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.
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. To get a handle on procrastination, you want to notice when you procrastinate. 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, increase value, or decrease impulsiveness.
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So, how would you, for example, increase value?
Well, one way is to find greater meaning in what you’re working on. And you do that, for example, by setting and reviewing your major life’s goals. And ask 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 too 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.
What Is Procrastination?
Procrastination is the act of delaying or putting off tasks until the last minute, or past their deadline. Some researchers define procrastination as a “form of self-regulation failure characterized by the irrational delay of tasks despite potentially negative consequences.”
The following are a few other factors that cause procrastination:
Researchers suggest that procrastination can be particularly pronounced among students. A 2007 meta-analysis published in the Psychological Bulletin found that a whopping 80% to 95% of college students procrastinated regularly, particularly when it came to completing assignments and coursework.
Procrastination can also be a result of depression. Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and a lack of energy can make it difficult to start (and finish) the simplest task. Depression can also lead to self-doubt. When you can’t figure out how to tackle a project or feel insecure about your abilities, you might find it easier to put it off and work on other tasks.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Procrastination is also pretty common in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder. One reason is that OCD is often linked with maladaptive, unhealthy perfectionism, which causes fears about making new mistakes, doubts about whether you are doing something correctly, and worry over others’ expectations of you.5
People with OCD also often have a propensity toward indecision, causing them to procrastinate rather than make a decision.
Many adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) struggle with procrastination. When you’re so distracted by outside stimuli, as well as internal thoughts, it can be hard to get started on a task, especially if that task is difficult or not interesting to you.
Why We Procrastinate
There are 15 key reasons why people procrastinate:
- Not knowing what needs to be done
- Not knowing how to do something
- And, not wanting to do something
- Also, not caring if it gets done or not
- Not caring when something gets done
- Not feeling in the mood to do it
- Being in the habit of waiting until the last minute
- Believing that you work better under pressure
- Thinking that you can finish it at the last minute
- Lacking the initiative to get started
- Blaming sickness or poor health
- Waiting for the right moment
- Needing time to think about the task
- Delaying one task in favor of working on another
Types of Procrastination
Some researchers classify procrastination into two main types: passive and active procrastinators.
Delay the task because they have trouble making decisions and acting on them.
Delay the task purposefully because working under pressure allows them to “feel challenged and motivated”
The Negative Impact of Procrastination
Unfortunately, procrastination can have a serious impact on several life areas, including a person’s mental health and social, professional, and financial well-being:
- Higher levels of stress and illness
- The increased burden placed on social relationships
- Resentment from friends, family, co-workers, and fellow students
Strategies to Stop Procrastination
Fortunately, there are several different things you can do to fight procrastination and start getting things done on time.
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.
Make a to-do list:
To help keep you on track, consider placing a due date next to each item.
Take baby steps:
Break down the items on your list into small, manageable steps so that your tasks don’t seem so overwhelming.
Recognize the warning signs:
Pay attention to any thoughts of procrastination and do your best to resist the urge. If you begin to think about procrastinating, force yourself to spend a few minutes working on your task.
Ask yourself what pulls your attention away the most—whether Instagram, Facebook updates, or the local news—and turn off those sources of distraction.
Pat yourself on the back:
When you finish an item on your to-do list on time, congratulate yourself and reward yourself by indulging in something you find fun.
POMODORO Technique Tips: Vermeer’s chart
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, and 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 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.
POMODORO Technique Tips: Set up helpful routines and habits.
Use goal reminders and make your goals visible, perhaps by putting them in 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 concerning 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 an 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, 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 just haven’t put the time into properly understanding and learning it.
Sometimes, however, procrastination can be productive. This often relates to tasks where you’re synthesizing information. Believe it or not, some learners’ 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’s useful book.
Pomodoro Technique 25 min work, 5 min break. 4 x 25 min = 2h
Bad Traits as Best Traits
You may be surprised to learn that some of your worst traits can sometimes be some of your best traits. This means that when you get down on yourself for some of your bad characteristics, it’s a good idea to start reframing your thinking.
In this section, we’ll help you get started. Let’s take for our first example having a poor working memory. As we’ve already mentioned, having a poor working memory often indicates that you’re more creative. When something falls out of the slots of your working memory, something else tends to pop in. Do you have to work harder to keep up with people who have that steel trap sort of memory? Sure, but you wouldn’t want to give up the joyful advantages that your creativity gives you.
And of course, people with less capable working memories are more likely to see shortcuts and to have conceptual breakthroughs. Poor working memory incidentally is often correlated with Attention Deficit Disorder. So if this condition is making your learning tougher for you, it’s important to realize it also gives you advantages.
You may argue that a strong working memory not only helps with problem-solving, it also helps with getting good grades but research has shown that there’s a counter correlation between school grades and creativity.
In other words, sometimes the better your grades, the worse your creativity. For some reason, my colleagues who were usually the best of the best students seem to get annoyed with me when I bring up that little factoid. Maybe that’s also the origin of the old saying, the A students end up working for the C students.
But there’s also a correlation between disagreeableness and creativity. It may simply be that disagreeable people are more willing to be brats, to throw aside that compliant deferential behavior of their more agreeable peers.
Are you a contrarian?
That too can serve as an advantage when everyone’s telling you: you just can’t succeed, your contrarian nature combined with a little bit of common sense can be just the ticket to prove them wrong.
What about being a worrier?
Well, as a worrier myself, I’ll be the first to admit that worrying has got some unhealthy aspects to it. But anxiety can allow you to anticipate possibilities by mentally reviewing different scenarios even if they’re negative. And that’s not all bad. Doing a bit of worrying and then reframing your thoughts to calm your brain in the ways we’ve discussed earlier is a great way to go.
And how about being a naive dreamer?
If you’re naive, it’s a nice idea to partner and works with more practical people. But a little bit of naive dreaming helps keeps the world moving forward on a positive note. No one would want to give that up.
Based on all of this, what seemingly “bad” characteristics do you have that might have a good side to them? Describe those characteristics here and see what intriguing “bad” traits other people have!
Also Read: Healing Your Emotional Self