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5 Times Procrastinating Can Make You More Productive

5 Times Procrastinating Can Make You More Productive

Procrastination. From the moment we hear that five-syllable word, we learn it’s a bad thing. (This is possibly because the first time we hear it, it’s been levelled at us by a frustrated-yet-well-meaning parent or teacher seeking only to help us achieve our “full potential”). Procrastinating, we learn, is a guilty habit we all hope to break ourselves of – it’s something lazy people do and high achievers don’t. There is a ton of advice on how we can stop procrastinating.

But it’s hard to kick the habit when there seem to be endless incidents of procrastination waiting to happen: in school or work (why do they give 4 weeks for a project I can get done in a night if they don’t expect me to do it the night before?!) and life (doing my taxes early is really just a waste of time). So, we procrastinate doing out taxes and that big project. And then we chastise ourselves for lack of discipline. But wait – is this bad reputation really deserved? Is it true you’ll never be super productive (and reach your full potential!) until we fix this?

Procrastination ain’t so bad.

First, take some small comfort in the fact that human beings are hardwired to procrastinate. In part it’s because we have a tough time reconciling immediate wants with long-term shoulds. So we discount the future, big time – we overestimate how good it will feel to play video games and sit on the couch now, and underestimate how bad it will feel to put a rush order on that project 2 days from now.

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But it turns out there are some times procrastination can actually be an important signal – or a good strategy in itself.

So what should you do when thinking about starting a task incites an internal chorus of “I don’t wannaaaaa’s!!!” your three year old niece would be proud of? Or makes that garage you’ve been meaning to clean out look like a shiny nugget of opportunity by comparison?

1. Tune into your inner wisdom when you feel yourself procrastinate.

Is there are reason you’re putting off this task? Are you not sure it’s a good idea, like taking a big holiday with a new sig other, or starting a project you’re uncomfortable with? Sometimes this can be a signal. Listen to your gut. Start by going over why you thought the holiday was a good idea, or reviewing the plan for the project in detail. Make sure there aren’t any gaps that could be setting off your alarm bells.

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2. Are you procrastinating when making a big decision?

Research shows we make better decisions when we take the max time to make them. (Check out the popular book Wait for lots more good stuff on this topic). Stop. Process. Time and pain down the road can often be saved by investing more time upfront when making a decision.

3. Figure out how much time the task actually needs, sans procrastinating.

Work expands to fit the time you give it. Procrastination can keep tasks from taking more time they need. Some things may require creativity and artistry, while others just need to get done to a satisfactory level. Never start a task without giving yourself a time limit – even something you’ve never done before. Apps like Time 50 Best’s the Email Game are built entirely on this principle. Procrastinating can ‘help’ by resulting in a binding deadline which forcibly prevents you from wallowing on a particular item. It’s astounding how quickly your taxes get done at 11:45 pm on the last day…

So that’s great, but what does it mean for your procrastinating self? When is it safe – or even good – to put things off?

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Here are five times you can procrastinate and still come out on top.

1. When there are few variables.

Such as when there aren’t other people or missing information that might derail your ability to do things later under a time crunch. If the task just relies on you, and it’s something you’ve done before or know how long it will take, you’re probably good to go.

2. When you aren’t letting others down by being last minute.

Procrastinating can be destructive when it means you’re hurting your personal or professional reputation by causing others inconvenience, or worse. Throwing a wrench in other peoples’ plans is not good for your relationships. So going to the gym in the evening vs the morning because you didn’t feel like getting up early enough – not a big deal. Putting off revising a draft that the marketing team is waiting for – not a good idea.

3. When there’s a clear “good enough” hurdle.

Lots of tasks need to just get done with competence, rather than brilliance. Your taxes aren’t a work of great literary fiction (or they shouldn’t be!). Sometimes ‘just good enough’ really is good enough.

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4. When it’s a signal that something isn’t right.

Sometimes we postpone because we sense our plan isn’t the greatest, or we really haven’t bought into the outcome. Putting off training for a half-marathon is a lot harder if you’re truly excited about the idea of it, and it’s meaningful to you. If you really don’t like running and only signed up because friends did, then maybe it’s not a great use of (many, many, many!) hours of your time.

5. When you have the time.

If you’re stuck getting started, a creative solution will be right around the corner. Assuming you don’t need to finish the task immediately, let things percolate for a few hours or days. Better yet, do something that will help move your brain in the right direction – like listening to great music, or reading something inspiring.

All of these are legitimate times to procrastinate. But…the key to procrastinating productively: use the time to do something BETTER. Catching up on Game of Thrones will not improve your personal or professional life substantively (I hear you protesting. I’m right on this one, trust me.). Please, PLEASE use your putting off time for good. Like spending with your family or friends. Or working out. Or enhancing your skills. Super productive Stanford prof John Perry credits his success to ‘active procrastination’ – doing other important things you’d need to do anyway while putting off one particular task.

With that, happy procrastinating. (But if what you’re stalling is important, and you have clear direction, and will hurt you later if you don’t do it now? Then suck it up, grab a coffee and get started already!)

Featured photo credit: Sarangib via pixabay.com

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Last Updated on November 15, 2019

How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

Habits are hard to kill, and rightly so. They are a part and parcel of your personality traits and mold your character.

