Are you spending your entire work day surfing Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and news sites instead of doing what you’re paid to do?
Are you on your Xbox or Playstation yet again instead of working on your college or university assignment?
Are you texting your friends and whatsapp groups instead of doing your tax returns?
Are you watching Netflix instead of writing that business proposal or long overdue blog for your website?
Are you generally putting off important tasks in favour of more pleasurable pursuits?
If the answer to any other these questions is yes then welcome to the ever increasing group of world class procrastinators!
For those of us who from time to time ( or more often than not ) engage in the habit of putting off necessary actions, we know that there is nothing really pleasurable about it in the long term. Oftentimes it can lead to a feeling that our lives are spiraling out of our control. When we fail to hit the targets on both our physical and mental “to do lists” we experience feelings of guilt and sometimes shame about not completing those all important tasks.
The good news is that procrastination is not innate and we are not born lazy. Procrastination is something that we pick up from our environment and since it is something that we learn then it follows that we can just as easily unlearn it with the right mindset and tools.
“Pay now, play later or play now, pay later – you decide”
What Is Procrastination?
Procrastination is the act of delaying or putting off tasks until the last minute, or past their deadline.
Some researchers have defined procrastination as a “form of self-regulation failure characterized by the irrational delay of tasks despite potentially negative consequences.” In most cases, procrastination is not a sign of a serious problem. It is simply a tendency that we give in to at some point or another. Naturally most of us would like to become more successful, healthier, exercise often, meditate, finish all the projects we start and just be better disciplined in general. However there are times when it can seem as though we just cant make these things happen and we find it difficult to stick to our goals by actually putting our intentions into practice. We may find that we are frequently putting things off until “tomorrow”
Procrastination affects most of us in one way or another, Usually we procrastinate on tasks that are significant but not necessarily part of our routine.
“It has been found that procrastination can be particularly pronounced among students. It is estimated that 80% to 95% of college students procrastinated on a regular basis, particularly when it came to completing assignments and coursework. This is largely because students tend to overestimate how much time they actually have to complete their work and also overestimate how motivated they will be in the future. They also underestimate how long certain activities will take to complete and mistakenly believe that they need to be in the right frame of mind to do their work”
Why Do We Procrastinate?
There is a tendency to believe that we have to feel inspired or motivated to work on a task at a particular moment. The reality however is that if we wait until we are in the right frame of mind to do certain tasks,especially undesirable ones, then it is unlikely that it will ever be the right time and the task will continue to be delayed.
The following are a few of the factors that can lead to procrastination:
- Short term mood prioritization – This occurs when we prioritize our short term mood over our long term achievement and well-being. For example, we might put off doing an important task that we find stressful simply because delaying the task will help us to feel better in the short term. It happens when we postpone doing something that we think might cause us to feel negative emotions. Short term mood prioritization can also happen when we postpone important tasks simply to increase or prolong the positive emotions that are temporarily generated by appealing alternatives such as digital entertainment, consumption of alcoholic beverages, gossiping, fitness or other less important tasks. This Phenomenon has been described as “a form of mood repair closely associated with the concepts of hedonistic delay (postponing things due to prioritization of enjoyable activities or lack of caring), instant gratification (preferring things that are immediately satisfying even if disadvantageous in the long term), and the pleasure principle ( tending to seek out pleasurable activities and avoid unpleasant ones).
- Anxiety and fear – Procrastination can also be a result of both anxiety and fear. Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and a lack of energy can make it difficult to begin and complete tasks. Anxiety can also lead to self-doubt. When we are not motivated to tackle an important project or if we feel insecure about our abilities then we might find it easier to put it off and working on other less challenging tasks. We may also procrastinate as a result of fear. An example of this might be delaying medical tests for fear of the results or not dealing with bills or other financial issues for fear of financial disaster. The fear of being judged or embarrassed can also lead to procrastination by putting off important meetings or completing projects. We may be fearful or anxious about failing or being receiving negative feedback but these concerns are often irrational because they are exaggerated,
- Feeling overwhelmed – This can happen due to to having so many things to do that its unclear where to start or because a task seems too hard or complicated.
- Task aversion – There is a tendency in many people to procrastinate when they perceive their tasks as boring, frustrating or unpleasant. For example, we might put off making an important phone call to delay the unpleasant feelings and emotions that might be generated by such a phone call. We might delay doing housework due to the feelings of boredom or monotony associated with the specific tasks involved despite the feelings of calm and contentment that having a clean home will undoubtedly bring.
- Underlying conditions – Some underlying conditions can make people more prone to procrastination. For example people with OCD ( Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) are more likely to exhibit traits of maladaptive, unhealthy perfectionism, which causes fears about making new mistakes and doubts about whether they are doing something correctly, and anxiety about the expectations of others. People with OCD also have a tendency towards indecision which causes them to procrastinate when making decisions. Similarly ADHD ( attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder) can make it hard to concentrate on a specific task. Depression can also lead to procrastination as a result of fatigue and loss of interest.
- Low self control – Self control ( also known as self discipline and willpower) is a reflection of our ability to guide our behaviour in pursuit of our goals especially in the face of harmful temptations. Procrastination is also referred to as a state of mind where someone acts against their better judgement due to a lack of self control.
“Being able to exert self-control is crucial to successfully self – regulating one’s behavior and avoiding procrastination”
- Time management issues – Failing to prioritize tasks and attending to less important tasks, not fully appreciating how important it is to finish the important task on time. Some psychologists however suggest that procrastination is mainly an issue with managing our emotions and not our time. It is proposed that it is in fact the “important” task that we are putting off that makes us feel bad perhaps because its too boring, difficult or we are worried about failing and so to make us feel better in the moment, we elect to do something else.
