Bear with me, I am not sending you on this ‘guilt trip’ for nothing. According to research referenced by Professor Richard Wiseman in his book 59 Seconds, "24 per cent of people identify themselves as chronic procrastinators. Presumably this figure underestimates the scale of the problem, given that it can only be based on people who completed the questionnaires on time”.
Ahead of the working week, no doubt piled up with assignments and deadlines, let’s tackle the problem of procrastination.
Procrastination has been famously illustrated in a classic Russian novel Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov, first published in 1859. The protagonist, Oblomov, starts with unpaid bills, apathy and bored idleness and ends up perishing away, unable to combat his own sloth. He dies from procrastination. His heritage to the world is the word oblomovschina, with “Oblomov” at its root - it means procrastination.
In the 1920s a young Russian psychology graduate named Bluma Zeigarnik was having tea with her supervisor in a café in Vienna. They were both watching the waiters and spotted a curious thing: when a customer asked for a bill, the waiters could easily remember what the customers had ordered. However, if a customer came back to query the bill just a moment later, the waiters struggled to remember anything about the order. Professor Wiseman, quoting the paper published in Psychologische Forschung by Zeigarnik in 1927, writes: “It seemed that the act of paying for the meal brought a sense of closure in the waiter’s mind and erased the order from their memories.” Zeigarnik then devised a number of experiments and confirmed that once an activity was done and dusted, the mind “breathes an unconscious sigh of relief”. By contrast, an unfinished activity keeps nagging at the brain, causing anxiety.
We can draw two helpful conclusions from these findings. First, it helps to break any work into manageable chunks. If you are working on a presentation, it helps to write its outline first, have a coffee break, then tackle the executive summary, then work on the case studies, then break the rest into discrete sections and tackle those. The same logic applies to spring cleaning, planning your next holiday, finding a new job.
The second helpful tip is brain anxiety. Once you start something, the brain is ‘anxious’ to finish it. What you need to do is to start! Take any piece of work and promise yourself to persevere with it for fifteen minutes. This is how I’ve put together this article. Once I start writing a new piece for my blog or an article for a magazine, I know that once I begin typing, I am halfway there. It is (almost!) that simple.