Let’s be honest. Is there something else you’re supposed to be doing right now?
Have you ever sat down to work on a report or project and then realized it’s much less stressful and more rewarding to check out the latest sports score or surf Facebook? If so, join the crowd: at least 20% of the adult population are chronic procrastinators.
In this article we bring you the science behind procrastination and eight science-based techniques to help you start getting things done. Believe me, they work. If they didn’t, I would never have finished this post.
Why do people procrastinate?
Let’s dispel some myths.
- Procrastination is not just avoiding a task or simply putting something off until tomorrow. It must include an aspect that’s counterproductive, irrational or unnecessary. It is a maladaptive lifestyle that probably begins in childhood.
- Everyone procrastinates but not everyone is a chronic procrastinator. Dr. Joseph Ferrari of DePaul University remarks “20 percent of men and women are chronic procrastinators. They delay at home, work, school, and in relationships.”
- A poor concept of time may exacerbate procrastination, but this is not a universal finding.
- Procrastinators are not lazy. Far from it. Procrastinators work hard to do something else. It’s an active avoidance strategy.
Procrastination is really a failure to ‘self-regulate.’ in other words, voluntarily delaying important tasks despite knowing that we’ll suffer as a result. A poor concept of time may exacerbate the problem, but an inability to manage emotions seems to be its very foundation. In other words, it’s not because a procrastinator dreads the task but rather the emotions the task generates (e.g., fear of failure or, occasionally, of success).
There are big costs to procrastination
Procrastination has a high cost to others as well as oneself. To oneself, procrastination brings insomnia, compromised immune functioning, weight gain, headaches, muscle tension and digestive problems. To others, Procrastination destroy teamwork and shifts the burden of responsibilities to others, who become resentful.
What you can do right now…not later, now!
If you find that you procrastinate so often, in all areas of your life, then this is a problem. The good news is a tendency towards procrastination isn’t hardwired.
Strategies for overcoming procrastination will vary depending on why it happens in the first place.
- Identify your own habits. The first step is stepping back and figuring out what’s going on. Is there one kind of thing you always put off to last? What is it that you tend to put off, and what are your thought patterns around that? Once you have a clearer picture of your own work or study habits you stand a better chance of fixing them. Here, some common reasons you may be procrastinating, as well as strategies for combatting them.
- Take one step forward. Procrastination is a decision to not act. Hence, to stop procrastinating, act. You don’t have to feel like doing something to get it done. Once you’re moving, you’re more likely to stay moving and one small step towards completing a task is one step in the right direction.
- Break the task into smaller parts. A big project seems a lot to tackle but smaller tasks are less daunting. Start by working out each step you need to take to finish. Even small goals you meet with boost your confidence and fuel motivation to move forward.
- Make your intentions public (and be accountable to someone). If you can’t stick to your own deadlines, get others to help you. You don’t necessarily have to announce it to the world through Facebook or using #Iwillstopprocrastinating. Rather, find someone supportive to whom you can be accountable, and tell them.
- Do “quick to-do’s” super quickly. Make a super quick assessment of your impending tasks and think if you can take forward action immediately, and then do it. For example, review your emails, and if you can respond to any of them right now, do it. Tell yourself “there’s no better time to get this done than now.”
- Reward yourself for the small wins. Procrastination and “perfectionism” often go hand in hand. and high achievers might not necessarily feel it’s worth celebrating the successful completion of a small task, but these are achievements worth noting and rewarding yourself for (if the reward isn’t more time on Instagram.)
- Practice thoughts that encourage you to move forward. Acknowledge that if you don’t feel like doing it now, you probably won’t feel like doing it later. Accept that there may be some discomfort and anxiety—which doesn’t mean you have to put off the task. Remind yourself why you don’t want to procrastinate, including how it has cost you in the past. Remember that you can’t do the task perfectly, and you don’t have to. Aim for imperfectly done.
- Get counselling. For some people, procrastination is so persistent and damaging to everyday life it may be symptomatic of a psychological disorder such as depression, low self-esteem, or anxiety. If your behavior is causing you distress or significantly affecting your performance at work, school or home, don’t be afraid to consult a professional.
- APA (2010). Psychology of Procrastination: Why People Put Off Important Tasks Until the Last Minute. Retrieved October 25, 2018 from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2010/04/procrastination.aspx.
- Tice, D. M., & Baumeister, R. F. (1997). Longitudinal study of procrastination, performance, stress, and health: The costs and benefits of dawdling. Psychological Science. 8(6): 454-458.
- Piers, S. (2007). The Nature of procrastination: A Meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure. Psychological Bulleting. 133(1): 65-94.
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