Time Management Answers

I struggle with procrastination which then leads to anxiety, depression. How do I deal with it?

Hello Nora! What a great question! Thank you for asking!  Procrastination is a problem for many people. You are definitely not alone. There are a number of theories about the causes of procrastination. Probably, the most likely answer is that it is the result of a number of things combined with each other. 1. We procrastinate doing a task when the task seem to be too big or overwhelming. For example, I am going to put off cleaning if I believe I have to clean the whole house in one day. My brain is going to say, "That is way too much for me to do. I don't even know where to start!" Then my brain is going to say, "Let's just not do anything!" What is the answer to this problem? Most likely, the answer is to break the task down into little manageable pieces. I might feel much better about cleaning one room than cleaning the whole house. I am more likely to see that one room is do-able. I might be more willing to get started if I realize that I am going to be done in a short period of time -- not the whole day. And one of the payoffs to breaking things down into bite-sized pieces is that a lot of times we will keep going once we start even if we had previously decided to do just one room. Many times, it is just getting going that is so difficult and once we start, we keep going. Energy begets energy as the saying goes. But even if we don't want to keep going after we do the one bite-sized piece, we still have accommplished that one piece.  2. Another theory suggests that we procrastinate on those things that we fear we might not complete satisfactorily. Sometimes we have our own unrealistic standards that we think we need to live up to. Sometimes, it is someone else's unrealistic standards. Either way, if we think we cannot meet those standards, then we might convince ourselves that it is better not to even get started or try to do the task rather than risk the feeling of not having done it "perfectly" (which of course is impossible). The answer to this problem is to really come to understand how we think about ourselves and others. We need to gain some awareness of our core beliefs or what I call our scripts and rules. Are the standards that we have set for ourselves -- or the standards that we believe others have set for us -- reasonable? Could anyone actually meet those standards? It is one thing to strive for excellence but another thing to strive for perfection. The latter is not possible but if we believe it is, then we might feel paralyzed by the fear of not meeting this unreasonable standard, and we might not even start the task. We have to be able to talk to ourselves with compassion and remind ourselves that no one is perfect and it is okay to do the best we can on this task or project. 3. Another theory suggests that we do not like to feel whatever feelings are connected to this project. Perhaps the project seems boring or frightening or anxiety-provoking. If we are not willing to tolerate the uncomfortable feelings that go along with this particular task, then we might put it off as long as possible. A homework assignment might sound boring and so we wait until the last minute because we don't want to feel bored. Maybe we need to create a presentation but the idea of the presentation raises our anxiety. Maybe we don't tolerate the feeling of anxiety very well and so we put off putting the presentation together because we don't want to feel anxious. The key to this particular problem is learning to identify and tolerate our feelings. Feelings are normal human reactions to situations. They might be uncomfortable but there is a reason for our feelings. They are like little messengers that are telling us something -- maybe a warning, a need for something, some kind of message. So, the key is to learn to listen to our feelings, understand what they are telling us, and increase our ability and willingness to tolerate uncomfortable feelings. If I can learn to tolerate the anxiety that goes along with creating a presentation, I am more likely to dive in (maybe break that presentation down into pieces that I do a little at a time) and get it done rather than putting it off. 4. Another theory suggests that we do not have very good time management skills. Perhaps we are not that great at planning and organizing. So, rather than setting aside a designated time to get the task done, we just don't even think about it until it is almost due and then we panic. So the answer to this dilemma is to keep a calendar that is big enough to write down when you are going to do certain things on certain days. So if I have a big project that is due in a week, I might break it down into four parts and designate a block of time to four separate days in the upcoming week. I will write that on my calendar so I don't forget. I also have to be willing to commit to doing what I wrote on the calendar. 5. Then there is the theory that we are just too distractable. We can't stay focused on one thing so it just doesn't get done. We are not really procrastinating. We are just not getting the task done. The key to solving this problem is going to use the tip from number 4 -- blocking off a period of time and writing it on the calendar -- plus another tip which is turning off all of the potential distractions when it comes time to work on the task. Put the phone in another room so we are not tempted to look at it. Turn off the television. Create a space that is quiet and is not going to be distracting. These are just a few ideas that might help you understand why you procrastinate and what to do about it. I have a library of handouts, podcasts, and YouTube videos that I like to share with people on specific topics and procrastination is definitely one of those topics. I hope you have found this information to be helpful! Judi
(MA, LMHP, LADC)
Answered on 11/15/2022

How can I lessen my use of social media, Internet, YouTube etc and focus more on my studies?

