Search the web and you’ll find thousands of articles on how to deal with procrastination. Go ahead and read one … later.
Or perhaps you’d be better served to put off the how until you have dealt with the why behind procrastination.
Begin by asking this question: “Is there a pattern to my procrastination? Are there actions and responsibilities that immediately push my ‘procrastinate’ button?”
Make a short list (now, not later) of those triggers. Include personal and professional responsibilities, major tasks and tiny activities. Do you dread project planning or calling your mother? How about getting your oil changed, reading reports or emptying your email inbox? Thinking critically about how you process these tasks will help with your diagnosis.
Got your list? Good. Now evaluate everything you wrote down and see if you can find a pattern.
Obviously, I can’t see your list. But I don’t need to read the individual items to safely identify a single commonality: Every task you’ve written down makes you uncomfortable.
That’s to be expected. People typically don’t put off activities they find comforting, enjoyable or fulfilling. They tend to procrastinate when they face the uneasiness that accompanies tasks they perceive to be unpleasant.
Procrastination has a price
Tasks left undone indicate a dip in productivity. But there’s a deeper price you unknowingly pay. It’s related to a phenomenon known as the Zeigarnik Effect.
Psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik discovered that to-do items and unmet responsibilities take up valuable mental real estate. They wander around in the brain and find completely inopportune times to pop up, bringing feelings of inadequacy.
Facing an unpleasant task brings unexpected benefits
Zeigarnik’s research also uncovered a corresponding characteristic that’s well worth nothing: The moment you accomplish a task – however large or small – you immediately free up mental margin. Stress decreases, and brain capacity increases.
This suggests that accomplishing a task does more than just checking it off a list. It gives you room to think more effectively. Your primitive brain warns you to flee discomfort. But what if you could train our brain to embrace discomfort?
Why? Because discomfort is always accompanied by an opportunity for growth.
These are exactly the principles at work in cognitive behavioural therapy. Think (cognitive) about your response before you act (behavioural).
You can decide right now to embrace the discomfort of any given task, even before you’re faced with the need to complete the duty itself.
Imagine you’ve neglected to return a phone call from your life insurance agent. You know it’s smart to review your policy coverage and you know the call must be made, but you find the topic boring. You can decide right now – right this moment – that completing this task will make you feel great. Your brain will be at ease, you’ll free up mental space, and your life will be more in order.
Train yourself to approach every task with this strategy so you can get more done, feel better and enable your brain to devote greater capacity to accomplishing bigger things.
Now, go get something knocked off your list!
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.