Well, here we are. In the midst of the most uncertain times we have ever seen in our life. Life is changing on the daily and our new ‘normal’ is anything but. Our generation has never experienced anything like this before. Actors can be anxious at the best of times, but after witnessing productions world wide shutting down, tours cancelled, theatres going dark, we can all be forgiven for our stress levels going through the roof. (But it’s not all doom & gloom, at least COVID-19 is helping the environment)
Now, we suddenly have a lot of time on our hands and how has that time been spent so far? Raise your hand if you’ve been endlessly scrolling through social media, the various rants, memes, updates, live briefings, sobering articles full of statistics that hit you to the pits of your stomach & echoes of #staythefhome (but seriously though.. Stay the f*ck home). Hey, I’m right there with you.. I’ve also been playing more Hearthstone and Animal Crossing than I would care to admit.
Whether we like it or not, this is the new norm. We’re staring down the barrel of possibly months of this new world order and we have to find ways to stay positive and productive in the midst of the madness. So, we should get creating, right? Finally putting fingers to keyboards on that great screenplay? One-person show? Dust off your guitar and start serenading your digital audience? Practice your stand-up routine to your houseplants ready for the Netflix special that is bound to come your way when this is all said and done?
Then, there comes a tap, tap, tap from the depths of your brain. A crippling monster of a different kind, that is responsible for every single all-nighter you’ve pulled in your life. The Procrastinator.
Procrastination is something we all deal with and there have been decades of research looking into the nature of the beast. It turns out, the seeds of procrastination and more deeply rooted and complicated than just mere laziness and lack of willpower.
Anxiety is at the core of procrastination along with other demotivating factors, such as fear of failure and delay between completion of task and reward for completing the task (we want the cookie now). This is the cocktail of factors that we are experiencing right now, more than ever.
We are all guilty of loving a good motivational quote and have whole pinterest boards dedicated to empowerment and ‘you got this, babe’. What’s more helpful is looking at psychological research, cognitive and behavioural processes that are applicable and actionable right now.
Frontiers in Psychology has recently published research that suggests a new cognitive technique, inquiry-based stress reduction (IBSR), can help reduce stress/anxiety and links to decreasing procrastination by increasing self-efficacy (which is basically your inner-cheerleader).
IBSR is a meditation technique that is similar to the likes of ‘mindfulness’ and the idea of focusing on the present moment with curiosity and positive inquisition, accepting it without judgment.
In this instance, a specific set of questions are asked to allow for the identification and exploration of stressful events, like everything that is surrounding us now. It sounds a bit intense, but in a nutshell:
- Have a negative thought (eg. I am not able write)
- Give it a pop-quiz to see if it’s valid (see questions below)
- Reflect on the nature of the thought and how they make you feel in mind and body.
- Think in opposite of the original negative thought (eg. I AM able to write)
- Find evidence to support the positive
It is easy to do and you can apply this to any situation you have negative thoughts, not just in relation to procrastination.
When you’re met with the negative thoughts… answer the following yes/no questions:
- Is this thought true?
- Can you absolutely know that this thought is true?
Now, let’s reflect on the effects, causes, benefits and functionality of these thoughts.
- How do you react, what happens when you have this thought?
- Does it bring peace or stress to your life?
- What images do you see, past or present as you think this thought?
- What physical sensations arise having these thoughts?
- What emotions arise after the thought?
- Do any obsessions or addictions appear when you have this thought (eg. alcohol, foos, shopping, drugs, television)?
- How do you treat others when you have this thought? How do you treat yourself when you have this thought?
The final question is to help see reality without the distortion caused by the stressful conditions and experience how you would feel without them.
- Who would you be without the thought?
- What would your situation look like?
So, why is this method any better than all of the other strategies for fighting procrastination?
After analyzing the outcomes, it appears the IBSR method creates the perfect storm to increase self-efficacy, decrease anxiety as well as tendencies to engage in procrastination. Together with the fact it’s easy to implement and doesn’t require therapists intervention makes it a good-looking solution for people struggling with anxiety and procrastination.
Control in a World Full of Chaos
There are a number of other practical steps you can take that will help with your productivity, regardless of your procrastination habits, and are just general best practices for getting sh*t done.
- Make your environment free from distractions as best you can. If you have the space, set up a specifically special little work corner, where you rule over your business.
- Set out SMART goals. SMART goals are the best goals.
- The Ivy Lee Method: write down 6 tasks that you want to complete, ranked in order of importance.
- Break large tasks down into small, actionable pieces.
- Set concrete deadlines for yourself and create a buddy system with a trusted friend who will help hold you accountable to your work.
- Timeboxing: Allocate specific little boxes of time to work on a task. Start with 5 mins and then increase from there.
- Arrange an immediate reward that you can give yourself when you’re finished, can be small, but must be immediate. (Pavlovian Conditioning, much?)
- Monitor your progress, visual charts are great for this and you can get creative!
As memes get treated as gospel truths these days – Shakespeare apparently wrote King Lear under quarantine during the plague. By taking baby steps, each and every day, you’ll be charging forward in your productivity – even from the confines of your self-isolated, socially distanced homes.. And who knows, that little seed of an idea, that script outline you’ve been sitting on could be your King Lear and the silver lining to this all.