No Time Bingeing: Key to Ending Procrastination
Something that All Procrastinators Do
One of the key characteristics of procrastinators is the tendency to "time binge" when they do something. I've noticed this in my own life, and it was a key finding in research done by Robert Boice, Professor Emeritus in Psychology at SUNY Stony Brook (or was - I think he's retired now).
One of the things that's especially hard about stopping procrastination is knowing what action constitutes the addictive behavior - what do you need to be abstaining from? If you're procrastinating by watching TV or surfing the internet, is TV or the internet what you need to avoid? I don't think so. I think what we, as chronic procrastinators, need to avoid - need to abstain from - is time bingeing, which Boice defines as doing something (anything - even dreaded tasks) for 3+ hours with no interruption. In fact, in his articles about procrastination, he recommends doing the dreaded task (writing, in his research) for no more than 15-60 minutes per day, averaging 30 minutes. Most procrastinators think you can't get anything useful done in 15-30 minutes, but people who worked 15-30 minutes per day get a lot more writing done than time bingers, as Boice's research clearly demonstrates.
This suggests some very helpful interventions for procrastinators that I've never seen mentioned anyplace before... Procrastination is essentially an escapist activity that involves narrowing of focus and time bingeing. So one very effective counter-measure is to force yourself, every 30 minutes, to stop what you're doing for 5-10 minutes and take stop - become mindful of what you are doing and what you need to do. It might be useful during this time to go through a prioritized checklist or a list of check-in questions to ask yourself as ways to force you back into the present moment and break the time binge.
Note that time bingeing goes for "good" behavior as well as obvious procrastinations. You shouldn't work excessively even on the things you need to do because then you exhaust yourself, and also then you reinforce the mistaken notion that you need a huge block of time to even start, which is a major reason why people don't start (it's hard to find these big blocks of time). This is one of the key findings of Boice's research.
If you don't like the periodic check-in idea, another strategy that might work is to cycle through activities in 15-30 minute chunks. If you are playing on the internet and you need to be doing something else, do the something else for 15 minutes, then surf for 15 minutes, then back to something else you need to be doing for 15 minutes.
Or if you're in such a state that you can't do the dreaded task at all, then do some other activity you like in alteration with something else you like. What's most important is to break the time binge with its narrowing of focus. Force yourself to switch to a different activity every 15-30 minutes. Even if you are still spending a lot of time fooling around, you'll probably spend some time not fooling around, and something is better than nothing. Plus you will have the experience of seeing that real work can be done in 15-30 minutes, which will encourage you to procrastinate less over time.
If you try these suggestions, post your experience! Did they help?