When Covid-19 emerged, people were abruptly thrust into a new lifestyle without enough time to properly adjust to it.
As a result of these sudden changes, the pandemic paved the way for the current mental health crisis – increased stress, anxiety and depressed mood – which, over time, may increase the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
To compound matters, when people are fearful, stressed or depressed, they are more likely to procrastinate, thus delaying or postponing tasks and assignments.
But what exactly is going on in your body when you procrastinate?
It’s the limbic system
Several parts of your brain are involved in procrastination.
The limbic system is a set of brain structures involved in behavioural and emotional responses.
Essentially, it adds an emotional lens to your daily life experiences.
So yes, you can blame your limbic system for all of our intense emotional experiences in life.
The limbic system is also involved in instant gratification, pleasure-seeking and survival responses.
The prefrontal cortex is involved in navigating more complex behaviours, such as planning and decision-making.
So if you have to choose between watching Netflix and calling your healthcare provider to schedule an appointment for your next check-up, your limbic system may win the argument for watching Netflix as that is easier, more fun and less distressing.
In contrast, your mind perceives making a phone call to schedule the medical appointment to be a complex and bothersome task, resulting in you deciding to delay it for later.
If you are anxious about leaving your house safely due to Covid-19 – and are stressed about having to remember to wear your face mask and constantly sanitising your hands – you may find yourself delaying your healthcare appointments day after day.
Associating stress and home
Before the pandemic, daily schedules and planning helped you stay on track, ensuring you achieved specific goals and completed tasks.
But the pandemic has changed daily schedules, activities and how you plan your day.
Some people who have found themselves working remotely from home for the first time in their life noticed how difficult it was to separate work from leisure, and just relax.
They were not used to staying in their home all day now that it was also their office.
The brain tends to associate things together and that is how habits may form.
If you associate your bedroom with sleep, then you fall asleep easier when you go to bed.
If you associate eating chips with watching a basketball game, you’ll tend to look for things to eat the next time you plan to watch a game.
Similarly, if you have a stressful job and work from home, you may have noticed that you have started associating stress with home or the room you work from remotely.
Such lifestyle changes can trigger you to procrastinate and think “Let me drink a cup of coffee first, then I will finish my project.”
This could also occur in the form of “productive procrastination”, which is when you avoid one task to complete another often-unrelated one first.
For example: “Let me clean my room first, then I will take care of my work project.”
Stop the delay
So, what can you do to overcome procrastination?
First, ask yourself these questions:
- What tasks do you need to complete, and what are the deadlines?
Create a list.
- Which tasks are priority?
Order your tasks from one to 10, with one being the highest priority and 10 being the lowest priority task you can attend to later.
- How much time will each task require?
Once you have allocated the time for each task, you can note the start and estimated finish dates in your calendar.
Also, follow these tips:
Your thoughts, feelings and behaviour are related to one another.
Ask yourself the following questions to help find out what is contributing to your procrastination.
Firstly, how are you feeling today? And what thoughts are contributing to such feelings?
For example, if you are feeling anxious, it would be a good idea to explore the deeper layers of your thoughts and emotions regarding why you are feeling anxious.
Initially, it may be hard to identify these anxiety-provoking thoughts and emotions, but over time, it will become easier to name and tame your thoughts and feelings to heal your emotions.
Secondly, how are such feelings, such as anxiety, contributing to your procrastination and delaying the completion of your assignments?
First, look at the list of tasks that you need to complete, such as scheduling a healthcare appointment, buying groceries or picking up your medications from the pharmacy.
Pick one task that you ranked as high priority and try to break it into smaller tasks.
Procrastination often makes you think of tasks as one giant task that is difficult or takes a substantial amount of time to complete.
By breaking tasks into smaller ones, you notice that the intended task is not as difficult as it seems.
For instance, if you have to schedule a healthcare appointment, one sub-task would be to look at your schedule to see what days you are available.
Another sub-task would be to check and see if you need a ride to your appointment, and if so, who can give you one.
On your calendar, make notes of when you want to engage in these tiny tasks.
Planning is another key factor in winning over procrastination.
The next step is often difficult: to start.
To win over procrastination is to force yourself to start a task, no matter how tiny.
For example, if you need to exercise, but you are dreading starting, begin by going for a 10-minute walk.
Is that too much? How about five minutes?
Remember, start small.
Accountability is crucial. Work with a family member, friend or colleague, and help each other.
Touch base with your partner each day or at least once a week with a phone call, text or email.
Plan your days and weeks, talk about priorities, and check in by reviewing how things are going.
A partner can be a motivator and offer support if you start feeling discouraged.
As mentioned earlier, the mind associates things together.
So if you work remotely, try to dedicate one specific room or a corner of your home to working remotely.
If you take a break, go to a different room or a separate space for that.
Don’t browse through social media in the same room where you work.
It would be best to not even use the same device you use for work to browse through social media during your break.
Such separation will help you have more meaningful breaks and relax more.
Moreover, when the workday ends, housework can be daunting.
Pay attention to your body, energy levels and self-care, and don’t be afraid to say no when being pressured into additional work.
Practise setting healthy boundaries for yourself by learning how to say no in a firm and kind way.
Setting firm work hours can also help. Start at the same time each day, even if your supervisor isn’t watching.
Dress up as if you are physically going to work.
Add health breaks, like a short walk, stretching, yoga or deep breathing, to relax.
Go to bed at the same time each night.
Once you complete a task, mark your calendar and reward yourself.
This reward does not need to be anything big or expensive.
For example, it could be watching an episode of your favourite show or a movie, or making a healthy smoothie.
Again, remember that our mind likes association.
By rewarding yourself, you become more motivated to complete tasks as scheduled so you can be rewarded.
We are human beings, not human doings, and at some point, we fail.
Failing once or twice does not mean that we will fail every time.
If you fail, keep trying, think positively and use positive self-talk to encourage yourself to help you reach your goals.
In addition, research shows that mindfulness and self-compassion can help with procrastination.
These practices are about overcoming negative emotions.
People who can acknowledge their mistakes or other personal failings, then forgive themselves for them, are less likely to procrastinate.
Also, people who practise mindfulness exercises are more likely to stay on task. – By Dr Yaser Dorri/Mayo Clinic News Network/Tribune News Service
Dr Yaser Dorri is a psychologist at Mayo Clinic in Austin, Minnesota, United States.