When and How To Say No To Extra Work

Yann Bastard

With more and more teams being understaffed, chances are you’ve been asked to take on more work. Top performers are a prime target for additional requests. But you need to be careful about what you agree to take on. In this piece, the author outlines when it’s best…

Consider your average work week. What percentage of your daily tasks fit into your job description? If you’re like most high-achievers, chances are that over time you’ve assumed many responsibilities outside your main scope of work. But how much do these new obligations contribute to your professional advancement versus running you ragged?

In the wake of the Great Resignation, quiet quitting, and major layoffs, many professionals are being asked to do more with less. When organizations are understaffed, the workload is typically redistributed to remaining team members. While an increase in scope can temporarily boost individual commitment and performance, in the long-term it can lead to burnout and hurt the organization’s results as a whole.

Top performers are a prime target for additional requests. Not only do they enjoy a challenge and the opportunity for growth, but in my experience as an executive coach, I’ve found many high-achievers are motivated by a need to please and to earn the proverbial gold-star for going above and beyond.

Take Irene, a project manager whose team headcount was recently reduced by 15%. Kind, generous, and loyal (sometimes to a fault), Irene wanted to look like a team player and to ease her boss’s stress at this moment of crisis. She volunteered to assume three major initiatives within 48 hours of her colleagues’ departure, rendering her over capacity. Irene soon found herself living at work, moving through each day with a cloud of dread hovering over her head, unable to find time for herself, family, or friends.

While there’s typically nothing wrong with pitching in to help when the organization or your team is short-staffed, you need to make sure you’re saying yes for the right reasons. If you’re someone who, like Irene, tends to agree to every additional request that comes your way, here’s how to gauge when it’s appropriate to push back and how to do so with grace and professionalism.

Say no when … your primary job responsibilities will suffer. 

Let’s say you work on the product team, but you’ve been asked to help with marketing. You may soon find yourself spending so much time reviewing promotional material that your primary job responsibilities — things like user research or strategy — suffer.

If an assignment would detract from your core responsibilities or would compromise your ability to consistently deliver high- quality work without any significant upside in terms of learning or skills acquisition, it’s best to decline and focus on what’s already on your plate.

Avoid saying, “Sorry, this isn’t in my job description.” A better approach is to use a strategy known as the relational account, or explaining why your refusal is in the best interest of everyone involved. Put simply, this means you say “If I helped you, I’d be letting others down.” Or more specifically “I would be unable to do a good job on your project, and my other work would suffer.”

Research shows that this strategy can help you be viewed as caring and conscientious. For example, you might share, “I have to say no, because if I devoted time to marketing activities, then we’d miss several key product launch dates and our revenue goals would suffer.”

Say no when … it’s someone else’s work.

In an age with matrixed teams and highly collaborative workflows, it’s easy to get sucked into doing work that isn’t your job, like the sales rep who finds themselves fielding customer service calls. Irene, the project manager whose story I shared earlier, found herself being dragged into solving issues their director of operations should have been overseeing.

She approached her boss to find a workable compromise and explained: “It’s not possible for me to continue executing these operational duties, nor is it within my purview. Continuing to do so only creates confusion. I’m happy to put together detailed documentation so that the operations team can take over.”

If you don’t mind doing the additional work or feel it contributes to your growth in a meaningful way, clearly outline what you expect the new responsibility will result in, such as better assignments in the future, a move toward a promotion, or a mention at the board meeting. Consider a compensation adjustment to reflect your added value. You could say, “For the last six months, I’ve assumed responsibilities A, B, and C. What’s the best way to ensure my compensation is commensurate with my increased scope?”

Say no when … there’s no clear exit strategy.

Only take on additional responsibilities when you understand the full scope of what’s involved. You want to avoid miscommunication down the road and you don’t want it to be an open-ended arrangement. Perhaps your boss asks you to participate in a new initiative. Get specifics. How long will you be needed on the project? What meetings will you be expected to attend?

If after receiving clarity, you determine it’s not a fit because the opportunity of saying yes is too great, you can lead with gratitude and say, “Thank you for the opportunity. It sounds like an interesting project, but it would be out of integrity for me to commit to it knowing I wouldn’t have the bandwidth or resources available to achieve the goal.”

