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Brain-Based Strategies for Outsmarting Procrastination

“One of the greatest labor-saving inventions of today is tomorrow”

—Vincent T. Foss

As I sit here trying to write this article, my mind seems to be drifting… and then I realize—like 95% of all North Americans—I am procrastinating. Why? Is it my fault?

After reading an article by Amy Spencer, “The Science Behind Procrastination” from Real Simple, I now know that it’s not entirely my fault, because the brain is wired for procrastination. Two parts of our brain—the pre-fontal cortex and the limbic system—battle each other to either “engage on the task” or “put it off until later.”

The pre-fontal cortex is good at planning, decision-making, strategizing, etc. Unfortunately, it’s the weaker part of the brain, and not automatic. The pleasure-seeking limbic system, on the other hand, is automatic. It’s the more powerful of the two, and wants to give you immediate satisfaction.

Remember when I said it is not entirely our fault that we procrastinate? We are at fault when we do not take steps to “turn off” the procrastinator and “turn on” the frontal cortex. There are a number of things we can choose to do to keep on target.

  • If the task appears to be too complex, break it down into smaller chunks. Accomplishing these chunks will give you a feeling of success and make the other chunks easier to complete.
  • Some people believe you should do the easiest chunk first; others believe you should tackle the most difficult task first. Either way, you will have a feeling of success and accomplishment.
  • If there are too many distractions, find an “out of the way” place where you can concentrate on the task.
  • Are you an early riser who works best in the morning? Or do you do your best work in the afternoon or evening? Take advantage of your natural energy patterns by tackling the projects you find most challenging.  This will help you avoid procrastination.
  • Organize your day around large chunks of time where you can concentrate fully on the task at hand
  • Ask someone to assist you in monitoring your progress and holding you accountable for the completion of the task.

Outsmarting procrastination is just one way to manage your time better. Joe will be discussing more time management strategies in his workshop, “If Only I Had More Time…Then What?” on March 20, 2014, in Buffalo, NY.

5 comments
  • Great article! This has inspired me to stop procrastinating and work on my next blog post too!

  • Brian Graham says:

    Joe:

    I started this reply three hours ago….LOL.

    Thanks for this great post. I believe students and parents can benefit from your tips and suggestions. On another note, I have been spending a lot of time reading about “grit”, “self-control”, and the “growth mindset”. Your post aligns well with the work Angela Duckworth has been researching. Here is a link…https://sites.sas.upenn.edu/duckworth/pages/research-statement

  • Joe Doino says:

    Great post. This topic can certainly be a struggle for so many, myself included from time to time. The reminders about distractions and focus are especially helpful. This is an excellent motivator to stay on task and get things done!

    I did not realize that my brain was at war with itself however, now that explains a lot!

  • Marisa Gallippi says:

    For me, procrastination is one of my biggest weaknesses. I rarely seem to have enough time to complete all that I need to because I wait to the last possible second to get started! What I found very interesting from this article is that it is not entirely my fault. Now, I can justify some of my behaviour to some degree!

    -The pre-fontal cortex is good at planning, decision-making, strategizing, etc. Unfortunately, it’s the weaker part of the brain, and not automatic. The pleasure-seeking limbic system, on the other hand, is automatic. It’s the more powerful of the two, and wants to give you immediate satisfaction.

    This article was very enlightening and has provided me with some very helpful strategies that I will implement to get me from waiting too long to complete the majority of my tasks…especially the ones that are not as enjoyable. Remembering, that although not entirely my fault, making the right choices to control the pleasure-seeking limbic (like the strategies mentioned in the article), should encourage my time management skills to develop further.

    Thank you for this information. I found it very useful and I will be making some better choices from now on.

    Marisa Gallippi, OCT, M.Sc.

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