- Low energy – Low levels of mental and physical energy can lead to procrastination. For example people may delay doing household chores or going to a gym class when they get home from work because they are both mentally and physically exhausted. Low energy levels can be caused by various issues, such as a lack of sleep, poor nutrition, emotional or physical burnout and depression.
- Unclear goals – Goals that are unclear can make it more likely that we will procrastinate than goals that are clear, concrete and well defined. Goals are more effective when they are associated with a specific plan of action
- Fear of failure – The fear of failure can prevent us from doing something particularly if we are afraid of humiliation or rejection. Low self esteem and or imposter syndrome can also prevent us from going after what we truly desire.
- Perfectionism – The idea that anything we do has to be close to perfect could also be a factor in why we unconsciously choose to do nothing at all.
“The only difference between success and failure is the ability to take action” – alexander graham bell
Other Causes Of Procrastination
- Not knowing what needs to be done
- Not knowing how to do something
- Not wanting to do something
- Not caring if it gets done or not
- Not caring when something gets done
- Not feeling in the mood to do it
- Being in the habit of waiting until the last minute
- Believing that you work better under pressure
- Thinking that you can finish it at the last minute
- Lacking the initiative to get started
- Sickness or poor health
- Waiting for the right moment
- Needing time to think about the task
- Delaying one task in favor of working on another
“The really happy people are those who have broken the chains of procrastination, those who find satisfaction in doing the job at hand. They’re full of eagerness, zest, productivity. You can be, too” – norman vincent peale
How To Overcome Procrastination
- Make a habit of daily planning, focusing on one task at a time – Having a daily “to do ” list will help to keep you on track. Make a list of all the things you need to achieve on a particular day. As you tick tasks off your list you will feel accomplished and successful. This will keep you organised and motivated to keep moving forward.
- Prioritize your commitments – you can do this by putting the most important and meaningful tasks at the top of your “to -do” list.
- Break it down into small steps – If you have a large or complex task that is causing you to feel stuck or overwhelmed, break it down into smaller, doable parts. Smaller tasks are less daunting and easier to achieve.
- Set Deadlines – Setting personal deadlines and timed goals puts you in a position of racing the clock. This will help you to accomplish your tasks faster.
- Use Positive Pressure – Having an accountability partner or accountability coach will provide the motivation to start a project and keep you in action. Together with your accountability coach you can work on your goals and timeline. This gentle pressure will propel you forward.
- Make boring tasks appealing- The more we focus on our boredom or irritation, the more we amplify that feeling. Instead of dwelling in the negative feeling that the task would ordinarily generate within us, we can “re – frame ” the moment. By re – framing our emotions about the task, we can transform it. For example we can put the word meditation after the boring activity. If we are doing boring housework then it becomes “housework meditation” Being stuck at traffic lights becomes “traffic light meditation”. In general anything that is going to lead to a good benefit could just be reframed as “For my greater good” meditation. Another way of making boring tasks more interesting might be to just simply combine the boring jobs with more inspiring tasks. Also no matter how mundane the work, stay focused on why the work is important. Once you are focused on the why, you’ll be more motivated to complete the task at hand.
- Alternate between two tasks – This will help to keep your interest levels high, and allow you to feel focused and motivated on both tasks.
- Replace negative thoughts –Pay attention to any thoughts of procrastination and do your best to resist the urge. If you begin to think about procrastinating, force yourself to spend a few minutes working on your task. If you can change your inner dialogue to be more positive about the task or project then the task will will be easier to tackle.
- Get rid of distractions – Ask yourself what pulls your attention away the most—whether Instagram, Facebook updates, or the local news—and turn off those sources of distraction.
- Reward yourself –When you finish an item on your to-do list on time, congratulate yourself and reward yourself by indulging in something you find fun. It’s important to reward yourself when you have done a good job and its a great way to motivate yourself to get difficult tasks finished.
- Think about long term benefits – Instead of thinking about how difficult or hard the task may be, think about the long term benefits of getting it completed.
- Take advantage of your peak times – Everyone has a time of day when they are more productive than other times. Some people get their best work done in the mornings and others feel more productive later in the day. Your peak time is the time to tackle your important and more challenging tasks.
- Improve sleep patterns – Poor sleep quality can lead to procrastination, especially with people who naturally struggle with self – regulation. For sleep to be restorative, it has to be relatively high quality. Sleep quality is dependent on a number of factors, such as how many times a person wakes up during their sleep. In order to sleep better at night, it is essential to stick to a sleep schedule setting aside no more than 8 hours for sleep. Don’t go to bed hungry or stuffed and create a restful environment for sleep. Also try to limit daytime naps and include physical exercise in your daily routine.
- Improve nutrition – There is a much overlooked connection between mood and food. You are probably familiar with the word serotonin also known as the happiness transmitter. It has an impact on our well being and regulates emotions,digestion memory and sleep.Low levels of serotonin are linked to depression, anxiety and poor sleep. Serotonin is produced in the brain and in the gut. In fact 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut. The right nutrition affects not only how you feel but also how productive you are. According to the World Health Organisation, the right nutrition can boost motivation and productivity by 20% and more. With this in mind it is easy to see how sugar, alcohol and unprocessed foods may also play a leading role in procrastination ( especially alcohol).
“Action will destroy your procrastination” – og mandino