You might also offer to help in some smaller way. Could you attend brainstorming meetings or agree to consult on drafts of the business plan? Pitching in where and how you can proves you’re a do-er and shows you’re a team player.

Say no when … the ask is unreasonable.

Maybe senior leadership has requested a business plan from scratch within two business days. You know that’s not possible, but what do you do? Try a positive no, which allows you to protect your time while still furthering the relationship. In response to senior leadership’s request, you could explain what you can get done in the time allotted. For instance: “It’s not possible to deliver the entire report by Friday afternoon.

What I could do is have a first draft of section one. How does that sound?” Or, you might offer to adjust the timeline, saying something like, “I hear this is important. Friday isn’t possible, but I can have everything for you by Monday afternoon.”

Perhaps you offer to introduce the person to a coworker who can help or a contractor they could hire. This may sound like, “This isn’t my zone of expertise, but I’ll email you the name of a colleague who I would suggest working with.”

You can’t say no to everything, but saying no for the right reasons can help you feel more confident and empowered.

By: Melody Wilding

Source: When — and How — to Say No to Extra Work

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Teachers Are Not Prepared For Students With Special Needs

Students in Montclair State University’s dual-certification program (Jackie Mader / Hechinger Report)

Strong progress has been made to integrate students with disabilities into general-education classrooms. Educator instruction hasn’t kept up. When Mary Fair became a teacher in 2012, her classes often contained a mix of special-education students and general-education students. Placing children with and without disabilities in the same classroom, instead of segregating them, was a growing national trend, spurred by lawsuits by special-education advocates.

But in those early days, Fair had no idea how to handle her students with disabilities, whose educational challenges ranged from learning deficits to behavioral disturbance disorders. Calling out a child with a behavioral disability in front of the class usually backfired and made the situation worse. They saw it as “an attack and a disrespect issue,” Fair said.

Over time, Fair figured out how to navigate these situations and talk students “down from the ledge.” She also learned how to keep students with disabilities on task and break down lessons into smaller, easier bits of information for those who were struggling.

No one taught her these strategies. Although she earned a bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate in math instruction for both elementary and middle school, she never had to take a class about students with disabilities. She was left to figure it out on the job.

Many teacher-education programs offer just one class about students with disabilities to their general-education teachers, “Special Ed 101,” as it’s called at one New Jersey college. It’s not enough to equip teachers for a roomful of children who can range from the gifted to students who read far below grade level due to a learning disability.

A study in 2007 found that general-education teachers in a teacher-preparation program reported taking an average of 1.5 courses focusing on inclusion or special education, compared to about 11 courses for special-education teachers. Educators say little has changed since then.

A 2009 study concluded that no one explicitly shows teachers how to teach to “different needs.” Because of time constraints, the many academic standards that must be taught, and a lack of support, “teachers are not only hesitant to implement individualized instruction, but they do not even know how to do so,” the report stated.

Fair says teacher-preparation programs should be doing more. At the very least, “You should have a special-education class and an English language learner class,” she said. “You’re going to have those students.”

Between 1989 and 2013, the percentage of students with disabilities who were in a general education class for 80 percent or more of the school day increased from about 32 percent to nearly 62 percent. Special-education advocates have been pushing for the change—especially for students who have mild to moderate disabilities like a speech impairment—in some cases by suing school districts.

Some research shows as many as 85 percent of students with disabilities can master general-education content if they receive educational supports. Supports can include access to a special-education teacher, having test questions read aloud, or being allowed to sit in a certain part of the classroom.

Students with disabilities who are placed in general-education classrooms get more instructional time, have fewer absences, and have better post-secondary outcomes. Studies also show there is no negative impact on the academic achievement of non-disabled students in an inclusion classroom; those students benefit socially by forming positive relationships and learning how to be more at ease with a variety of people.

Alla Vayda-Manzo, the principal of Bloomfield Middle School about 30 miles outside of New York City, said she’s seen the benefit of inclusion for students. The school serves about 930 students, nearly 20 percent of whom have a disability, according to state data. When students with disabilities are included in classrooms with their peers, Vayda-Manzo said the high expectations and instructional strategies “lend themselves to those students being more successful than they would be had they been in a separate, self-contained environment.”“It’s not just getting a child included … that is only a small portion of the battle.”

