Before training as a psychologist I was an anxiety sufferer and procrastinator. Even the simplest tasks could be overwhelming and the source of stress and discomfort. I would have to expend great amounts of energy to get moving or start projects. For many people suffering from anxiety, thoughts such as “what if I mess up” or “I’ll never be able to get it all done” lead to procrastination, rushed effort and missed deadlines. Rather than improving results, the procrastination results in increased worry, stress and last-minute all-nighters. Sometimes, the avoidance of specific tasks altogether. Here are a few simple tips for dealing with procrastinations of this type:
- 1. Break the task or project down into steps
It’s much easier to visualize and think about how you can complete a first step than a whole project. You might not know how to get from step A to step Z, but step A to B could be within your grasp.
- 2. Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good
Every artist or researcher knows that their work is imperfect. At some point they look at what they’ve created and decide that it’s good enough. Don’t be too perfectionistic. If you give it a shot, you can always improve what you have later. For example, I’m writing this blog and will probably tweek it later but just putting my fingers to the keyboard is a good first step. (Maybe I’ll leave this part as is).
- 3. Reward yourself
After you’ve taken some action on a task, give yourself a small reward. Psychologists have found that small rewards can get people to continue a desired behavior. So after you complete the first few steps on your task, reward yourself.
- 4. Be mindful
Try to keep your focus on the present task or project you are working on at this time. Your thoughts can be the source of inspiration or distress. For example, you will be more efficient paying attention to today’s homework assignment rather than worrying about how you will do on an exam that is several weeks away.
- 5. Be gentle
Anxious people are often hard on themselves. They beat themselves up for avoiding tasks but also aren't convinced they will do an adequate job in the first place, which leads to that same avoidance. Be gentle with yourself. You are doing the best you can. Be a chearleader rather than a critic.