We all have days when we just can’t get anything done. We’ve all been there. You can’t seem to concentrate on anything, and you can think of at least a dozen other places that you’d rather be. So what to do? Theoretically, you’ve got 8 to 10 hours ahead of you, as you dread another long day.
You know that there is no sense in wasting your time by scrolling through your Instagram feed or posting on your college alumni message board, on how you think your team is going to do next year. You are keenly aware that you should be getting your work done. But how?
First, you might be interested to know that the act of procrastination is biological. Your limbic system, a dominant portion of your brain is there to help you stay away from unpleasant or potentially dangerous activities like avoiding a hornet’s nest while your mowing the grass or jumping up on the sidewalk to steer clear of a car that is going too fast in your neighborhood. That same limbic system that’s there to help you stay away from danger is also automatically sending you signals to move away from any task that you find distasteful like those financial spreadsheets, which are due at the end of the week or the logistics plan you owe your supervisor by the end of the day. The limbic system is particularly powerful, which could explain why you have such a difficult time developing habits that yield higher productivity.
In contrast, the prefrontal cortex, which is located right behind your forehead, is there is help you process and integrate information, as well as make decisions. This is the part of your brain that needs to be engaged when you are trying to get your work done. The bad news, the prefrontal cortex must be continuously stimulated and engaged, in order for you to stay productive. If not, your limbic system will take over and you will be back to procrastinating before you know it! In short, procrastination is your default position biologically.
So what should you do to fight your biology? Start off by doing the worst task first. Why? It turns out that all the stress and worry surrounding the task you despise most is very draining. All of the energy you could have been using to work on that dreaded task is diverted towards worrying, even if you don’t realize it. Thoughts of the project are sitting in the back of your brain, zapping you of your ability to be fully present. As a result, you are more anxious and distracted. Focusing in and completing those tasks you find the most challenging will give you a boost of self esteem and an overall feeling of well being. No matter where you work or what you do each day, a shot of self-confidence should always be welcome!
And then there’s the unfinished project that you just can’t bring yourself to complete. The easiest way to get it done is to do it one segment at a time. Maybe you can break down the project into logical sections. If that doesn’t work, tackle the work by setting aside a half hour at a time. Set a timer for 30 minutes and remove all other distractions. We can all commit to at least 30 minutes of uninterrupted work. At the end of that time, you may find that you want to keep going. Getting started is often the hardest part.
There are also others ways to make your self accountable to a project. People who want to loss weight are often told that it’s important to find a workout buddy. The buddy system works for professional projects too. If someone else is counting on you to have your project done on time and without error, you are more likely to get it done. Although no one likes to be shamed into completing a project, this paradigm taps into our natural desire to build community and trust among our peers.
Procrastination is something that we all face. There may be times when you give in to your biological desire to be sloth like when faced with distasteful tasks. However, if you want to get and stay productive, it’s essential that you to train yourself to master a higher level of creativity. It’s doable; so says your prefrontal cortex.