Last week, we discussed how to diagnose time drains as a strategy to evaluate your time management skills. Now that you have a clearer picture of your work habits day-to-day, you can directly target those behaviors that may be derailing your productivity and work progress.
How You're Thinking About Work
If you find that your day is marked by procrastination and/or you’re engaging in time drains, the way that you are thinking about your to-do list may be to blame. According to Dr. Albert Ellis’ theory of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), our unhelpful self-talk leads to self-sabotaging and goal inhibiting behaviors- in this case, procrastination and engaging in time drains. Let’s take a closer look at some specific thought patterns that are particularly unhelpful when it comes to productivity.
“I Can’t Stand….”- Frustration Intolerance thoughts sound like, “I CAN’T STAND how boring this assignment is,” or, “This project is TOO MUCH.” The hallmark of Frustration Intolerance type thinking is telling yourself that work is TOO MUCH, TOO HARD, or TOO OVERWHELMING. When you convince yourself that these thoughts are facts, you end up crushing your productivity before you even get started. The truth is, even though you might not want to work on an assignment because it’s boring or stressful, in most day-to-day circumstances YOU CAN and you are very much CAPABLE of tackling the project. Rather than talking yourself out of working on a task, talk yourself into getting the task done. For example, try thinking instead, “Even though I really dislike updating these spreadsheets, I CAN TOLERATE the work…I’ve done it so many times before. I can do it again.” Then, get started. It’s often the anticipation that is worse than the actual task.
“I Should….”- Demandingness beliefs can be time drain culprits. Demandingness beliefs are rigid demands about yourself, others, or situations. For example, if you tell yourself, “I SHOULDN’T have so much work,” you can spend all day debating the fairness of the workload; however, the reality is that you DO have that much work and no amount of demanding will change that. Another common belief is, “I HAVE to be motivated to start working on this project.” Do you have to be motivated to work on a task? Not really. Motivation may make the task more enjoyable, but you can work AND be productive even if you don’t feel like it. Rather than demanding, try preferring. Preference thoughts express what you want to happen, but also acknowledge that no matter how much you WANT a situation to be a certain way, it doesn’t HAVE to be that way. Think about traffic- no matter how much I WANT traffic to disappear on my commute, that's not going to happen. There is no real reason there SHOULDN’T be any traffic. So, in cases of Demandingness, try thinking instead that “I REALLY REALLY WISH that I wasn’t assigned to this client, but I don’t control which client I’m assigned to. As much as I WISH I was on a different team, all I can do in this moment is get my work done.”
“It’s AWFUL, TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE….”- It may seem really bad when you’re stuck in a situation where you’re under multiple deadlines, numerous clients are emailing you, and your boss is making unrealistic demands. However, Awfulizing thoughts like, “It’s HORRIBLE how much work I have,” lead to increased stress. I don’t know about you, but when I’m in a state of panic, I’m definitely not as productive. Rather than getting yourself more stressed, it’s important to remind yourself that, “Telling myself how HORRIBLE it is that I’m so swamped: 1) isn’t making the work go away, 2) is making me feel more anxious, and 3) is distracting me from getting my work done.” If you can start making forward progress, you can prove to yourself that you can make a dent in the work, which will also help to alleviate stress.
How do you identify what type of thinking is leading to your procrastination? Try catching yourself while you’re engaging in a time drain and ask yourself, “What am I thinking about my work in this moment?” Then, work to shift your mindset and see what happens to your productivity.
Now that you have stopped talking yourself out of doing your work, we can talk about what you can DO to overcome roadblocks to productivity. Stay tuned next week when we discuss concrete strategies that you can use proactively, and in the moment, to maximize time management and say goodbye to time drains.
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 R.A., Doyle, K.A., Dryden, W., & Backx, W. (2014). A practitioner’s guide to rational emotive behavior therapy (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.