Learning & Development, Startup HR

The Two Schools of Thought on Battling Procrastination

While most people probably consider themselves to be proactive go-getters, the reality is that everyone is guilty of procrastination from time to time. There are a variety of reasons for procrastination, ranging from depression to an inability to focus due to fear of failure, but one of the biggest culprits is simply the desire to avoid unpleasant tasks.

The Tendency to Avoid Unpleasant Tasks

When faced with an unpleasant task—perhaps a tedious end-of-the-month report, an intellectually demanding assignment, or a difficult decision—it’s human nature to want to avoid it. But unfortunately, the unpleasant task is rarely the only thing that gets avoided or put off; oftentimes, the avoidance of one task leads to a lack of progress on the rest of the to-do list, as well, even when the other items on that list may not be onerous.

A key reason for this domino effect is that one’s brain is preoccupied with conscious and unconscious thoughts about the daunting task left unfinished (or even unstarted). As long as that preoccupation continues, productivity tends to lag or even grind to a halt.

But there are a few approaches that have been proven to help combat procrastination and beat the pull of human nature.

When to Eat Frogs

“The first approach comes from the well-known Brian Tracy book Eat That Frog!— which takes its name from a quote that people mistakenly attribute to Mark Twain,” writes Mike Sturm in an article for Forge:

 “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

“The idea is simple: do the big, hard, scary thing first — no matter what,” advises Sturm. “That thing you tend to procrastinate about, or just have a hard time starting. After that, you’ll feel so good and productive that things will come easy for the balance of the day.”

The second approach is what Sturm calls the “frog-last” approach. “I heard this suggested in the context of the ADHD brain and productivity,” he says. “Having ADHD myself, I find this to be an appealing approach.”

What this involves is focusing on other tasks first and leaving the frog for later. This, Sturm says, can help build confidence and create momentum toward eating that frog. There’s physiology behind this, he adds. “For those with ADHD, it kick-starts our dopamine circuits and makes us less likely to ditch the hard task for something more stimulating.”

Approaches Vary: How Do You Beat Procrastination?

Everyone will likely benefit more from one approach to eating a frog than another, and for some, procrastination may be more related to one of the other causes referenced above than to task-avoidance. Nevertheless, knowing a couple of strategies to help combat procrastination can ultimately help aid in productivity.

What other techniques have you used to beat procrastination?

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.