But as more districts move to make classrooms inclusive, they’ve been caught flat footed when it comes to finding teachers prepared to make the shift. Academic outcomes for students with disabilities have remained stagnant for years, even as more students with special needs are integrated into general-education classrooms. Students with disabilities are less likely to graduate and more likely to earn an alternate diploma that is not equivalent to a general diploma in the eyes of many colleges and employers. And year after year, they score far lower than their peers on standardized exams.

Experts say the problem is that it takes much more than just placing students with disabilities next to their general-education peers: Teachers must have the time, support, and training to provide a high-quality education based on a student’s needs.

Mike Flom, a parent and co-founder of the advocacy group New Jersey Parents and Teachers for Appropriate Education, said many factors impact inclusion’s effectiveness. His twin sons, now in seventh grade, were placed in an inclusion classroom beginning in fifth grade. Initially, Flom said his sons had “mixed reviews” on whether inclusion was beneficial.

“I think the teachers were really motivated to be helpful,” Flom said. “I don’t know the extent to which they were permitted to do the things, or had enough training to do the things, that were required to be more effective.”“It’s not just getting a child included … that is only a small portion of the battle,” he added.

These days, Mary Fair navigates her classrooms with ease. She has learned through experience how to teach students with a variety of disabilities and works with a veteran special-education teacher to modify lesson plans and tests.

On a recent morning in a seventh-grade math-inclusion classroom at Bloomfield Middle School, Fair and her co-teacher, the special-education teacher Christina Rodriguez, started a lesson on the order of operations.

Fair stepped up to the front of the classroom as Rodriguez circulated to make sure students were on task.“We’re starting order of operations,” Fair said. “It’s something you did in sixth grade, but today we are doing it differently.”“Ms. Fair, I want to see if they remember,” Rodriguez said to Fair, who smiled and nodded.“Put your hand up if you remember what the order of operations is,” Rodriguez said.More than half of the students raised their hands

“Who remembers ‘PEMDAS’?” Rodriguez asked, referring to the mnemonic device used to remember order of operations (Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication and Division, Addition and Subtraction). More students eagerly shot their hands in the air.

Fair cut in and explained that although they learned PEMDAS in sixth grade, they were going to learn a new rule about the order of operations today. “Take your yellow paper and fold it horizontally,” Fair said, referring to a yellow sheet of paper that sat on each student’s desk.“Like this,” Rodriguez said, holding up a piece of paper and demonstrating how to fold it horizontally.“Like a hamburger,” Fair added.

To an outsider, it’s impossible to tell who is the general-education teacher and who is the special-education teacher. Both Fair and Rodriguez have desks at the front of the room. They switch off during lessons, effortlessly picking up where the other has left off. They both give directions and explain content. They are careful not to fall into what educators say is a common trap: seeing general-education students as the responsibility of one teacher, and special-education students as the responsibility of the other.

That’s how a good inclusion class should be, Rodriguez said, but it takes practice and time. Like Fair, Rodriguez didn’t receive any training in special education before she entered the classroom. She became a teacher through an alternate program. When she got a job teaching special education six years ago, she relied on strategies she learned while working as an aide in a class for students with autism. In 2014, she received her master’s degree in teaching students with disabilities from New Jersey City University; she now teaches a class for Montclair State University’s dual-certification teacher-preparation program.

Although most traditional teacher-preparation programs nationwide do include some training on students with disabilities, usually in the form of one course over the entirety of the program, educators say this course is often generic and perfunctory. Aspiring teachers also may be given assignments in other classes that require them to adapt a lesson for a hypothetical special-education student.

Fair said she had some assignments like those, but “we didn’t really know what we were talking about, because we weren’t taught it.” Her colleague, the science teacher Jessica Herrera, said she was only offered one class in special education—called “Special Education 101”—when she went through a traditional teacher-preparation program in New Jersey.

“A lot of my training was for that ‘middle of the road’ kind of kid,” Herrera said. “I was prepared for the regular ed student.” In her 13 years as a teacher, Herrera has taught some inclusion classes; she said she picked up strategies from working with “good special-education teachers.” When she earned her master’s degree from Montclair State, she was finally taught how to teach a “range of learners,” she said.

