Written by Charneise Alston, M.Ed
While we are all guilty of putting off things from time to time, it is important to seek out ways to improve productivity in our lives. In our attempt to do so, we must eliminate our tendency to procrastinate from completing those less desirable tasks, assignments, or projects. I define procrastination as habitual avoidance of completing undesirable tasks by use of distractions and/or excuses. The keyword is undesirable because procrastination is fueled by feelings. When we mistakenly decide to allow our emotions to take rank over goals, we become idle and hinder our own achievement.
The constant privilege of life is that we are afforded ongoing opportunities to improve and change our unwanted ways. However, since we all have an expiration date in life, it’s best that we do not put off what can be handled today. Procrastinators have a distorted perception of time, which is why much of human productivity, motivation and achievement is reserved for “tomorrow.” The only problem is that many of us never get around to completing what we propose to do once tomorrow arrives. As a result, task aversion becomes a regular habit which could lead to heightened stress, potential health problems, and subpar performance.
During my freshman year of college, I would always wait until the night before an assignment was due to muster the motivation to complete my assignments. I somehow thought that by studying for an exam at the last-minute, I would retain the most information. I was a “crammer” and my intense studying over a short period of time often led to me missing my exams due to oversleeping. I would then have to email my professor and request, sometimes beg, for a make-up date to complete my exam. My ability to make-up for a missed exam was solely based upon my professors’ discretion. Unbeknown to me, my mother unexpectedly received a letter from West Chester University informing her that I was in danger of being placed on academic probation if I did not show improvement. Needless to say, after one cautionary conversation with my mother, I quickly became an honor student for the remainder of my time at West Chester University. I kid you not, shortly thereafter, I maintained a 4.0 grade point average each semester.
So, how did I shift gears from procrastination to achievement? Obviously, I did not lack the ability to excel in my academics. By no means, I was always a smart girl but lazily relied on my ability to perform without adequate preparation. I realized that task completion is a byproduct of motivation. I was a seventeen year old girl enjoying my freshman year to the fullest but unfortunately lost sight of what mattered most, obtaining my degree. Visualizing my graduation day kept me motivated and increased the value of academics.
As a school counselor, after the halfway mark, I deliberately encourage my students to endure the monotonous demands of school. During this particular time of the school year, many students have lost their zeal and are no longer inclined to do their best. So, I became their biggest cheerleader at school because I discovered the solution to help curb procrastination. Here is the formula: motivation plus sense of importance equals productivity.
Now that you know the formula, make it applicable to your life. For example, I love to clean my house because it gives me a sense of pride whenever I walk through the front door. However, certain chores such as washing dishes, taking out the trash, and gardening are my least desirable tasks. Since motivation is inspired, I find ways to make undesirable tasks bearable. When it comes to a long tedious task like gardening, I break it down in chunks. I always make gardening a two-day task because I refuse to be outside doing yard work for more than two hours at a time. On the first day, I simply spray my weeds. The following day, I put on my gloves and pull all the weeds from my flower beds. Since this is a strenuous activity, I listen to music to keep me motivated during the process.
Find what motivates your behavior to combat your negative feelings and thoughts from talking you out of being responsible. Don’t allow your feelings to dictate what you are willing to do, responsibilities have no regard for your feelings. Rewards are great motivators so find small indulgences that you enjoy to help keep you on track. I frequently exercise at the gym, which can get mundane real quick. There are plenty of days when I lack motivation and want to drive past the gym instead of entering the gym. To prevent putting off my physical fitness goals, I seek out different motivators to keep me on track. When I did not know any better, I used to complete an intense, hour-long workout before rewarding myself with a king-sized pack of Peanut Chews. Don’t judge me… I didn’t realize at the time that my motivator was counterproductive to my fitness goal.
What you deem as important also plays a critical part in productivity. It’s natural to disregard and sometimes forget the less important tasks at times. However, we must learn to find value in the undesirable tasks to accompany our motivation. As I was falling short during my freshman year of college, I had to quickly understand the collective value of each of my classes. By not losing sight of the overall picture of me graduating, I was able to redefine the value of my freshman classes.
For some of us, we don’t intentionally procrastinate but somehow the day escapes us and it often feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day. Trust me, I have been there too. Since all tasks require time, proper scheduling can be a lifesaver. Thanks to technology, our electronic devices have multiple alerts and notifications to remind us of personal deadlines that we can set to start different tasks. While in the midst of doing tasks, we must avoid distractions. Those same electronic devices can prevent you from completing tasks if you are constantly answering calls, reading emails/texts, or scrolling through social media. Be in control of your environment and create an atmosphere that helps productivity.
As a parent, I often operate in make-it-happen mode. After a long day at work, I still have to cook dinner, feed my daughter, bathe my daughter, review pre-kindergarten activities, read a bedtime story, and tuck my daughter into bed before even tending to my own needs. I truly believe that there is a certain grace extended to all parents because we get the job done, even at our own expense. There is a certain level of tired that one cannot even fathom until becoming a parent. Environmental elements keep me on track like playing soft music in the background to calm my nerves, dim lighting is another preference, keeping a tray of fresh fruit to replenish me as I go from task to task, having a good book by my bed, and lighting candles in my bathroom as I shower are all simple, little rewards to keep me afloat.
I learned that having a good team of people can also raise productivity. It’s extremely hard for me to procrastinate with the type of friends that I have in my village. I have friends who call on certain days to make sure that I have written my blog for the week. I also have friends who call at certain times to hear my heavy panting to prove that I am at the gym. Accountability will keep you on track. Delegate responsibilities amongst your friends to help you stay on track. My friends are extremely cautious about what they say around me because they know that I will, without hesitation, make follow-up calls to gauge their progress.
In closing, we all are familiar with the old saying, “Procrastination is deadly.” As an adult, I have grown to understand why it is so damaging. Procrastination prevents you from ever becoming your best self. We need to stop being passive about our responsibilities when putting them off for a fictitious “tomorrow.” Create a standard of excellence in all that you set out to accomplish. Make every attempt to complete tasks by a deadline. Whenever a date is added to a task, it becomes a goal. Whenever steps of action are added to a goal, it becomes a plan. Benjamin Franklin said it best, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”
“Procrastination is the thief of time.”