Procrastination: Taming the chimp!

With dyslexia presenting alongside other co-occurring conditions, studying with dyslexia is tricky and at it's worse it can be debilitating academically without the right support.  This leads to judgement from others who are not experiencing these struggles and who don't understand what it is like to be neurodiverse.  This article explores an aspect of life that we all experience but is perhaps at it's worse when dyslexic.  PROCRASTINATION.  Together we will explore what we can do to help us be more productive when our brains clearly want to go in a different direction.  If you like, how can we tame the cheeky chimp in our brains that sabotages our productivity?

Hang on, I am just going to make myself a coffee before I write this....

Ooh I just got a notification on Facebook...

I just fancy some toast....

I am struggling to concentrate now.  I will just go out for a couple of hours and come back to this...

Confession Alert!

I am not writing this blog post from the perspective of being an expert in finding solutions for combatting procrastination.  I am writing this post from the perspective of an expert experiencer of procrastination who battles with it every day.  If you are like me then you are in good company!  If you are a student who struggles to concentrate, then I am inviting you to share your experiences with me in the comments below.  If you are a parent trying to motivate your child then what are you seeing?  If you are a teacher then I want to hear from you too.

Let's talk about the 'Chimp'!

To explore procrastination we need to understand what it is and when it happens and what is causing it.  There are lots of aspects to explore and in this article, I am only going to list in a very non-expert way what I understand about procrastination and how it relates to neurodiversity whether that is dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, etc.

I am not saying that procrastination is a symptom of neurodiversity.  I believe that everyone experiences it to a greater or lesser degree, however, when you live with neurodiversity I believe that when struggling with working memory, cognitive processing, visual stress, reading etc, before you sit down to do some work, for some, there is going to be a battle with concentration right from the get-go and this is going to make the chances of procrastinating greater.

This is not being lazy, un-engaged or uncommitted, this is a struggle and this needs to be understood if you are supporting a student with dyslexia.  The student wants to be productive, but when doing any work which has a high level of cognitive processing, there is a chance that this is going to be an exhausting process, every day,  and with that comes a desire to not feel exhausted or weary.  It is no surprise that in our brains we yearn to feel stimulated by the work so that we can feel productive and not feel the guilt of wasting time every day when we see others who clearly do not experience the same struggles and who seem to be able to sit down and concentrate for hours at a time and achieve better results.

We have an internal battle between our aim to deliver and the chimp chatter that tries to help us to avoid doing energy sapping thinking when it would be more fun to make that fifth coffee.... Yes I am being flippant, but our brains seek stimulation and if we are working with tasks that simply exhaust us e.g reading textbooks, writing essays, researching literature, then naturally our brains are going to look to do something that gives it some kind of renewed energy to concentrate.

It is no surprise to me that social media is so popular as it gives anyone a way to forget what they are doing and find something else 'more interesting' to look at, think about etc.  On a more serious note, internet content is a huge problem for procrastinators.

The Guardian

recently reported that one in three British 15-year-olds are classed as 'extreme' internet users consuming internet content for at least 6 hours per day.

The internet is a part of our lives (hey I am writing a blog which I hope that people will read on (yes you have guessed it) the internet.  That said, for students who struggle with studying and whose lives are full of screens of varying sizes, the temptation to be distracted, at times when studying is hard, is huge.

But six hours a day of internet usage?  A quarter of the day?  A quarter of a day when perhaps the first 7 hours you have been asleep, then maybe 6 at college with perhaps a further 2 hours of sleep (if you go to bed at 10pm?). On this basis, this means that we don't actually give ourselves a lot of time for our own development, fun etc if 6 hours of our day is just focused on the internet!!

Obviously, I am not a teenager, so I am not a part of that statistic, but I am a blogger and by its nature, a blogger spends a lot of time on the internet and so the risk of procrastination is massive!

The TED Talk video below about procrastination is an excellent insight into the life of a procrastinator (not necessarily about neurodiversity) and presents a compelling argument for being self-vigilant when we put things off and whether there is a less obvious but definitely fundamental problem in our lives with procrastination.

So if you watched the video you can now see why I mentioned the 'Chimp' but there are also some other characters involved too.  There is the character who wants to get stuff done and then there is the 'panic monster' who gets you to get stuff done at the last minute.  I have to be honest, I resonated very strongly with this video and so often I have done things at the last minute, but that said, I am noticing that my mind is often thinking about what I need to get done and how long before the panic monster kicks in, so I always get stuff done, but perhaps never to the level of quality that I have the potential to achieve.

So what can we do to stop procrastination from blocking our potential?

This is a good question.  Like I said, I am no expert in solutions for procrastination but I have learnt a few things that have helped me over the years.

1) What is the first thing you do when you wake up?  Don't let it be internet related!

OK, let's be honest.  When your alarm clock goes off first thing in the morning, what is the first thing that you do?

For me, my alarm clock is my mobile phone.  There was a time when my alarm would go off and then I would check Facebook or some other social network.  I have realised that most of the time when I am on Facebook in a leisure capacity, I am simply looking for entertainment, something to give me some kind of boost.  A novelty that somehow is perceived to be better in value than in being present with my life around me.  Most people go on social media (I reckon) so as to focus on something that is in a different place than where they actually are in that moment in.  In starting the day like that, I found that I really struggled to be present with what I needed to do that day and as such spent most of the day procrastinating, especially when I had lots of work which required lots of concentration.

I found that when I made the effort to focus on what was around me when I woke up and not on what was in 'cyberspace', I was much more productive that day.

2) When are you most productive?  Protect that time!

Read this great blog article about how we as humans experience peaks and troughs in our productivity during the day.  These tend to be pretty consistant too.

From my perspective, the earlier I start in the day the better and I can be pretty productive until around 11 or 12 am.  Then when I have lunch, my concentration wains up until around 3pm and then I will get a second wind and be able to work until 6pm.  After dinner ( I don't do this often) if I need to work, I find that I am able to concentrate up to about 10pm.

So it would make sense for me to save all my concentration heavy tasks for either the morning or later in the day and then do the tasks that I can easily do (i.e which are less heavy in terms of needing to concentrate, or perhaps requires a different type of concentration) in the afternoon which for me will be speaking with people, meetings, providing coaching sessions.

What are those times for you?  If you can identify them then protect your real productive, concentration heavy times. Switch off your notifications, your phone, don't check your emails or social media and be brilliant at getting stuff done that counts.

Then in those times when sitting at a desk revising or studying is too hard, do something else that you know that you can do which is useful and you will probably find that you won't be looking to get distracted.

3) Make tasks easier to do.  Use technology as your slave and not the other way round.

Readers of this blog will know how much I love technology that helps with studying.  Software that reads out text is useful for concentration when reading is difficult e.g



If you are having problems with writing long essays then maybe if you use mind mapping software that helps to break down that essay into smaller chunks could be useful.  I use

Matchware's Mindview

when I really need to focus.

For some, being able to dictate text is less tiring than physically typing it and so

speech to text technology

could be useful.

There is so much out there in terms of software solutions that can help to make studying, revision, reading and writing so much easier, why wouldn't we use it?  If doing a task is a lot easier for us to do then we will get it done quicker and we will feel so much better about ourselves.

I hope that you have found this article to be useful.  It won't help you to stop procrastinating, but it may help you to be inspired to do it less and be more productive.

What are your thoughts?  Please comment below.