How to avoid procrastination: getting the urge (and not relying on it)

urgent_msclipart_C900434758[1]Is it urgent enough yet?

A student of ours mentioned that he couldn’t bring himself to getting some work done over the break, but the night before classes start again, he finally “got the urge” to finish it.

This got me thinking about that word, “urgent.” I never before associated it with an “urge,” which we normally think of as being a kind of desire, as opposed to something of necessity, or of immediate concern, you know, an “urgency.”

Back to the Merriam-Webster we go:

  • urgent: calling for immediate attention; pressing

  • urge: to present, advocate, or demand earnestly or pressingly

“Urge” also has the connotation of persuasion, as in “to urge” someone to do something. Like your work, maybe?

Urging procrastination

So let’s apply it to procrastination. When you put off something, you are denying its “urgency” or your “urge” to do it.  Here, again, is another piece of procrastination’s connection to CRF, or brain-dopamine release associated with a loud noise or a pending deadline. (See the post, Procrastinator Panic: is your brain rewarding putting it off?)

When you put off the “urge” you are creating a sense of relief for having removed a source of anxiety (which was causing the “urge”), and you feel better. But you’re only putting it off until that anxiety returns or returns again and again and you finally feel enough “urgency” to get it done. Experts call this “structured procrastination,” and they warn that it is not a desirable solution. Waiting for high level urgency to do something is “avoidance motivation,” or putting it off until a crisis moment, which is always less effective than starting earlier.

The power of the urge

There is, however, power to the urge. When we act on the urge and the urgency, things get done. Relying on it is a self-deception. For example, the procrastinator might say, “I work best under pressure.” What you’re really saying is “I only work under pressure.” You’d work best if you worked in an organized, planned and managed process. Instead, you bust out the work “under pressure.”

Rather than putting it off until the urge becomes an urgency, procrastinators should strive to use that gentle, early “urge” to help them get moving earlier. Recognizing that an urge is a call for something, and that putting it off will only make it worse, then act on the first urge, if only to get something started. If you at least start, you will not be rewarding yourself for doing nothing.

You have started, which is an accomplishment, and the following will result: 1) you will find that having started the task is actually manageable (research shows this); and 2) you will build a sense of accomplishment that will help you overcome the urge to put things off next time.

Better, still, would be to overcome procrastination without anxiety at all. This way our emotional mood and brain-chemical states will no longer control when we do or do not do something. We should not depend upon a heightened emotional state in order to do our work. No matter how we feel, our mood and confidence will improve with accomplishment.

Employing a sense of urgency now can move us towards starting, which moves us towards finishing. Get the “urge” now to at least jump in, if only to start it.

Just get it… started

As we engage our procrastination impulses, we should always consider the value to ourselves of an activity: will I look upon this as a crisis in five days from now? Or will I feel better today if I just get going on it?

Without getting any further into psycho-emotional science that I’m unqualified to speak of, I do know of procrastination, and I know how much easier it is to blow off something by avoiding emotional responses, that is, by deluding ourselves into not caring.

“Later” means denying urgency, which means putting off the worry or panic that will help us finally do it.

If it’s fear we’re facing in not doing something, then the same dynamic works: put that fear to the test, and apply the energy and urgency it creates in you towards actual, positive steps.

Urge yourself onward! Gently.

– Michael