2-5 Getting Past Procrastination

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Steel's ideas were combined into a very helpful flow chart by program management analyst Alex Vermeer. For example, when I was writing the book, Mindshift in preparation for doing this MOOC, I was doing a lot of travel around the world, meeting learners and talking with researchers. Finally, remember to use the information in Alex's full flow chart and Piers Steel useful book.

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The Pomodoro Technique is a powerful tool to help guard against procrastination. But it can also help to take a bit of a step back when you catch yourself procrastinating to look at the bigger picture. Researcher Piers Steel has analyzed many of the different motivators and demotivators of procrastination, which he’s written about in his book, The Procrastination Equation. Basically, Steel has found that you get yourself motivated to perform a task. Say to, write a report for work or to prepare for an examination at the university when you expect a reward or success. So you want to do what you can to increase the expectancy of success and the certainty of being rewarded. You also get motivated when you value the task and the task is pleasant. So you want to do what you can to increase the value and the pleasantness of the task. But on the other hand, you get unmotivated to perform a task when you get distracted or lose focus when you’re affected by impulsiveness. So you want to do what you can to remove distractions and maintain your focus. Steel’s ideas were combined into a very helpful flow chart by program management analyst Alex Vermeer. Basically, to get a handle on procrastination, you want to notice when your procrastination. Be specific about what you’re avoiding. And to get motivated you’ll want to focus on one of the three areas we just mentioned to increase expectancy, to increase value, or to decrease impulsiveness. So, how would you, for example, increase value? Well, one way is to find a greater meaning in what you’re working on. And you do that, for example, by setting and reviewing your major life’s goals. And asking yourself how they connect with what you’re doing. You might also find a way to get into the flow with the material. Make sure that what you’re doing is not to tough, or too easy. And sometimes it helps to create a sense of competition. You can compete against yourself, against your colleagues or you can just turn what you’re doing into a game in whatever way you’d like. There’s a lot more to Vermeer’s chart of course. It’s important to keep energized, maybe by moving around a little, splashing some cold water in your face, putting on a little low-key music. And again, it’s also useful to create a reward for yourself. More generally, do what you can to keep your brain healthy. Add accountability, and find passion in what you’re working on. Now, to increase your sense of expectancy. Remember that if you don’t do anything, it guarantees failure. But this means you should pat yourself on the back when you succeed. It’s also important to be inspired and to be sure to plan ahead as much as possible. Another helpful strategy is to log your procrastination habits, and check your mindset. Have you inadvertently told yourself you just don’t have the talent instead of telling yourself you can develop the talent? You can also work to reduce your impulsivity. The key here is to set a realistic goal and break it down into tiny little doable pieces. When you’re working on one of those pieces, set a timer. If you can’t do a 25 minute Pomodoro, just start with 5 minutes. Eliminate temptations and distractions like your phone or social media. Set up helpful routines and habits. Use goal reminders and make your goals visible, perhaps by putting them on your mirror so you can see them every morning. Stop trying to suppress distracting thoughts that pop up, instead acknowledge them and let them go right on by. And of course, keep track of your progress so you can feel good about your accomplishments. There’s one more thing with relation to procrastination. When you’re learning something, especially if it’s new and difficult, it’s not a good idea to procrastinate. Although you can sometimes really focus under the stress of impending deadline. That stress can also be uncomfortable and counterproductive, making it harder to learn something difficult. More than that, it takes time to grow the new neural synapses that form the foundation of any learning. This is why, as we’ve noted before, it’s important to space out your learning, doing a little every day, rather than trying to cram it all in on one short deadline. Your brain can only grow so many new synaptic connections in a day. And you also need many days of learning, and accompanying nights of good sleep, in order to effectively consolidate the material you’ve been learning. If you try to cram your learning, you’re laying a poor foundation. When the learning’s easy, like at the beginning of a course you’re taking, it can seem okay to procrastinate and cram. But gradually, as the course goes on, your weak foundation will start showing itself. You’ll start to think you just don’t have a knack for understanding the material when it isn’t that at all. You actually just haven’t put the time in to properly understanding and learning it. Sometimes, however, procrastination can be productive. This often relates to tasks where you’re synthesizing information. For example, when I was writing the book, Mindshift in preparation for doing this MOOC, I was doing a lot of travel around the world, meeting learners and talking with researchers. If I’d started writing too early, I wouldn’t have given myself the time I needed to properly gather enough information. I had to give myself time to make sure I collected enough of the right data before I started drawing conclusions. Believe it or not, some learner’s biggest challenge is that they want to dive right into writing a report or solving a problem without doing proper preparation. So this kind of, productive procrastination, where you’re gathering your knowledge base, is very important. In the end, if you feel overwhelmed by everything you’ve got to do, just focus on one thing, and keep track of what works best. Finally, remember to use the information in Alex’s full flow chart and Piers Steel useful book. Happy Mindshift.

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