Whether it’s exam season or you’ve got a massive number of deadlines coming up, we’ve all fallen victim to procrastination. But why do we procrastinate, and how can we stop this unhealthy habit?
As a professional avoider, I’ve learned a thing or two about procrastination. I’d spend hours falling down internet rabbit holes, turning a blind eye to the alarm signaling the need to start working. Other times, when I’m feeling particularly inspired to see how far I can test my stress levels, I pretend I’m a contestant on The Great British Bake Off and waste the day away preparing all kinds of sweet dishes in the kitchen. Whether or not they are edible is another thing.
But I’ve discovered that I am not the only one who has constantly fallen victim to productivity’s sole enemy. Saying the words “I also haven’t started” has proven to bring comfort to almost everyone on the other end. However, the more relaxed faces and relived tense shoulders I see when mentioning this statement in conversations, the more I question why we even put ourselves through moments of high stress, unnecessarily postponing decisions and actions in the first place!
Why Do We Procrastinate?
In the past, procrastinators have been labeled as lazy individuals who lack self-control. But that is simply not the case. You see, willpower only plays a minor factor in why we delay completing tasks and instead waste time. What really affects productivity is motivation. Without motivation, we cannot push ourselves or practice self-control, and therefore we accomplish nothing, waiting till the last possible minute to work. Unfortunately, there are many ways how we can become demotivated. Here are some of the most common ones.
One huge demotivating factor can be completing a task that is hard and thus will not be enjoyable. According to master procrastinator Tim Urban, this is where the instant gratification monkey comes in. This creature, a permanent resident in our minds, takes over the ship (our bodies), throwing the rational decision-making captain overboard, luring us into ‘the dark playground’ filled with fun and easy activities to do. Accordingly, we spend hours in this playground, hence why it’s a dark place, and do nothing of value.
Procrastination is also very common when the decision or action that needs to be taken will only affect our future selves. We suddenly decide to follow the advice of every motivational speaker and live in the present, taking their words out of context. We ultimately disconnect from our future selves, telling ourselves, “it’s future me’s problem, not mine.”
What actually goes on behind the scenes, in the inner workings of our minds, is that we overestimate or underestimate our abilities. When we feel uncertain about whether we can take on the task at hand, and not confident in our skills, we usually procrastinate out of fear and anxiety. In other scenarios, when we feel extra confident in our skills, we downplay what we need to do, convincing ourselves that we’ll be able to finish the task quickly and that we still have plenty of time. That is until we don’t of course.
How to Stop Procrastinating
Well, if you made it all the way to this section instead of getting distracted, and deciding to put off reading the rest of this article, for now, there is hope for you after all. Now the real work begins.
One way to stop procrastinating is to first identify when it happens. Recognize which tasks make you procrastinate the most and analyze why that might be. By doing so, you might discover patterns and trends. This will help in the next step, which is creating a plan of action.
While the words’ plan of action’ can seem daunting as they suggest actually working, this step could be rather fun as you become in control of that crazy monkey in your brain. But you must realize that for this plan to truly be effective, you must tailor it to yourself and the habits that you observed. For instance, if you’ve found that going to a café, although is very aesthetic, does not encourage you to do any work, try staying at home or going to a library where the chances of you getting distracted will be less. If big tasks make you anxious and increase your procrastinating tendencies, try breaking them down, and taking regular breaks in between.
And finally, make sure to implement this plan. In this step, monitor yourself again, observing whether or not the plan you created was successful. This stage is essentially trial and error, but without it, you won’t be able to redefine your original plan to create the perfect one.
But Is Procrastinating Really a Bad Thing?
Throughout this article, we’ve treated procrastination as this evil thing that sets us up for failure. However, there are some instances where procrastinating can be beneficial. For starters, the decision of putting off tasks helps you not waste your efforts as you prioritize your work. Procrastinating can also result in better quality work as you take more time to think about the task, maybe coming up with more original ideas or researching a particular topic instead of diving right into it. And believe it or not, in some cases, procrastination actually allows you to live in the moment, making sure you enjoy the present you’s time instead of worrying about how the future you might be spending theirs.
Nonetheless, one thing we failed to discuss in this article is procrastination that is not work-related. Decisions and actions that are not tied to deadlines, such as keeping in touch with friends and family, working out, or starting a project independently. We set abstract goals, ones that are vague and unspecific. It’s in these cases that procrastination can get quite dangerous, as our avoidance tendencies can end up leading to days, weeks, and even months of unhappiness and regret. So, how do you solve this? Luckily the answer is very similar to how we solve regular procrastination. The only difference is that you are the one who’ll set your deadlines, and in the cases where you still don’t stick to them, ask for a friend’s help.
Whether you’re a master procrastinator or a novice, we all struggle with this habit. Just remember to always reward yourself, even for the smallest of tasks, like getting a sentence out or booking a workout class. And don’t be too hard on yourself; perfection is non-existent.
Now I’m going to go finish the movie I started mid-writing and get the half-raw cookies I baked when I gave up after the second paragraph… I really hope there’s hope for me too.
Photo: LightField Studios/Shutterstock
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