How to stop procrastinating using emotional intelligence.

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Photo by Afif Ramdhasuma / Unsplash

This article describes two methods to stop putting off your tasks -
the Long, and the Short one. Both are based on professional and popular science literature on #focus, #procrastination, #ADHD, #HSP, #emotional intelligence, #critical thinking, and some real-life anecdotes of yours truly.

If you are looking for practical examples, you are in the right place.
If you are interested in references, please find them at the end.

The Long method.

Academic sources and popular science suggest that, to effectively manage distractions we first apply structural change to our lives. This approach is shown to be effective lasting results in overcoming procrastination.

It consists of 5 steps:

  1. Do smaller tasks.
    Ambiguity is not a big friend to productivity. If a task on hand is overwhelming with unclear or missing information, split it into more tangible ones. Aim at activities that are specific enough to write them down - and execute as written.
  2. Minimize distractions.
    Procrastination might be a symptom or a habit. But either way, it has to do with impulsiveness. If you feel like short-term temptations take too much of your time, reduce the exposure to them. What ARE the sources of irritation? This is rather individual. It can be a messy table, a couple of emails that await a response, small talk/small chat(?), - literally, anything in or even outside your home/office. If you want to clean up or have your place cleaned, deliberately say no to some interactions, FOMO(fear of missing out), and set clear time boundaries when you are unavailable.
  3. Feel the value.
    Sometimes, we avoid tasks that are of unclear or delayed reward. Manage how you perceive the value of those tasks by looking at the bigger picture and how the interconnection of your activities and those of others may change your life for the better one day. The time spent on the task that aligns with your values would feel more plausible.
  4. Make "delay" not an option.
    Snoozing is a bad button on our alarms, an opportunity we should not abuse. Not only does it make you feel miserable at the end of the day, but delaying what has to be done also moves us further away from our achievements, personal, or career-related. It is recommended that making a clear deadline for everything possible improves how we feel the time, and our productivity accordingly. Here, using support tools like Google Calendar or smart task tracking apps like Taskfulness, or in more severe cases, a live accountability friend - will create an environment where you are urged by yourself, which should feel acceptable.
  5. Pay attention to consequences.
    As discussed before, for us humans, a reward that happens in the future is questionable. The same applies to consequences. This is why we find it hard to get rid of our nasty habits sometimes until it’s too late. Therefore, it is advised that we make the "returns" more immediate, by writing down or visualizing what bad could happen should we keep delaying the important work.

The Short method.

This approach is based on a wider selection of books and studies from the neurology field. Over the years, it also proved to work the best for me personally.
On the application side, it has a major difference from the Long one: it aims at the current procrastination session. In itself, it will unlikely change your life, but it is a great way to cope with a distraction cycle right now.

It consists of 2 steps:

  1. Refocus.
    Whenever you find yourself doing the "wrong" thing, do the following...
    Our thoughts and emotions are tightly connected to our facial expressions, body posture, and even muscle tension. Therefore, the best way to take yourself out of autopilot mode is to take out your body first.
    Some ways to do that:
    a) close your eyes, and sing a song of your choice. At least for 10 sec.
    While singing, exercise your eyes - move them left-right, rotate or up-down.
    The main idea is to combine a mechanic action of exercising, with more cognitive - singing. It will release face muscles responsible for the physical representation of your current thoughts;
    b) stand up, with eyes closed, put your left knee up, and touch it with your right hand, repeat with your right knee and left hand. It will release posture and facial muscles, with the same goal of shifting your attention.
  2. Work your task backward.
    Now that your body and brain are more susceptible to changing what you are doing, estimate an activity you need to be done from the perspective of it being finished.
    To do it, you want to answer to these questions:
    - What time is it now, that my task is done?
    - How did I make it happen (with time-sensitive steps)?
    - How does the result of my work on the task look like?

    Example with "clean up the dishes" task:
    - What time is it now, that my task is done?
    It is 19:00. My dishwasher runs.
    - How did I make it happen?
    I wrote this estimation at 18:30-18:35. By 18:40, I collected the cups & plates around and took them to the kitchen. Next, I spent 5 min. scratching the remaining food into the trash bin, and 10 min. loading the dishwasher.
    At 18:55, I charged the dishwasher with a tablet and started it.
    - How does the result of my work on the task look like?
    The dishes are being washed. As of 19:00, I am free to do another activity or take a 5min. pause.

Bonus tip for severe procrastination: make it boring.
Perform a procrastination activity much longer than you would usually: scroll through social media for 2hrs. instead of 10min. When boredom takes over, you’d want to switch to doing something very different - likely useful.

Note from the author.
Looks too simple, right?
Believe it or not, we rarely pay attention to our attention...But I am studying the topic of emotional intelligence deeper and will keep writing here about it.
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Take care 🌸

- "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by D. Kahneman;
- "The Procrastination Equation" by Dr. P. Steel;
- "Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking" by M. Neil Browne, S.M. Keeley
- "On Emotional Intelligence" by D. Goleman, R.E. Boyatzis, A. McKee,
S. Finkelstein
- "Therapie-Tools ADHS im Erwachsenenalter" by P. Kirsch, N. Haible-Baer
- "Working Backwards" by C. Bryar, B. Carr.

Special thanks to Physipotherapie Hannes Hübbe, Berlin, and Karin Pohl who were the first to point me to the connection between our focus and muscles in far 2017.

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