Where have you been?
One of my goals for 2023 is to blog more and here we are in March already with no new blogs from me. I talk a lot about intentionality when working with clients and this is an area where I could use a little of my own guidance. So, why have I not posted for so long? I could share with you all the reasons writing a blog kept getting pushed down my list. For example, I am pursuing my certification in Sex Therapy as well as Integrated Couple's therapy, my practice has been booming and some days my brain is just drained and I have no inspiration. Again, I am going to hear my own words and as I often will tell you - just write. I think appropriately, today I will write about task initiation.
Seriously, I am going to blog regularly.
Task Initiation (Procrastination)
This executive functioning skill is foundational and one that so many of us struggle with from time to time or perpetually. It is often associated with ADHD however we all experience this as a result of simply being human. So, how do we overcome the "I don't want to" (that's what my brain says) mindset? Here are a few tips from experts in ADHD - remember that I am not one of them!
Tips to Address Procrastination
This is by no means an inclusive list of strategies to help with task initiation. Experiment and see which ones seem to fit for you.
1. Recognize emotional barriers
We all have struggles with procrastination to some degree that is fueled by emotional barriers. Is there is fear? Apathy? Anger? Anxiety? By taking a moment to identify those emotional barriers, you can mentally prepare yourself to overcome them. Often, just acknowledging these emotional barriers empowers us to move past them.
2. Don’t conflate emotions with time
Will your work assignment really take all week, or does it just feel that way? For example, when something feels really difficult, you imagine that it will take your hours to complete. When, in reality, you can complete the task in thirty minutes. A way to address this is to cultivate time awareness. The next time you have a big task, time yourself to see how long it actually takes you to complete it. If you get into the habit of timing yourself, you’ll likely realize that many tasks don’t take as long as you initially thought. Which leads me to another strategy...
3. Break tasks into bite-size pieces
One of my biggest struggles is cleaning my house. When I am feeling overwhelmed by my to-do list, I set a time for 10-15 minutes and go to work. I am often amazed at how much I can accomplish in such a short amount of time and it frequently motivates me to keep going. Focusing on one room for 10-15 minutes feels much more achievable than cleaning the entire house. If you sit down with the goal of writing an entire 10-page term paper, you probably won’t even start writing because writing ten pages feels daunting. Instead, break the task up into bite-sized pieces and tackle them one at a time. For example, a reasonable goal for a single evening might be to write an outline for your paper or to find three good research sources. If you find that it’s still too difficult to do the task, then break it down into an even smaller bite-size piece. So, if finding three good sources feels overwhelming, try instead to make a list of potential places to look for sources. Then look at ten random sources first. After that, narrow down the list to three sources. This strategy can decrease feelings of overwhelm and make it easier to get started.
4. Create specific, achievable goals
Sometimes we task ourselves with achieving a goal without making it specific enough. This leads to feelings of overwhelm because you have no idea when you’ll actually be done. For example, the idea of checking your email is anxiety-provoking because you have hundreds in your inbox. Are you done when you check the hundreds of emails, or are you done if you just check ten? Create a concrete (and achievable!) goal for yourself so you know what to aim for.
5. Focus on problem-solving
Many times we immediately blame ourselves for past failures, but it is much more helpful to evaluate the approach to completing a task. Ask yourself: What was it about your approach to creating last week’s presentation that caused you to do it at the last minute? Perhaps your workspace was full of distractions, or you failed to break the task into small steps. By taking a few minutes to review your previous performance and focus on problem-solving, you take yourself out of the blame game and focus on eliminating factors that contribute to your procrastination.
6. Pay attention to your internal monologue
Fear of failure is common, and if we are intimidated by tasks, we avoid getting started on them. Notice what that inner voice is saying and ask yourself whether you would speak to your best friend the same way - would you tell them that they will probably fail? If not, you’re probably being too hard on yourself. Instead of immediately accepting self-critical thoughts when they pop into your head, ask yourself whether they’re true or helpful.
7. Increase your dopamine
There are many great ways to increase your dopamine. Do something pleasurable - move your body (exercise is a great dopamine booster!), listen to music, draw or doodle. Change your environment can be helpful as well. Just be careful to not turn your dopamine boosting activity into an avoidance activity. By increasing your dopamine, you kick start your pre-frontal cortex (the part of your brain in charge of executive functioning). This boost of dopamine facilitates task initiation.
I did it!
Can you guess which of these strategies I used to overcome my struggle with task initiation to write this post? Procrastination is not a fatal flaw. We all deal with it from time to time. Do you have other strategies you find helpful? Share them below. I would love to hear from you.