acknowledging the cause. There are many causes of procrastination related to mental health: ADHD, depression and anxiety to name some of the most challenging. Going to therapy might the first step for some. Getting help on the other issues in your life will help you focus on your longer term goals.

For those without mental roadblocks, the second step is simply making the choice that you want to stop the habit. Once you decide you’re willing to start the often slow uphill battle against your own brain, not only are you the toughest, coolest person ever, but you’re also taking a huge step towards your goal. One of the biggest and easiest ways to battle procrastination is to reward yourself when you do well. Dragging yourself down with “should’ve” and “could’ve” is not fair to you and is only going to make the habits worse.

Telling yourself you could’ve done more or you should’ve gotten a better grade only demeans and undermines the work you did put in, the mental energy you spent. Of course we can always improve but try telling ourselves we can do better, we are able to keep doing better. This switch in thinking helps your brain motivate itself to try harder and do better work.

Once you’ve taken the first step of deciding to combat procrastination the next step is to get a calendar of some type and write down the due dates for assignments and other important events. Some people may have great memories, but we’re all only human. At some point, we’re going to slip up and forget something. It’s also harder to procrastinate if you’ve got a written reminder.

Breaking down your big tasks into smaller tasks is also a useful strategy to put off procrastination. Can’t write your twelve-page paper? Attempt to write three- to four-page papers. Have a ton of reading? Read a couple pages at a time then watch a short YouTube video before reading the next couple pages. Got to find an internship? Brainstorm one day, research those ideas the next, narrow down your choices the next and apply the day after.

Any big task can be broken down into smaller, more manageable ones. Thinking about the huge task ahead only goes to intimidate and scare you. So instead, set due dates for each smaller task and reward yourself every time you complete it. Before you even have time to think about the final project, it’ll be 90 percent done.

Thirdly, pick the right reward for you. As far as rewards go, they don’t have to be anything big, they just have to be special. Anything can be a reward: ice cream, video games, shopping, texting, drawing, even going out with friends.

However, be wary. If you watch YouTube all the time, watching a video won’t actually feel like a reward. If you don’t let yourself watch Netflix until all your homework is done, completing the task will be rewarding and the idea of watching your TV show will motivate you during the work.

But keep in mind that the reward should match the task. Rewarding yourself with an hour of TV after reading three pages of a large reading assignment is not a good use of the reward system. It slows you down rather than helping you move forward.

Likewise, letting yourself hang out with friends only after you’ve finished a huge project is not a fair reward either. Social contact is as important as food and sleep so denying yourself that for long periods of time is damaging.  A big completed project earns something bigger like a dinner out with friends or a movie night with ice cream. Rewards are about giving yourself a pat on the back for good work and should not be used to procrastinate more and affect your well-being.

Procrastination isn’t easy to get out off, but with determination, planning and rewards you can go a long way to taking your life and your time back into your own hands.