Reducing Procrastination

How can you reduce procrastination?

I come from a long line of procrastinators, and always find myself up against deadlines to get tasks completed, or just allowing annoying situations to drift along unchecked.

There are plenty of people in the same situation, even though most of us know how much better we feel when we do finally get one of those essential tasks completed.

The Cyber Aware campaign is trying to motivate us to do better (installing security updates and changing passwords also figure on the list of things we haven’t got round to yet…)
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Why are we putting off things we know we should do?

Dr Lewis Goodings, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, has been researching the problem of procrastination, in partnership with the government’s Cyber Aware campaign.

He explains why so many of us procrastinate:

People often ask me, why is it that we are all so guilty of procrastinating? It’s partly because we are lured into a sense of comfort when we delay a task and no immediate negative consequences appear to occur. However, if we delay when it comes to things like cyber security then negative consequences – such as a hacker accessing your device – can happen and we may not be aware of them until it’s too late and we’ve already become a victim of cyber crime.

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Ten top tips for reducing procrastination

If you do have a tendency to procrastinate, then there are simple things you can do to make life easier for yourself – like checking that software or app auto updates are turned on or setting reminders on your phone to do the tasks on your list.

And just getting on with it may even make you feel better about yourself. There is a term in social psychology called ‘self-mastery’ which boils down to people feeling better when they complete something.
So you can start feeling better about yourself today with the following top tips to help with procrastination:

• Start with an easy task to make you feel positive straight away and encourage you to work through your list

• Set a short timeframe for completing a task. Research indicates that if you give yourself too much time to finish a task, you’ll just end up procrastinating more

• Evidence suggests that procrastinators are more likely to give up on their efforts when encountering an obstacle. So try and get rid of anything which might stand in the way of you and your task

• Treat yourself! Try to find a way to reward yourself for completing a task, as the science shows this can act as a strong incentive. Installed your software and app updates? Time for a choccie biscuit!

• Set reminders to complete a task so that you don’t forget. This can be achieved easily via a calendar app on a digital device

• Lift your mood more generally through exercise, meditation or calling a friend before you set to work on completing your task. Procrastination is frequently linked with low self-esteem so the better you are feeling about yourself, the more likely you are to sort out your list

• Recognise the value of the task, as this will help remind you why it’s important. For example, installing software and app updates only takes a few minutes but has a big impact on your cyber security and helps protect you from hacks and viruses

• Write down tasks that need completing. Getting it on paper will help to reinforce its importance, and will act as a reminder if you’re likely to forget. Plus you get the satisfaction of ticking it off!

• For some people procrastination works – in that by leaving something till the last minute, it creates a sense of pressure that encourages them to thrive and get it done. The flip side is we’re delaying things that need to be done straight away. Work out if this is what you’re doing and when it is – and isn’t – the right approach!

• Finally, just do it! Set some simple goals that can be achieved quickly and don’t give yourself the chance to think about doing them or not.
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What’s your favourite procrastination?

The Anglia Ruskin University study found that almost 90% of us delay doing one or more ‘life updates’.

Here are the top ten put-off tasks:

⁃ Changing service providers for our insurance electricity or bank (48%)

⁃ Going to the dentist for a regular check-up (47%)

⁃ Installing the latest software and app updates (47%)

⁃ Doing the washing up (46%)

⁃ Returning items purchased from a shop or online which you no longer want (40%)

⁃ Making the bed (35%)

⁃ Servicing the car (27%)

⁃ Changing batteries in the fire alarm (25%)

⁃ Returning something borrowed (24%)

⁃ Doing a tax return (22%)
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What makes us deviate from our good intentions?

Many of us start with the best intentions – when asked why we tend to put off these tasks, 31% of those of us who delay at least one task said they meant to do it but then got distracted.

And once we start putting things off, it can be hard to stop – with the majority (58%) of respondents admitting they put at least one task off ‘for as long as possible’ despite the fact that many of the top ten tasks we put off could potentially lead to financial loss in the short or long term.

And despite their focus on ‘living their best life’ millennials were most likely to put tasks off, with 96% of 18-25 year olds delaying at least one or more tasks, compared to 84% of 45-75 year olds.
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Cyber Aware’s top tips to keep you secure online

‣ Always install the latest software and app updates as soon as they become available

‣ Use a strong, separate password for your email

‣ Activate two step authentication on your email

‣ Consider using password managers

‣ Secure your tablet or smartphone with a screen-lock

‣ Always back-up your most important data

‣ Don’t use public WiFi to transfer financial information

‣ Avoid clicking on suspicious links
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Further reading and resources

For more information about Cyber Aware, you can visit the website cyberaware.gov.uk (external link will open in a new browser window)

You can follow the campaign on social media with the hashtag #LifeUpdates

By getting out of the habit of procrastination, you will improve your mental wellbeing – and that has an impact on brain health throughout your life
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