Fair and her co-teacher Rodriguez say there are certain things they wish were included in all teacher-education programs, like an explanation of the different kinds of disabilities and ways to address the various struggles students may encounter. They also say teacher preparation should include more classroom management and “subtle ways” to keep students focused and on task.

Mimi Corcoran, the president of the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), said teacher preparation should better address topics in special education. “We do a disservice to the teachers we’re sending [to schools] in the way we’re training, and we’re doing a disservice to kids,” Corcoran said. “We’ve got to step up to the plate and think differently and act differently, and that’s hard because everybody gets comfortable and systems are hard to change.”

Some teacher-preparation programs are trying to better prepare graduates to teach students with disabilities, especially in inclusion classrooms. At Syracuse University, George Theoharis, a professor and the chair of Teaching and Leadership, said the school’s elementary special-education program has been one of the leaders nationwide in training educators for inclusive education.

Every teacher who graduates from Syracuse’s Early Childhood or Elementary Education program is dual-certified in special education and spends time in inclusion classrooms. Theoharis says it’s an approach that more preparation programs should take. “All of our programs need to be inclusive,” Theoharis said, referring to teacher preparation. “Regardless of what job teachers get, people need to be prepared to work with all children and see all children as their responsibility.”

At Montclair State, students can receive a dual certification in special education and a subject-level or grade-level range. The school also offers a unique concentration in “inclusive iSTeM,” which specifically prepares science, technology, engineering, and math teachers for inclusion classrooms. Students in the program receive a Master of Arts in Teaching, a certification in math or science, and are endorsed by the state as a teacher of students with disabilities.

Jennifer Goeke, a Montclair State professor and the program coordinator, said the dual-certification program prepares teachers to be hired as either a general- education or special-education teacher. “They know how to perform both roles easily and effectively,” Goeke said.

On a recent afternoon, Goeke was holding class in the Bloomfield Middle School media center. She asked her 17 students to first discuss issues they were having in their “fieldwork classrooms,” where they are currently observing and working with general- and special-education teachers. She listened to a few descriptions of struggles and then reminded her students that part of their job is to be an example for other teachers.

“I’m not trying to minimize or trivialize what you might be learning in your content area,” Goeke said. “It’s very important that you have a strong grounding in the methodology and the philosophy of your discipline … and know how to teach your content.” But, Goeke added, “You have to remember that most people do not have any diverse learners in mind. Their training did not teach them to take those students into account.”

In Montclair’s program, students work with two mentor teachers for a year in an inclusion classroom and in small-group settings. They receive extensive training in how to work with students with disabilities as well as how to effectively teach content, like math and science, or grade levels, like early education or elementary education.

Bloomfield chose to partner with the iSTeM program in 2012, and has hired two graduates of the program, and offered teaching positions to several more, who eventually chose jobs in other districts. The Bloomfield Principal, Vayda-Manzo, says the graduates of the program are “like unicorns in the field,” as it’s rare to find teachers who are dual-certified in general and special education.

Current teachers at Bloomfield have also benefited from iSTeM, Vayda-Manzo said. The program provides professional development for inclusion teachers at the school who agree to be mentor teachers for iSTeM students, and those teachers also observe each other and work with professors from Montclair State. Vayda-Manzo said the school makes sure co-teachers have the same planning periods so they have time to plan lessons together each day.

Herrera, who mentors iSTeM teachers, said the professional development provided through the program has improved her ability to teach students with disabilities. “I feel like I got a lot of additional strategies through that,” Herrera said.

On-the-job training is essential to ensure teachers have the skills needed to teach all students in their classroom, especially those teachers who may have attended teacher preparation years ago or missed out on training about disabilities, according to Mimi Corcoran of NCLD. “We have to be fair for the educator,” Corcoran said. For “many that are already in field, the concepts of special education and how to include kids has shifted, and [teachers] need the supports.”

Vayda-Manzo said it has been an easy choice to continue the program.“I saw the impact that it made in our inclusion classes,” Vayda-Manzo said. “We saw tremendous gains.”

By Jackie Mader

Source: Teachers Are Not Prepared for Students With Special Needs – The Atlantic

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What The Joy of Dolphins Can Teach Us About Climate Solutions

On one of those beautiful, cloudless days the Bahamas are famous for, photographer Doc White and his wife, Ceci, dove into the Atlantic Ocean with an assignment to photograph marine mammals. What they considered a routine expedition soon turned into a moment they’ll cherish forever.

