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Ten Tips for Turning Procrastination into Precrastination

Jan. 23, 2020 Psychology Today

(excerpts from Psychology Today)

Are you a procrastinator, pushing things off to a thousand tomorrows?  If you are, wouldn’t you rather be a precrastinator?  Precrastination is a playful new word I propose that literally means “before tomorrow”—in other words, doing things today rather than tomorrow.

You’re probably familiar with the familiar Ben Franklin adage that we shouldn’t put off until tomorrow what we can do today. This maxim still rings true. But why is it so difficult to put Ben’s advice into practice? 

Isn’t it Just Laziness?

The short answer is no, as laziness is not a thing but a description of a pattern of behavior, merely a label we attach to certain behaviors.  If we say that Mary doesn’t get her work in on time because she is lazy, we are merely saying that we have noticed a pattern in her behavior of failing to get her work in on time, and we then use the label to explain her lateness.  Why doesn’t she get her work done on time?  Because she is lazy.  How do we know she’s lazy?  Because she doesn’t get her work done on time.  This is a circular argument, leading us round and round, but explaining nothing.  We need to understand why May doesn’t complete her work when it is due and not confuse a label we apply to her behavior with an explanation. Better yet, we need to help Mary get unstuck so that she can break this self-defeating pattern of behavior.

“But I’m just disorganized “

Getting things done requires organization. We need to organize our time and the materials we need to finish a report, complete a Master’s thesis, prepare a work proposal, and accomplish countless other tasks.  You might think, “I’m just not organized” and let it go at that, using this self-label as a justification for inaction (rationalization, really).  But it can just as easily be a prompt to action, if followed up with a prescription for change, as when you say to yourself, “Yes, I know I struggle with organization.  So what do I need to do to get organized?”  A cluttered desk can serve as cue to action, to sorting things out, putting things in their respective folders and creating a filing system that allows you to find materials needed to organize your work efforts.  For any given task, create a list of the materials and supplies you need to complete it.  Organize them on your desktop and then get to work. 

10 Tips to Get Started with Getting Started

Once you accept yourself as an imperfect human being trying to do your best, and whose efforts sometimes fall short of expectations, you remove a major impediment to getting yourself back on track.  So here are ten tips designed to the prefix “pro” in procrastination to “pre”:

1.       Focus on what you can do TODAY, not on what you didn’t do yesterday.  Don’t become mired in the past.  What’s done is, well, done. Make today count.  

2.       The trick to getting started is. . . getting started.  Establish a regular work routine rather than just waiting around for inspiration to strike. Before getting started, arrange your workspace so it is free of distractions. Leave your phone in another room. Plan to start with small steps, anything to get the ball moving.  Need to draft a report?  Start by organizing your files in desktop folders on your computer. Once you get started, you may find that things begin to fall into place. Once a process starts in motion, it tends to stay in motion. This harkens back to Sir Isaac Newton’s first Law of Motion that a body at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted upon by some outside force, while a moving object tends to stay in motion (unless it is acted upon by an outside force). If you are that body at rest, start by putting the Newtonian ball in motion by just getting moving. 

3.       Break down larger tasks into more manageable subtasks.  Create a list of subgoals. Accomplish the subgoals and the final goal becomes achievable. Focus on the present subgoal. Don’t worry about subgoals further down the list. 

4.       Start with small, easily accomplished subgoals, and build up from there.

5.       Credit yourself for whatever you accomplish today, however small it may be.  Don’t focus on things you still need to do. Credit yourself for what you did do. Don’t begrudge yourself for what you didn’t do. Just carry over any unfinished tasks to the next day. 

6.       Break down tasks into 15-30-minute morsels.  Don’t bite off more than you can swallow at any one time.

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