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Women at Work: How to put off procrastination

July 29, 2018

Procrastination: the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished.

Sometimes, procrastination takes place until the last minute before a deadline. Most readers know from past columns, I am a huge fan of time management, and I practice several habits that enhance my time management capabilities. I wish I could say procrastination was not in my vocabulary, but that would be a lie.

For instance, the Women at Work column is due to the publishers on Wednesday. It is now 11:35 p.m. on Wednesday night and I am just beginning to write. In fact, after most of my past Wednesday late nights have been consumed with writing my column due to my procrastinating self, I asked a friend to remind me on Tuesday to start writing. This evening I was admonishing him for not telling me, and he calmly said, “Yes, I did, I reminded you yesterday.” After a few seconds of silence, I had to admit he had indeed told me to write — a piece of advice clearly ignored.

So, why does one procrastinate? Thankfully, for people like myself who are not natural procrastinators, behavioral psychology research have revealed a phenomenon called “time inconsistency” which helps explain why procrastination seems to pull us in despite our best intentions.

If you are a natural procrastinator, let’s talk about how to stop procrastinating now. James Clear shares options such as these:

Make the rewards of taking action more immediate. If you can find a way to make the benefits of long-term choices more immediate, it will become easier to avoid procrastination. One of the best ways to bring future rewards into the present moment is with a strategy known as temptation bundling. Temptation bundling is a concept that came out of behavioral economic research performed by Katy Milkman at the University of Pennsylvania.

The basic format is this, “Only do (insert thing you love to do) while doing (think you are procrastinating on doing).

For example:

• Only listen to audiobooks or podcasts you love while exercising.

• Get a pedicure while reading work emails.

• Watch your favorite show while doing household chores.

• Eat at your favorite restaurant while having a meeting.

Another option is to make the consequences of procrastination more immediate. For example, if you are exercising alone, skipping your workout next week won’t impact your life much at all. Your health won’t deteriorate immediately because you missed that one workout. The cost of procrastinating on exercise only becomes painful after weeks and months of lazy behavior. However, if you commit to working out with a friend at 7 a.m. next Monday, then the cost of skipping your workout becomes more immediate. Miss this one workout and you look like a jerk.

And, option number three is to design your future actions. One of the favorite tools psychologists use to overcome procrastination is called a “commitment device.” Commitment devices can help you stop procrastinating by designing your future actions ahead of time.

For example, you can curb your future eating habits by purchasing food in individual packages rather than in the bulk size. You can stop wasting time on your phone by deleting games or social media apps.

Similarly, you can reduce the likelihood of mindless channel surfing by hiding your TV in a closet and only taking it out on big game days. You can voluntarily ask to be added to the banned list at casinos and online gambling sites to prevent future gambling sprees. You can build an emergency fund by setting up an automatic transfer of funds to your savings account. These are all examples of commitment devices that help reduce the odds of procrastination.

So now that you have read a few of these options to avoid procrastination, what will it take for you to get back on track to getting things done ahead of a deadline?

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