How to Stay Focused on Your Work and Avoid Procrastination
Are you the kind of person who constantly clicks between multiple news articles and social media sites while trying to type up an essay or develop a solid business plan? Do you find yourself reaching for your smartphone to play a quick game of Candy Crush only to find that ten levels and thirty minutes later the cursor is still flashing on a blank page on Microsoft Word? Perhaps you’re even procrastinating now as you read this, desperately putting off that thing you need to do until the last minute, and wishing you could be more organised.
You need to stay focused, but it can be difficult. Hopefully this article will help.
Procrastination is simply defined as “the act of delaying or postponing something,” and the problem is it can end up being rather costly. With more things to waste time on than ever before, such as internet games and apps, surveys are finding that the number of people suffering from chronic procrastination is on the rise. In 1978, 5% of the population admitted to constantly getting distracted opposed to 26% in 2007. Some research also suggests that 85-95% of all people procrastinate to some extent. According to Doctor Joseph Ferrari and Doctor Timothy Pychyl, psychologists from the University of Chicago and the University of Ottawa, some people procrastinate because it is their way of life. It sometimes a response to authoritarian parenting, or can be found in people who drink more than the recommended allowance.
Ferrari and Pychyl also noted that procrastinators tend to lie to themselves, saying they will get things done the next day and suchlike. They will also actively seek out alternative activities to the task in hand in an effort to procrastinate. Although it sounds like a trivial thing, procrastinators are at risk of not only failing courses and losing money at work, they could also be damaging their health. Students who allow workloads to pile up, for instance, are actually developing stress-related illnesses that lead to weakened immune systems.
The evidence says it all. Procrastination isn’t just a serious waste of time, it’s actually bad for people’s health. Just imagine how much you could get done if you were able to concentrate for even 50% more of the time. What could be achieved? Exam results and coursework would be improved drastically in students, and people could enjoy greater success at their jobs. So let’s take a look at some of the simple techniques that anyone can do to stop themselves from procrastinating. According to the risky behaviour infographic from 888poker, the prefrontal cortex of the brain is associated with reasoning, decision making, and executive control. It’s this part of the brain that will need conditioning in order to stop this distracted behaviour. For the purposes of this article, let’s imagine that you have a university assignment due in two weeks’ time.
Plan your time before you begin
It’s not just chronic procrastinators that look at a 2000 word essay on the effects of climate change and feel like it is a somewhat daunting task. In fact, it would be unusual if you didn’t feel that sickening sense of dread before you dived into the work. Planning your time and splitting your work into manageable chunks is key at this stage. How about dividing that essay into ten 200-word chunks and doing it over the course of ten days? It wouldn’t seem like such a challenge, and it would also leave four days over in case you hadn’t managed to strictly stick to the schedule. To do each block of 200 words, you could allow yourself three hours per day, meaning that you only have to write around 70 words per hour. Then while working you could allow yourself 10 minute bursts of work before stopping for 5 minutes to do a completely unrelated activity. In this way you wouldn’t be procrastinating, but you would be allowing your brain a rest from constant work.
Don’t think too much
According to the psychologists mentioned above, some people think that they have to procrastinate, as that’s just the kind of person they are. It is important to try to get out of this way of thinking. Best-selling author John C. Maxwell details how you can change your mindset through possibility thinking, creative thinking, reflective thinking, shared thinking, and questioning popular thinking. Procrastinators need to perhaps question popular thinking the most. Why do most chronic procrastinators believe that it is their way of life and there is nothing they can do to change that? Realising that this mentality is actually a myth could be key to overcoming the problem.
Realise that it will take time
You shouldn’t worry if it takes some time to overcome this problem of constant distraction. If you do find yourself procrastinating, forgive yourself. If you forgive yourself for procrastinating, you reduce the negative effects associated with it and minimalize the risk of subsequent distractions. This makes you feel better about tasks and gives you confidence that you can complete things in the future.
Some other useful tips to cut down on time spent procrastinating are to create to-do lists and give yourself rewards when you tick a task off. This will create positive reinforcement. You could also think about actually removing some of the tools of procrastination that you may have used in the past, such as asking a friend to change your Facebook password so you can’t access it, or to hide your games until you finish what you set out to do.
Anyone can start using these handy techniques to improve their focus, and there is no reason why you shouldn’t start experimenting with some of these ideas today. Most people probably don’t enjoy the fact that they spend so much time off task, and are desperately seeking ways to improve their focus. Just remember that the cycle can be broken, and it doesn’t mean that your days of playing with things have to end, they just need to be restricted to certain times.