Ask Asad: How should I stop myself from falling into the trap of procrastination?

I am a constant disappointment to my parents who have always supported me through thick and thin


Asad Shafi August 21, 2017

Dear Asad,

I got an admission into the Computer Science programme of a reputable university of the country in 2014. I am an average student and used to pass with normal grades. However, there have been times when I did not study as much as I should have and ended up getting C’s, D’s and F’s on my transcripts.

My problem is that I am a procrastinator and I get distracted very easily. This has led me to wake up each morning with an overwhelming sense of guilt since I am a continuous source of disappointment to my parents who are hardworking people and have always supported me through thick and thin. 

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Please tell me how I can get out of this mess and stop myself from falling into the trap of procrastination.

A procrastinator

 

 

Dear procrastinator,

Everyone struggles with procrastination occasionally. It can be hard to work on major projects or assignments that we do not enjoy. Procrastination can cause intense feelings of shame, guilt, or anxiety about our habits. These feelings can sap our energies because we end up wasting a lot of time and ultimately, feel guilty about not completing the actual task.

If you are a chronic procrastinator, you must be familiar with the pain and stress that goes along with putting things off. Fortunately, modern psychology has discovered many of the reasons why we procrastinate. Below are some techniques that you can try to fight procrastination.

Be kind to yourself

The more stressed out you are, the harder it will be for you to study. Be kind to yourself when you are struggling with procrastination. Think about how you would treat someone else who was struggling with getting his or her work done. You would probably be kind and would try to talk to them nicely about how to go about completing their tasks. Do the same to yourself. Do not beat yourself up about procrastinating. Admit that you have put off your work up to this point and make a fresh start.

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Overcome your anxieties

Think about exactly why you keep avoiding starting or completing your university tasks or any other task. Is it because you know it will be difficult? Focus on understanding what is scaring you from starting the tasks. Come up with the ways to counteract that anxiety.

Tip 1: If you are having trouble with anxiety, talk to a friend or classmate. It is likely that they have gone through the same phase and so, can help you.

Tip 2: You can also try seeing a students’ counsellor. Find out if your university has mental health support services for students who can help you develop strategies to defeat procrastination.

Avoid fear of failure

Many procrastinators delay their tasks because they are afraid of failure. Often, this fear is related to your self-esteem. You may feel that if you turn in a less-than-perfect project, it will damage your self-worth. Try to reframe ‘failure’ as an ‘opportunity for growth.’ Even the most brilliant minds have made mistakes. An error is a part of life. However, when you make mistakes, you learn from them. People who are able to see their mistakes, as opportunities to learn and grow rather than permanent failures, are less likely to procrastinate.

Build your self-discipline

One thing that several procrastinators have common is low self-discipline. Pushing yourself to do unpleasant tasks is hard but flex your self-control muscles and go for them. Researchers suggest that the more often you practice self-control, the stronger your willpower muscles are. You can build your self-discipline through regular exercise, healthy eating habits, and developing a good sleep schedule.

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Avoid perfectionism

Perfectionism fuels procrastination as they both are linked. Many people mistakenly believe that perfectionism is beneficial. Real perfectionism can cause distress and self-worth issues. Our obsession with perfection can cause us to procrastinate in a roundabout way. Sometimes we will work hard on a project only to keep revising or fixing it until the deadline is over. Embrace that you only need to do your best and then submit your work. Do not procrastinate submitting your work because you think it might not be perfect. It probably is not, but it can be great and ready to turn in without being perfect.

Change work environment

Sometimes our work environment is the reason we tend to procrastinate. If you find yourself working in the middle of a mess that drives you crazy, you need to change your environment. Minimising interruptions will help you actually be able to study and not procrastinate.

Tip 1: Try devoting 10 minutes to do a quick ‘tidy’ of your study space. This will give you breathing room and a sense of accomplishment.

Tip 2: It is important to have a dedicated space for studies that is different from the one where you relax. 

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Remove distractions

This may mean switching venues altogether. If you study in your room and you are tempted by something on the TV, then go study in a library.

Tip: Turn off your phone and hide it especially if you like to check your messages, emails, or news.

Pep talk for motivation

‘Self-talking’ is a great way to calm yourself down, get focused, and meet your goals. Talk to yourself, using your name. Tell yourself that you can (and will) do this.

Make a to-do list

Make a list of all the tasks you need to accomplish. That list should include both short-term and long-term goals. Seeing them in written form will help you plan a course of actions to meet them.

Tip: Keep this list on a paper instead of your phone. Writing tasks on a paper will help you figure out how to achieve them.

Prioritise

Prioritise your work in order of importance and/or by a deadline. Always sort and rank your tasks with the highest priority at the top. You will feel better as you complete the most important tasks first. This will motive you for your next task.

