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The hidden success behind procrastinating

The hidden success behind procrastinating

We’re all familiar with procrastination in some form or other; some of us much more than others and for many different reasons.  The question I ask, is not, why do we procrastinate, but rather what does it mean when we do? It’s quite different. There’s a wealth of information on the topic giving tips and advice on how to overcome this destructive tendency, yet many of us still find ourselves unable to do anything about it. What are we missing?

Where to begin?

Having a better understanding of what procrastination is, what causes it, and what effects it may be having on your life is a must in overcoming it and developing more productive life patterns, but there is something else we might be missing too. We tend to associate procrastination solely with laziness that cannot be helped, but this is often not the case. Procrastination can in fact be helped and actually, help us. With the right strategies it is possible to achieve higher productivity levels that lead to success, as well as to a stress-free lifestyle – even if we procrastinate.

The truth…

The truth is that no matter how great we are at time management, we all occasionally have to put off tasks and activities; but it’s more about not taking action on life-long desires, letting opportunities pass you by or not doing what you really want to and feeling lost as to why – this can happen to the best of us. However, you know you have a serious problem when procrastination starts taking over your life, so much so that it disrupts your path to success.

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Let’s look at it on two different levels:

Procrastination on a Psychological Level:

Dealing with procrastination requires more than simply following a set of time management skills – time management strategies can only work once you’ve discovered the root of your specific problems. Discovering the complex, underlying psychological reasons behind your behaviour is the key to dealing with procrastination and eventually adopting productive time management skills. It is not a time management issue as much as it is an emotional one.

When we are under pressure, lack confidence, or have various fears and anxieties, we often use procrastination as a self-protection strategy. Procrastination allows us to cope with our fears and control the outcome of our actions. Even though results may be disappointing, we use it to avoid  being judged by others, and to make sure that our sense of our own ability is not threatened; if we do not meet expectations, it gives us the excuse of not having enough time.

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We also often procrastinate when we lack the motivation to do something and wait for the “right time” or for inspiration to strike, until it is finally much too late to do a good job. We tell ourselves we could have done a good job if we had enough time to; this way, our self-image remains intact and is not compromised, even though we created such a situation in the first place and set ourselves up to failure.

Procrastination on a Neurological Level:

When we feel exceptionally lazy, there is a battle going on between two parts in the brain; the conflict is between the limbic system that seeks pleasure, and the pre-frontal cortex that is more interested in planning and forward thinking. You can gain the control over which part wins.

On a neurological level, procrastination is said to be emotionally driven; it stems from our inner desire to protect ourselves from various negative emotions (fear of failure and so on).  Simply put, when we feel emotionally overwhelmed by challenging/demanding tasks, the amygdala region in the brain reacts by inducing the fight-or-flight response, which as we know, floods our body with adrenaline. The adrenaline then dulls our pre-frontal cortex (and other planning and reasoning parts of the brain) and leaves us at the mercy of our emotional impulses.

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The pleasure you get in the beginning of procrastination improves your mood, and your body produces dopamine – this hormone is a key player in the encouragement of reward-motivated actions. When you fall into a pattern of procrastination, no matter how negative the results are, your brain often ends up stimulating you to repeat the action – this can result in difficult-to-break cycles of procrastination.

The Procrastination Cycle:

Now that you’re more aware of the psychological and neurological processes that occur during procrastination, you can see how this cycle begins and why it is so difficult to break, with so many contributing factors. You may start out enthusiastic about a project and feel confident about your abilities and schedule, only to be held back by the same overwhelming pattern when the time comes to actually begin the work. This cycle can be damaging to your self-confidence and wears away your self-esteem and determination. It is important to recognize that even though it will be difficult to break the cycle, it has been overcome by countless individuals, and you can do it too!

Where is the hidden success?

If you’ve tried hard to break through the cycle but you are having no luck, you may be feeling like there’s something missing from the equation. What tends to happen is that when we give into procrastination, we walk away feeling despondent and beat ourselves up – then we just do it all over again.

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Use your new-found information on the psychology and neurology of procrastination to dig deeper into your inner self – could it be that your procrastination is the result of an unresolved personal issue? The answer to this question could be the key to moving forward in your life. If you procrastinate because you are not challenging yourself when your limbic system is overpowering, that is very different from procrastinating on those things which you have desired for a longer period, but can’t seem take action.

The fact is that when you need to actually work on/confront/admit or have awareness on a deeper issue – 90% of the time it is not obvious to you – the only symptom you see is procrastination. What people don’t know, is that through a series of asking yourself the right questions – you WILL most likely – get that A-HA moment – when suddenly you realize what is actually holding you back, and then the resistance immediately starts to fade and you can focus on what you really need to, to move forward. Break away from your procrastination cycle, stop going around in circles, and find your path to success by looking for the hidden reason deeper than the ones you always read about. It is not as simple as a lack of motivation or fear at times.

Learning to manage and use procrastination to your advantage can help you lead a healthier lifestyle and achieve success in all areas of your life. Unresolved issues can hold you back, but only if you let them, it is your choice.  There is a hidden secret that only procrastination can reveal, we just need to leverage and understand how our minds are communicating with us more.

“Nothing is easy, but then again, who wants nothing”

More by this author

Kirstin O´Donovan

Certified Life and Productivity Coach, Founder and CEO of TopResultsCoaching

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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