Have you ever noticed how weirdly productive procrastination is?
You really don’t want to do this one thing (workout) so you opt for ten others (Netflix, Facebook, cookies, etc) while you avoid and try to work up the energy required to do what should be done in the first place.
The problem is, the tasks we usually gravitate towards in our moments of procrastination tend to be counterproductive. Binge watching or overeating or too many open tabs in the browser. Sound familiar?
It’s like fighting two losing battles at the same time, because we already know that whatever it is we’re avoiding, we’re going to have to do in the end, which makes it so that the things that we do while we avoid are riddled with anxiety — we don’t enjoy the distractions, and we don’t accomplish what we set out to do.
But there’s another way; instead of fighting the procrastination habit, you could opt to work with it.
Let’s face it, there are some tasks we’re always going to need to mentally prepare for, for one reason or another. Maybe it’s working out for you, or meal planning, or doing the dishes but more often than not, it’s something you’ve tried or thought about doing before, and you’re procrastinating because you already know that you won’t enjoy the task, or maybe you don’t feel like you have the energy required. The point is, you can predict your procrastination. You know exactly what triggers it, and you feel helpless against it.
Those triggers typically fall into one of four camps: expectancy, value, time or impulsivity, says Alexander Rozental, a procrastination researcher and a clinical psychologist at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. In other words, “People procrastinate because of a lack of value [associated with the task]; because they expect that they’re not going to achieve the value they’re trying to achieve; because the value is too far from you in terms of time; or because you’re very impulsive as a person,” Rozental says.
Enter “structured procrastination”
Now that we know that we can see it coming, we can choose to plan for it.
Not plan to avoid or eliminate it but rather plan to make it more productive. There’s something you need to do (workout) and you’re not looking forward to it, so you give yourself a few hours to procrastinate before you really have to get down to work, and fill that time with other tasks that you need to get done (meal planning, cleaning, or working) but aren’t as stressful to think about or execute. This way, you don’t end up turning to the nearest unplanned, unhelpful option for a distraction.
Stanford professor John Perry calls this “structured procrastination.” Your to-do list usually has a certain structure: urgent stuff at the very top, and less urgent but still worthwhile stuff at the bottom. When you procrastinate productively, you knock out worthwhile tasks while you put off the urgent ones.
How does that help you with a workout?
The next time you have a workout planned and have ZERO energy, motivation, or willpower to do it, consider scheduling it between mindless tasks with low energy requirements such as folding your laundry or color coding your books and maybe you’ll get the breakthrough you need, or at least get your procrastination fix while also checking worthwhile tasks off your to-do list.
What do you think?
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