As they swam in the crystalline sea, they noticed a pod of spotted dolphins. Awestruck, they longed for a closer look but respectfully kept their distance. Then, something magical happened: The dolphins approached. They made a calm retreat, only to come swimming back moments later. This went on for almost an hour. “I’ve spent a lot of time in the water, and I had never seen that before,” says White.

The pair yearned for that dreamlike moment of physical connection, but resolved to hold out their hands and let the animals decide what to do. “Sure enough, they came up and started nestling against us!” White says, still excited by the memory years later. “Each dolphin acted a bit differently. Some would come very close and touch us; others, while obviously curious, would still keep their distance.”

White had always considered himself an ardent environmentalist and devoted advocate for marine life, but that delightful experience deepened his commitment to protect the natural world. He thinks that if those creatures can exhibit curiosity, playfulness, and joy, they must have other feelings as well — perhaps even an awareness of how the world they share with us is changing.

While we must be careful in viewing animal behavior through the lens of human experiences and anthropomorphic terms, scientists have used simple observations and rigorous testing to assess dolphin behavior. More often than not, their results show that the charismatic creatures exhibit what we’d recognize as joy.

Witnessing that has had a profound impact on White and others. Their close encounters with marine mammals have led them to believe that any solution to the climate crisis must include rethinking our relationship to the natural world. A long history of exploitation and extraction has given many people the idea that we live in a world apart from nature. But if dolphins can, like us, feel joy and other emotions, perhaps we are more connected to them than we realize.

And if that is true, perhaps the experiences and perspectives of the animals with which we share this planet should inspire and inform our climate work. “If you fall in love with a place or an animal and what it gives you,” says White, “then you owe it to that animal to share it with others.”

The secret lives of dolphins

A compelling body of research suggests that dolphins and other animals — dogs, chimpanzees, and elephants being perhaps the most mesmerizing examples — feel a range of sentiments long considered unique to humans, including joy, sadness, empathy, and compassion.  Of course, it doesn’t take a PhD in biology to know dogs are capable of unbridled happiness — anyone who’s watched one catch a Frisbee can see that.

Discerning emotions in cetaceans is a harder task, one Janet Mann, a biologist and psychologist at Georgetown University, relishes. Mann has long been fascinated by animal behavior and human interaction. She began her career studying primates but, intrigued by their complexity, shifted her focus to dolphins. “With dolphins, there’s a challenge of wondering what is going on in their heads because they don’t have facial expressions,” she says. “We have important dissimilarities, as well as important similarities.”

One of those similarities is remarkable intelligence. Dolphins recognize themselves when looking in a mirror. They can use echolocation to identify an object, then choose a matching object from an assortment of items. They possess sophisticated language skills, understand sentence syntax, and recognize the difference between direct and indirect objects. After homo sapiens, dolphins have the largest brains in relation to their body size. “Their brains developed to that size around 30 million years ago, and our brains only started getting bigger around 1.8 million years ago,” Mann says.

And like humans, dolphins are individual beings with distinct personalities. “When people say, ‘What are dolphins like?’ I’m like, ‘Well, what are humans like?’ It’s tough to give a general answer,” Mann says.” If you look at a crowd, you may observe a general behavior. But if you look at one specific person, you see something entirely different. That’s how we’ve come to study dolphins: as individuals.”

While it’s true many animals express what could be considered joy, dolphins and other cetaceans are perhaps the most relatable example because they are just so much, well, fun. Hard indeed is the heart that can’t see joy in their leaping from the water and crashing with a splash. These friendly creatures have been known to glide through the water among surfers, race alongside boats, and chirp or leap beside canoes. 

Elizabeth Henderson, a marine bioacoustic specialist at the Naval Information Warfare Center in San Diego, has seen the animals show compassion and even love. “Sometimes nursing females will adopt calves who have lost their mothers,” she says. “Females will babysit calves at the surface while their mothers forage. In matrilineal societies, such as killer whales, prey is often shared among a pod.” Few who recall the story of Tahlequah, the orca who carried her stillborn calf for 17 days as she swam 1,000 miles through Puget Sound in 2018, doubt she was expressing something akin to grief.