Hi there, I do understand that you are finding quite challenging to keep yourself engaged with the activities you need to do. Internet, with the thousand distractions it might bring, is coming in the way of your studies. First and foremost, let me say that this is a very common issue that many people nowadays are facing. It is just very complicated to manage your time, especially because it does not seem as much time consuming as it actually is afterwards. So, there are different reasons that might push you in this sort of behavioral pattern, but all of them lead to the same two root causes:  - It could be because of procrastination.  - Your brain is constantly looking for highly rewarding activities. Let's look into them one at the time. So, procrastination is not the art of being lazy, as many would suggest and as it was seen in the past years. It is all about coping strategies. We procrastinate because we fear something. Then the way we procrastinate can vary. Anyways it has to do with emotional stress and with sense of pressure. Taking care of emotions and stressors in your life can be game changing. Many times, when my clients face challenges like this one, I invite them to ask the following question: "What is it that I am afraid of"? This very simple question can open to very deep reflections. I see that you mention that before the pandemic you did not have such issue. The pandemic did not only affect  the way our education is delivered, it affected our social life as much as our own vision of the world and the future, giving them a way grimmer look. On top of that, I see that you have recently started university. First and foremost: Well done for that. Being in university is a great experience, that can bring a lot of satisfaction, but it can quite quickly become a source of intense stress and pressure and paradoxically increase the number of meaningless activities we engage with. The way you actually wrote that message, and the choice of words and phrases that you have made, give me the impression that you are indeed a high achiever, but as well that you are quite hard on yourself. This can be detrimental to your own confidence and self-esteem. Again here, two elements that are at the core of the reasons we find in procrastination. Moving on to a more neuropsychological reason, as we said, your brain might be interested in highly rewarding activities. This is one of the most common elements of engaging with activities like web browsing and spending a lot of time watching online material. Our brain has a specific pathway, which involves dopamine, a neurotransmitter, which is technically known as the reward pathway. It basically creates an element of dependence around activities that make us release high levels of dopamine. The bad thing about this though, is that dopamine is not a compounding substance, so that I watch videos and get 7 dopamine and then do homework and get an extra 3 so that all together I have 10 dopamine. The dopamine receptors work slightly differently: if you watch videos and get 7, an activity that gives you a release of 3 will not look appealing anymore because in order to get that 3 you have to drop the 7. Your brain, as the clever machine that it is, will never take such an inconvenient choice. But unfortunately, your brain is not aware of the society and the rules around you. It will not know that doing your homework can lead to a way bigger reward and sense of satisfaction than those videos. It just thinks about maximum reward in the present moment. So, now that we have a basic understanding of the root cause, let's make a clarification. These two causes are most of the time related, triggering each other as they please. What this means in regard to your question is that the best way to control such behaviors and feel more engaged with your life, you need two things: Being more aware of your inner world, and create a structure around your life where you regulate accordingly the pleasant activities you engage with. Increasing awareness is in general always good practice. In your case, being more connected with your inner world can be optimal to raise up again your motivation levels and desire to commit. That will be a key element in order to stick to the structure we mentioned above. Your brain would not like the changes that you need to take, and will try to fight them with all its resources. That's why people many times try to bring structure but fail in maintaining it. You need to have a strong motivation in order to commit to such structural changes. That motivation comes from accepting one's fears and recalling to all the inner resources that one has inside. Remember that we work as a whole. Bringing just structure without keeping care of your inner world will quickly lead you to burnout. So, you want to approach this challenge in an holistic way and treat yourself kindly while working with your emotional world, and use the same kindness when dealing with your engagement around structure. Building structure is something easier said than done. It needs to be flexible and require to allocate space to self care (which will turn into maintenance of your structure). These are my suggestions. I hope you find them useful and if you feel in need to explore more such topics, please feel free to get in touch.
(Psychotherapist)
Answered on 10/28/2022

How to be consistent in reaching goals

We set different types of goals for ourselves to move forward and feel accomplished. Personal growth can include goals towards health, inter-personal relationships, financial, career, and family. It can be overwhelming to take on goals, whether they are small or large.  I assist many individuals who experience anxiety and stress and are not getting sleep (poor quality and not enough restful sleep). We work on setting small goals. Progressing from poor sleep 7 days a week to enough sleep 1-2 days a week is the first step we look at for goal setting. Sometimes we need assistance to develop skills to improve focus and concentration. It can be helpful to work with an objective individual to provide support and help with accountability and encouragement when it's most needed. Have you tried breaking down the goal into smaller steps, an easy to follow "map" of how to get there? A to do list with actionable items you can check off to lead you closer to your goal. The list can include a daily checklist, a weekly list, and a longer term month or year planning list. How have you successfully accomplished goals previously? What lessons can you take from those times to help you succeed in your endeavors? Are you setting realistic goals for yourself? Identify how additional supports and resources can make it easier to complete your goals. How has putting off accomplishing these goals affected your daily life and your long term plans? What are some consequences of not completing these goals?  What are the benefits you will gain from accomplishing these goals? A visual representation of what it means to achieve these goals can be a good motivator. A drawing, vision board, a small daily reward system are encouraging ways to keep moving yourself forward and help measure growth and achievement.  Dedicate some time each day to help you get closer to your goals. When you see you are able to accomplish these smaller steps, you may gain confidence and resilience needed to get closer to reaching your goals.  There are times in our lives when it can be beneficial to meet with a licensed mental health counselor to help with these types of stressors.  
(LPC, NCC)
Answered on 09/25/2022