Tip: Make sure to focus your list on things you like to put off, not just on things you do regularly. 

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Make a schedule

If you try to do a project in one go and on the day when it is due, you will end up doing a bad job. If a task it is due in over a month, work a little on it daily. If it is due in one week, dedicate a part of your day to complete a major part of it. Design a schedule that allows time for activities you cannot cancel and make it so you have at least a bit of downtime.

Avoid multitasking

Multitasking makes you feel like you are accomplishing a lot, but it prevents you from finishing tasks quickly and effectively. Keep your attention on one goal at a time, and give it your all. This will also help you avoid getting overwhelmed by your busy schedule.

Make realistic micro-goals

Sometimes procrastination is the result of feeling overwhelmed with too many projects or having tasks with non-specific requirements or due dates. Instead of thinking about everything, you have to do as one big obstacle, break it all down into small parts. You will find that accomplishing micro-tasks provides a boost in your ‘can-do’ attitude.

Focus on starting, rather than finishing

When we focus on finishing something, we direct our attention to a vague and highly idealised future. Visualising a finished project is motivating for many, but for someone who is having a hard time starting a task, visualising a hard-to-grasp future can be overwhelming, even depressing. Focus on starting a task and not finishing it.

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Force yourself to begin task

This might seem overly simplistic, but even sitting down at your desk to start studying can help change your mindset and fight procrastination. The old saying that getting started is half the battle is true, especially if you struggle with procrastination.

Find something pleasant about tasks

Research suggests that if you can find something or anything positive or pleasant about a task, you will be less likely to procrastinate on it.

Start your day with toughest tasks

You will be most energised in the morning once you have eaten breakfast and woken up fully. Tackle the hardest thing on your docket right then. You will feel better once it is done, and then you can move on to a few easier tasks for the rest of the day.

Pomodoro Method

The ‘Pomodoro Method’ suggests setting a timer for a block of time (15 minutes), then taking a short break, then trying another block of study time. Try setting a timer for 15 minutes and tell yourself that during this time, you have to work as hard as you can. Regardless of how large the project is, you must work on it nonstop and give it your best. Although 15 minutes may not be enough to complete a task, it is still 15 minutes of work. Once you know you can work 15 minutes straight, try longer periods. This method fights procrastination effectively.

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Take mental health breaks

Sometimes a short break can help you refocus and stave off procrastination. Stand up, stretch, and use positive thinking to tell yourself that even though you have not accomplished as much as you wanted to at this point, but you will once you go back to work.

Step outside for light exercise

It can be depressing to be indoors all day. Step outside and take a short 5 to 10-minute walk in fresh air. This can help you combat procrastination. However, once you are inside, ensure that you go back to study.

Reward yourself

When you finish a work on your to-do list, reward yourself. This self-reinforcement will give you something to look forward to. Give yourself both time-rewards and task-rewards.

Tip 1: Do not get yourself a huge reward for a small task. Be honest with yourself and make your rewards match your effort.

Tip 2: Do not reward yourself early. Almost finished is not finished. Getting an early reward may distract you from actually finishing the task.

Join a study group

When you are working with others, it is no longer all about yourself. When you put something off you will look bad around in front of others who pushed through and worked. Furthermore, if they need help and you help them, you will know that you work will be rewarded by their appreciation.

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Have an accountability partner

If you have a friend or colleague who also struggles with procrastination then you might benefit from using each other as accountability partners. You can set up a friendly competition to see who can get further on their work, or you can simply use each other as a support. Being accountable to someone will help you stop procrastinating.

Write when you feel stuck

Procrastination frequently occurs when you cannot stop thinking about other things. Maybe you do not want to forget something or need to figure out the solution. Write down everything to organise your thoughts. You may discover the reasons why you are procrastinating while writing. Review your journal weekly. You may find that a singular stress is influencing your studies. Spend some time to find out ways and overcome the stress or deal with that problem.

Medical reason for procrastination

Finally, if your procrastinating is particularly bad and accompanied by other symptoms such as sadness or hyperactivity, you might benefit from talking to your doctor. ADHD, depression, and thyroid disorders are just a few of the many medical issues that can affect our ability to concentrate, focus, and be productive.

I hope the above steps will help you in overcoming procrastination.

All the best!

Asad

 

Asad is a counsellor, life coach, inspirational speaker and a personal-development expert. He advises on social, personal and emotional issues. You can send him your questions for this weekly column at [email protected] with “Ask Asad” mentioned in the subject line and provide as many details as possible.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Express Tribune.

COMMENTS (3)

happy | 4 years ago | Reply I really appreciate the effort u have put on this matter....great work by asad I must say
Zulfiqar | 4 years ago | Reply Nicely constructed. I can relate to all of your points. Believe me you are spot on with this article. I thank you from all of Procrastinators out there.
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