Observations supporting the idea that animals possess rich inner lives have helped spark an idea among a growing number of scientists: Instead of analyzing problems based on how we as humans see them, perhaps we ought to view them from another angle. Opening the lens to consider the perspectives of creatures that rely primarily on sound, or smell, or texture to make their way in the world may lead to new solutions to our most vexing problems, says Kelly Jaakkola, director of research at the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, Florida.

The question, she says, isn’t, “How smart are animals?” but rather, “How are animals smart” — and what can they teach us? Dolphins are grappling with the myriad effects of their habitats getting warmer and more acidic, and they are showing signs of stress. The animals have been recognized as a sentinel species whose health and well-being provides key data for monitoring oceanic health. Fossil records have long shown evolutionary resilience and adaptation to environmental shifts brought by ice ages and other epochal events. But given the speed with which the climate is changing, such adaptations may no longer be possible.

‘We cannot just take, take, take’

Beyond the realms of biology and behavior, these marine species have long captured the hearts and minds of human observers. The ancient Greeks regularly depicted dolphins in their art, music, and stories. They believed the creatures danced to the natural rhythm of the earth, referring to them as philomousoi, which means “music lovers.” Bacchylides often wove tales of dolphins into his work, with humans leaping into the sea and resurfacing joyously riding dolphins.

Poet, climate activist, and 2021 Grist 50 honoree Craig Perez, who was born and raised in Guam, frequently intertwines his experiences with the cetaceans into his work, which includes a poem about Tahlequah’s loss. He believes that the sense of connection he feels to them and the creativity it sparks is vital to becoming a better, more conscious activist and, in turn, creating a better world.

“In many Pacific cultures, animals are seen as kin, gods, spirit guides, emblems, and nourishment, so they are treated with respect and reverence,” Perez says. “I have been lucky to swim and bond with many marine mammals. More recently, my writing has turned to issues of environmental justice and climate activism, because I became more conscious of how much our ecologies have changed for the worse.”

The shifting climate, coupled with the ongoing legacy of colonialism, has placed coastline communities and island nations on the front lines of this global crisis. They grapple with coral bleaching, diminishing fish stocks, and increasingly frequent storms even as they watch a rising sea reclaim the land they call home. genesis3-2-2-1

“Growing up on an island gives you a deep sense of connection to the natural world, to species, and to the ocean itself,” says Cliff Kapono, a professional surfer and chemist who lives in Hilo, Hawaii. “It also instills a sense of resource management. You begin to have this concept that we cannot just take, take, take from this place.”

Kapono has never doubted that we are fundamentally linked to nature, that it is as much a part of us as we are of it. His work as a scientist has only reinforced that belief. One of the first studies he participated in while earning his doctorate in chemistry required extracting a molecule from coral tissue.

As it turns out, the same substance is found within the human heart and lungs. From the heart of the ocean to the heart beating within each of us, we are, he says, truly connected to the world around us, and to the creatures with which we share it.

By:

Source: What the joy of dolphins can teach us about climate solutions – Fix | Fix

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Why We Procrastinate & How To Stop It

There are days when procrastination comes for us all. You wake up, thinking about a project at work or the life admin you can no longer put off and feel a swell of dread fill your chest. You know you have to deal with it today but you start puttering around and somehow end up deep-cleaning the bin instead of replying to emails or watching sitcom bloopers rather than putting on your running shoes. The putting off of tasks is time-wasting and mindless but sometimes it feels inevitable.

The word ‘procrastination’ has deep historical roots. It derives from the Latin ‘procrastinare’ – meaning ‘to put off until tomorrow’ – but is also derived from the ancient Greek word ‘akrasia’, which means ‘acting against one’s better judgement’. The etymology says that when we procrastinate, we are well aware of what we are doing, which implies that the negative consequences of this delay rest solely on our shoulders. And yet…we do it anyway.

Why procrastination happens – and why it can feel like an inevitable part of our day – is a question that has plagued people for centuries. It’s generally assumed that this behaviour is down to a failure to self-regulate in some way: that a combination of poor time management, laziness and a lack of self-control leads us to procrastinate. In other words, it is because an individual isn’t trying hard enough. This is not just a cultural assumption but one explored by many researchers and institutions too, with studies such as this one from the University of Valencia which found that no matter how long students are given to do their work, procrastination will likely occur.

