Behavioral Strategies to Decrease Procrastination

productivity & procrastination Jul 08, 2021
Reverse burnout, productivity, procrastination, focus, optimize, workflow, mindset, procrastination, ADHD

The link between anxiety + procrastination is clear in scientific literature...

What happens when we procrastinate? Our anxious thoughts stir up even more and this inflicts wounds on our self-esteem and exacerbates our tendency to procrastinate.

We begin to lose trust in our mind & our ability to accomplish goals and tasks.

We end up fused with our thoughts.

In Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), “cognitive fusion” refers to the human tendency to become entangled with thoughts as a result of a strong belief in their literal content. In other words, we listen to and believe what our minds tell us.

Procrastination is defined as the voluntary delay of an intended course of action despite expecting negative consequences because of the delay (e.g., Klingsieck (2013), Sirois and Pychyl (2013) and Steel (2007).

In 2017, a group of researchers (Wang et al., 2017) compared two different modalities of treatment for academic procrastination. When comparing CBT & ACT, they found that immediate results showed the two intervention groups had significant effects on procrastination. Further, the two modalities of treatment did not differ significantly in their effect. 

However, in terms of long-term effects, only the ACT group had a significant effect. The reason may be that when treated with ACT, individuals do not attempt to control or suppress undesirable emotions, and consequently, they are less influenced by them.

In this particular study, the participants in the ACT group followed a series of steps that looked like this:

First, they discovered that the most important thing in life is to learn how to accept and recognize their inner feelings, and this growth had enabled them to face their negative emotions, such as frustration, vexation, and anxiety, with more equanimity and to cope with things with more positivity and peace of mind (i.e., acceptance of experiences). 

Second, after they learned to accept their emotions, they could focus on their study and work (i.e., committed actions)

Third, they learned to do the most important things first.


Here are 5 ways to target anxious thoughts to increase productivity and decrease procrastination:

  1. Get super clear on your values. This will help you in taking value-based actions to help increase your motivation and ultimately, your achievement. Handwrite your values down on a sticky note or piece of paper where you can clearly see them as you work. This serves as a prompt strategy in your environment to remind you of your values when you start to move off-task.

2. Determine the concrete long and short-term goals that are linked to your personal values. This will help you persist in a flexible manner towards your goals, regardless if internal obstacles arise (i.e. negative thoughts). Handwrite at least 3 goals down on an index card and keep this on your desk. Ensure your goals are observable and measurable AND you have a ‘by-when’ for completion. 

3. Notice your breathing; Make a connection between your body and the environment by placing your hands on your belly, take three deep breaths and feel your stomach rise and fall with each inhalation and exhalation. The breath is the first and most important tool in your arsenal to bring your body out of ‘fight or flight’ and back to ‘rest/digest’. Anxious thoughts = “I feel a loss of control over my body and mind”. When a human feels out of control, they feel incapable of getting anything done. The breath brings you back to having full control over your body. 

4. Practice acceptance of negative thoughts by resisting the urge to avoid them. Negative thoughts are inevitable- accepting a thought without holding on to it so tightly allows one to become less psychologically rigid.

5. Remove any distracting stimuli from the environment.


Performance Management Contingencies To Reduce Procrastination

👩🏽‍đź’» Performance-management contingencies are contingencies that differ from those found in the natural environment. 

Instead of trying to get work done based on an ineffective natural contingency, performance-management contingencies are designed by the individual with the intention of changing a certain behavior. 

Think of recruiting someone in your natural environment to be your performance manager as an accountability partner.

Along with that, there is the loss of a highly preferred reinforcer if the performance-management contingency is not met (the consequence strategy).

Example: "If I write for 1 hour, I won't lose $5 when my friend (the performance manager) checks my productivity". 

Reference: Malott & Harrison (2005)

Behavior change is all about looking to the environment, and rearranging the contingencies so as to increase or decrease a behavior.

See the two diagrams below for a visual representation of performance management contingencies :] 



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