Police Psychology | Procrastination: When Later Becomes Never

Posted: August 25, 2016 in Mastering Effort
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Police Psychology | Procrastination:   When Later Becomes Never

by Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP


Procrastination is a debilitating mindset that often turns “later” into “never.”

   Police psychology deals with many issues that are unique, but working in law enforcement also has many issues that other stressful jobs do. Procrastination is a problem that affects a huge number of people in the world. It is a debilitating emotional disease that renders you incapable of performing to your greatest capacity. And yet, like many diseases today, there is a cure.

Procrastination is easy to do. And it’s fun! In fact, just now as I’m supposed to be writing this blog post, I’ve got 12 tabs on my internet browser open…my mind is wandering to what I’m going to make myself for lunch…yes, I think I’m going to go take a break and get lunch now…

…So where were we? Oh, yes. “Procrastination” is easy. Whether you are a student, working in a fast-paced corporate environment, dealing with a stressful job or boss, or even a stay-at-home parent, there are always things that you would rather be doing. Why write this report today, when I’ll have all day to finish it tomorrow? Why type up the analytics for my boss now—they’re not due until next week? Why clean the basement today, when I can just do it next weekend? And so on…and so on…. Coming up with excuses to avoid work is easy, and sometimes internally creative. Some are even inventive excuses (Why write this today? What if there’s an apocalypse tomorrow? Do I really want my last thoughts to be: “Gee, I’m so glad I submitted that report on time.”).  All preferences to doing actual work.

Two Work Strategies for Procrastination

So what do you do about it? Maybe I’ll answer that in the next blog post. No Wait! Back to task. When people sit down to work on something, there are two strategies they can pick from. The first one involves sitting there, meticulously forming and reforming the words in the first sentence until they glide off the tongue in a satisfying swish of perfection. It involves rewriting the sentence until it meets even your own demanding standards. It involves rewording the sentence until you are completely satisfied with the way it turned out. You get the point. It is easy to get bogged down with this strategy because you will be stuck working on one sentence, reorganizing, rearranging, rewriting, until you are completely satisfied. This is extremely time-consuming, and then after a couple of hours or so, all you have to show for yourself is one little usually imperfect sentence, but nothing else. “Is that really worth it?” you say to yourself. “Nah, might as well wait until tomorrow.” You know how it goes. This is a disheartening strategy, and should be avoided at all cost.

The second strategy is to get a piece of paper, or sit before the computer screen, and just start writing. Get down as many ideas, words and sentences as possible even if it is crap. Let the work just flow from your fingertips. Expect it to be 80% awful, but they’ll be 20% in there that makes sense. See writing, or building a computer program or whatever you do, is about editing, about the tweaks you add later. You just need to get started and, then when you finish, you go back and revise. This is where you rework wordy sentences, take out unnecessary information and tighten up the whole piece. The key to writing is in the editing not the first draft.  And this strategy works for all types of projects. If you are procrastinating cleaning the basement, just get yourself to go down and put things away. Even if it is haphazard at first and nothing is neatly organized, at least you have gotten started. In order to resist procrastination, you need to move forward, and then the momentum of the movement will carry you on continuously in that direction.


Simple stepsThree Tips to Help Fight Procrastination

  1. Avoid Perfectionism. There is never going to be a perfect time or a perfect place for you to begin. You are never going to avoid criticism. If you keep waiting for the perfect moment, you’ll be waiting forever. Listen to your self-talk.  If you keep waiting until you are completely satisfied with your first sentence, you will never make it to the second one. Don’t tell yourself that something needs to perfect right now—tell yourself perfection is a process that you will have to arrive at over time. People tend to think being a perfectionist is good, helpful even. But perfectionism can be incredibly debilitating, and even lead to procrastination. Avoid thoughts such as, “I can’t go on until this is perfect” and “I’m scrapping the whole thing and doing it over.”  Remember, “Later” becomes “Never.’
  2. Set manageable goals. If you try to commit to doing something insurmountable, it is impossible to begin. Just get started.  Remember though, time is relative.  Time schedules are relative also.  Get into the pace of the task you are doing.  Set yourself small and manageable goals and make sure you stick with them. Don’t tell yourself you need to write the entire paper, design the entire magazine spread, or catch up on all your reports in one day. This can psych you out and then you will never begin.
  3. Reward yourself. Often. After you accomplish your small goal, reward yourself with a snack, a TV break, social media time, or whatever else you enjoy. Just make sure this break doesn’t last too long. Tell yourself you only have 20 minutes, and then when you accomplish your next small goal, you will get another 20. Keep up this pattern until your entire task is completed.


Site Editor:  Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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