However there is a growing number of researchers countering this view. Dr Tim Pychyl is the author of popular self-help book The Procrastinator’s Digest: A Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle and the writer behind the Psychology Today column Don’t Delay. He believes that procrastination runs far deeper – that it is influenced by biology, our perception of time and our ability to manage our emotions.

On the biological front, procrastination comes down to ongoing tension in our brains between the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex, according to the neurosurgery department at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.The limbic system is a major primordial brain network and one of the oldest and most dominant parts of the brain. It supports a variety of functions, including emotions – particularly those which evolved early and play an important role in survival. This includes feelings of motivation and reward, learning, memory, the fight-or-flight response, hunger, thirst and production of hormones that help regulate the autonomic nervous system.

On the other hand, your prefrontal cortex is linked to planning complex cognitive behaviour, personality expression, decision-making and moderating social behaviour. This is where decisions, forward-planning and the rationalising of the impulsive, stimulus-based behaviour of the limbic system is centred. As the prefrontal cortex is the newer, less developed (and therefore somewhat weaker) portion of the brain, the instinctual limbic response will often win over rationalising.

This all feeds into the psychology at the heart of procrastination: what makes us feel good now (such as avoiding or delaying tasks) has a stronger hold over us than what makes us feel good in the long run. As Dr Pychyl told The New York Times: “Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem.”

This is an example of ‘present bias‘, the NYT article goes on to explain: our tendency to prioritise short-term wants and needs over long-term ones, even if the short-term reward is far smaller. This feeds into a larger disconnect between the present and future self and our perception of time. We struggle to connect to our future self (aka the one who would benefit from us taking the bins out in a timely fashion) or see them as ‘us’ when the ‘us’ of today has far more immediate and pressing concerns.

At its core, procrastination is thought by Pychyl and his collaborator Dr Fuschia Sirois to be linked to an inability to regulate our emotions, which can be seen in how we prioritise short-term relief over long-term satisfaction. Putting off a task makes you feel good in the short term because it provides relief from largely negative emotions: stress, panic, disgust, anxiety, self-doubt and so on. The long-term consequences have little bearing on how good it can feel to be distracted or absorbed in something that has nothing to do with the big assignment that is making you panic. However, as all procrastinators can attest, that relief is short-lived, leading to the cycle repeating itself.

So what can you do if you’re prone to procrastination? As with anything, especially actions that regulate your emotions, you can’t just stop and expect that to work. Without learning how to regulate your emotions in other, less destructive ways, the temptation to procrastinate will once again rear its head.

Recognising that procrastination is not an act of laziness but a tool for emotional regulation can be hugely helpful, says Pychyl. It is a step towards forgiving ourselves and having self-compassion for procrastinating, both of which have been found to help procrastinators: in a 2010 study, researchers found that students who forgave themselves for procrastinating on studying for an exam were able to procrastinate less for subsequent exams. Another study, from 2012, looked at the links between procrastination, stress and self-compassion. It found that lower levels of self-compassion (aka treating ourselves with kindness and understanding when we make mistakes) may explain some of the stress that procrastinators experience. You can start to harness self-compassion by following guided meditations such as these by the founder of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, Dr Kristin Neff, or simply by committing to meeting challenges with kindness and understanding.

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Seeing procrastination this way can also help with the impulse towards waiting until you feel ‘ready’ to perform a certain task, as Pychyl told The Washington Post. Once we can see how our emotions have shaped how we respond to a task, it makes it easier not to let how we feel dictate whether or not we can get started. You do not need to be in the right frame of mind to start working or cleaning or studying. Instead of focusing on feelings, Pychyl recommended breaking down a task into small, component parts which can actually be accomplished. It could be as simple as writing the first sentence, dusting one surface or closing all the distracting links you have open.

Procrastination is part of life. Its impact can range from mildly irritating to life-changing but the main thing to remember is that it can’t be countered by self-flagellation. By finding ways to forgive yourself in the moment and be kind to your future self, you can slowly chip away at the habit.

By: Sadhbh O’Sullivan

Source: Why We Procrastinate & How To Stop It

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