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Procrastination – what to do with it?

During last four weeks, I have been enrolled in the course on “Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects’. The course was designed and delivered by Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski, and is available on Coursera. I have found the entire course very well designed, engaging, and I recommend to everybody who is interested to improve his or her learning ability. There were three crosscutting themes that I find appealing and useful for practically anybody who enjoys learning and cares about keeping his or her brain well-functioning for as long as possible.


Procrastination – what to do about it?

Who didn’t procrastinate at some moment of time? And why do we fall into procrastination trap?
Procrastination is an automatic habit, and we often aren’t even aware that we have begun to procrastinate…
According to research, when you are getting ready to do something you would really rather not do, area in the brain associated with pain is activated. Naturally the brain tends to stop such negative stimulation by switching your attention to something else. The more you are procrastinating (postponing what you need to do), the stronger is the negative stimulation.

According to Dr. Barbara Oakley (1), there are four parts of the habit of procrastination:

  1. The Cue – trigger that launches the habitual mode (‘automatic behaviour’)
    Cue by itself is neither helpful nor harmful, it’s the routine. What we do in reaction to that cue, that’s what matters.)
    Most common cues – 1) location; 2) time; 3) how you feel….
  2. The Routine – the routine habitual mode that the brain is used to falling into when it receives the cue. Response can be useful, harmless, but also harmful. We need to re-wire our old habits.
  3. The Reward – every habit develops and continues because it rewards us = it gives an immediate little feeling of pleasure. Procrastination is an easy habit to develop because the reward (i.e. moving your mind’s focus to something more pleasant) happens so quickly and easily.
  4. The belief – habits have the power because of our belief in them.
    To change a habit we need to change our underlying belief.

So, what can be done to change the habit of procrastination?

  • Researchers discovered that not long after we might start working out what we didn’t like, that ‘neurodisconfort’ disappeared. Therefore you need to focus on 1) recognizing the cue, 2) re-writing the routine, and 3) rewarding the new, positive habit and (4) have a ‘can do’ philosophy!
  • When approaching the task that you would rather not to do; it is important to FOCUS ON THE PROCESS, not the product, which may be too far to reach. Thinking of the product may be the trigger that leads to your procrastination. Processes relate to habits.
  • Create a setup that minimizes distractions – especially at the very beginning of the process. When some distraction arises (and it always happens), just let it flow by.
  • Start the day with the most unfavorable tasks – having the highest energy and fresh mind will help you to finish these tasks easier.
  • One doesn’t need to feel excited when starting the ‘disliked’ task. Important is to start.
  • Try not to exercise the willpower.

One very effective method and well-known technique to address the procrastination is POMODORO:

  • Use some device (e.g. kitchen timer) that will measure your 25 minutes of focus steady concentration with no interruptions (workout)
  • At the end of the 25 minutes REWARD yourself with a minute of surfing, coffee or brief chit-chat and then back to another 25-minutes period.

Reference:

(1) Oakley, B. (2015). Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects, Lecture videos & presentations. Coursera, UC San Diego. https://class.coursera.org/learning-003 Accessed on January 28, 2015

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