However, habits are not always something over-the-top and quirky enough to get noticed. Think of subtle habits like tapping fingers when you are nervous and humming songs while you drive. These are nothing but ingrained habits that you may not realize easily.

Just take a few minutes and think of something specific that you do all the time. You will notice how it has become a habit for you without any explicit realization. Everything you do on a daily basis starting with your morning routine, lunch preferences to exercise routines are all habits.

Habits mostly form from life experiences and certain observed behaviors, not all of them are healthy. Habitual smoking can be dangerous to your health. Similarly, a habit could also make you lose out on enjoying something to its best – like how some people just cannot stop swaying their bodies when delivering a speech.

Thus, there could be a few habits that you would want to change about yourself. But changing habits is not as easy as it seems, why?

What Makes It Hard To Change A Habit?

To want to change a particular habit means to change something very fundamental about your behavior.[1] Hence, it’s necessary to understand how habits actually form and why they are so difficult to actually get out of.

The Biology

Habits form in a place what we call the subconscious mind in our brain.[2]

Our brains have two modes of operation. The first one is an automatic pilot kind of system that is fast and works on reflexes often. It is what we call the subconscious part. This is the part that is associated with everything that comes naturally to you.

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The second mode is the conscious mode where every action and decision is well thought out and follows a controlled way of thinking.

A fine example to distinguish both would be to consider yourself learning to drive or play an instrument. For the first time you try learning, you think before every movement you make. But once you have got the hang of it, you might drive without applying much thought into it.

Both systems work together in our brains at all times. When a habit is formed, it moves from the conscious part to the subconscious making it difficult to control.

So, the key idea in deconstructing a habit is to go from the subconscious to the conscious.

Another thing you have to understand about habits is that they can be conscious or hidden.

Conscious habits are those that require active input from your side. For instance, if you stop setting your alarm in the morning, you will stop waking up at the same time.

Hidden habits, on the other hand, are habits that we do without realizing. These make up the majority of our habits and we wouldn’t even know them until someone pointed them out. So the first difficulty in breaking these habits is to actually identify them. As they are internalized, they need a lot of attention to detail for self-identification. That’s not all.

Habits can be physical, social, and mental, energy-based and even be particular to productivity. Understanding them is necessary to know why they are difficult to break and what can be done about them.

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The Psychology

Habits get engraved into our memories depending on the way we think, feel and act over a particular period of time. The procedural part of memory deals with habit formation and studies have observed that various types of conditioning of behavior could affect your habit formations.

Classical conditioning or pavlovian conditioning is when you start associating a memory with reality.[3] A dog that associates ringing bell to food will start salivating. The same external stimuli such as the sound of church bells can make a person want to pray.

Operant conditioning is when experience and the feelings associated with it form a habit.[4] By encouraging or discouraging an act, individuals could either make it a habit or stop doing it.

Observational learning is another way habits could take form. A child may start walking the same way their parent does.

What Can You Do To Change a Habit?

Sure, habits are hard to control but it is not impossible. With a few tips and hard-driven dedication, you can surely get over your nasty habits.

Here are some ways that make use of psychological findings to help you:

1. Identify Your Habits

As mentioned earlier, habits can be quite subtle and hidden from your view. You have to bring your subconscious habits to an aware state of mind. You could do it by self-observation or by asking your friends or family to point out the habit for your sake.

2. Find out the Impact of Your Habit

Every habit produces an effect – either physical or mental. Find out what exactly it is doing to you. Does it help you relieve stress or does it give you some pain relief?

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It could be anything simple. Sometimes biting your nails could be calming your nerves. Understanding the effect of a habit is necessary to control it.

3. Apply Logic

You don’t need to be force-fed with wisdom and advice to know what an unhealthy habit could do to you.

Late-night binge-watching just before an important presentation is not going to help you. Take a moment and apply your own wisdom and logic to control your seemingly nastily habits.

4. Choose an Alternative

As I said, every habit induces some feeling. So, it could be quite difficult to get over it unless you find something else that can replace it. It can be a simple non-harming new habit that you can cultivate to get over a bad habit.

Say you have the habit of banging your head hard when you are angry. That’s going to be bad for you. Instead, the next time you are angry, just take a deep breath and count to 10. Or maybe start imagining yourself on a luxury yacht. Just think of something that will work for you.

5. Remove Triggers

Get rid of items and situations that can trigger your bad habit.

Stay away from smoke breaks if you are trying to quit it. Remove all those candy bars from the fridge if you want to control your sweet cravings.

6. Visualize Change

Our brains can be trained to forget a habit if we start visualizing the change. Serious visualization is retained and helps as a motivator in breaking the habit loop.

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For instance, to replace your habit of waking up late, visualize yourself waking up early and enjoying the early morning jog every day. By continuing this, you would naturally feel better to wake up early and do your new hobby.

7. Avoid Negative Talks and Thinking

Just as how our brain is trained to accept a change in habit, continuous negative talk and thinking could hamper your efforts put into breaking a habit.

Believe you can get out of it and assert yourself the same.

Final Thoughts

Changing habits isn’t easy, so do not expect an overnight change!

Habits took a long time to form. It could take a while to completely break out of it. You will have to accept that sometimes you may falter in your efforts. Don’t let negativity seep in when it seems hard. Keep going at it slowly and steadily.

More About Changing Habits

Featured photo credit: Mel via unsplash.com

Reference

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