Monday, July 6, 2020

Living By Deadlines

My fitness routine is scrolling through this fitness app on my phone looking at all the workout plans that I will definitely not do. I come up with a string of excuses like I can’t do this now, I don’t have weights, I don’t have the right shoes, my yoga mat is old it slips. And the next thing I find myself having scrolled through different websites looking at sports shoes and other fitness gears for hours. The impending deadline of an important report is looming over me and I somehow decide that this is when I want to clean my closet. I mean I’m not exactly being unproductive, I’m cleaning my closet right? Do you also often find yourself procrastinating? Binging Netflix instead of responding to that mail? Paying bills on the very last day? Working only few hours prior to the deadline even though plenty of time was given? Why are deadlines the only motivation that can make you work?

When you come across a daunting task you don’t want to do, your brain activates centers that are associated with pain and naturally tries to eliminate these negative associations by shifting into something “fun” or something non stressful. However once you embrace the hardship and start doing the task, these negative associations disappear. So weather you pick to “put away” the task or choose to “act on” the task in hand, either way you will be eliminating the negative outcomes eventually. Why not choose the later instead? 

  1. Let go of perfectionism

When you can’t seem to find the best way to do something, you put it off for later. It just has to be perfect isn’t it? You’ll spend hours devising a plan of what you should do and how you should do it. You’ll wait for the “right mindset” or the “right time” and when that “right time” fails to arrive before the deadline, you will grind last minute compromising your best efforts and just completing the task turning in a “put together in the last minute” an adequate submission. Your work doesn’t have to be best, it has to be better. So stop waiting to be perfect, just put in your best efforts and make it happen.

  1. The Pomodoro technique

Is a very simple technique that involves setting up a timer for 25 minutes, putting away all distractions and focusing on the task in hand. This technique was introduced in the 1980’s by Fancesco Cirillio, he named it “Pomodoro” after the tomato shaped timer. Whatever the task is, paying bills, writing that dreadful email, making a presentation, preparing a progress report just give it your undivided attention for 25 minutes without any interruptions. And when you are done, reward yourself with something you like. It can be a cup of coffee, scrolling through Instagram for a few minutes or even a chocolate. Then get back for another Pomodoro. With practice, you can divide an important task into different Pomodoro sessions and get it done on time with all your attention!

  1. Mental resource

Your mental resource for a day is limited. Will power is hard to come by and utilizes a major portion of your mental resource. Instead of forcing yourself to self-discipline, you can use your mental resource to actually tackle the challenges of the task. Don’t beat yourself up for postponing something important. Don’t waste your mental resource worrying about the “to do list”. Break down the why, what and how of a task and just start.

  1. A habit to break a habit

By putting away tasks for too many times, you have habituated your brain into making the negative associations go away in exchange for quick and temporary relief. A task in hand is hard, so it causes stress because you don’t know how to handle it which actually acts as a cue. Your brain immediately switches your attention to something pleasurable reacting to your cue forming an action, like scrolling through your phone, random surfing. And after an action comes the reward, in this case it is the disappearance of stressful thoughts, a relief, you are occupied doing something else so that you don’t have to think about the task at all. 

Recognize your cue, could be the feeling of not being good enough, not having enough resources to complete the task or even being put off by a challenge. Now the moment you have a cue, choose your action in a way you are embracing the “uneasy feeling”. A small step like gathering materials, breaking out the task into chunks is good enough to habituate your brain into a different pattern. You’ll get the reward by the satisfaction of contributing to something productive. That’s why make a habit of embracing the uneasy to break the habit of procrastination.

  1. Prioritize and chunk 

Prioritize your chores on the basis of importance and urgency, make a list. Add a deadline. Now pick the most important chore and break it into smaller chunks that are easier to do. There is no need to make a big deal of the deed in your head, you’ll put it away for a while but when the deadline nears, you’ll end up tackling it anyway. You have the potential in you, appreciate the challenge, plan, break and just act on it. Try to prioritize your tasks regularly as much as possible, this will provide structure and inhibit some barriers to your start.

Dr. Zeigarnik was a psychologist who observed the waiters in a cafĂ© and came up with something she called “The Zeigarnik effext” She noticed that the waiters were able to take multiple orders without forgetting them, however when the order was completed they forgot all about it. What the effect exactly is that when you put away tasks, you will tend to remember it vividly as it remains unfinished. So work on your tasks in a timely manner and rid your mind of all the stressful load it has to carry because of the chores and deadlines. Carrying such a load for longer periods of time slowly poisons your health and can cause detrimental long term effects in the form of a range of mental disorders like high stress, anxiety, depression which ultimately can be fatal to your physical well-being as well. So start by replacing “later” with “now” and slowly everything will fall into place. Cultivate the habit of “finishing on time”, trust me the rewards are much greater. Be empathetic to your future self, you do not want to be in panic mode while completing an important task. Procrastinating means you are favoring tomorrow, but for a better tomorrow you need to act today. You cannot allow a deadline to be your only motivation. As emphasized here, procrastination is a habit you can’t magically overcome in one night. Start off with small steps and reward yourself for every little success. You’ll get there.