Procrastination is the act of delaying or putting off tasks until the last minute, or past their deadline. Everyone puts things off sometimes, but procrastinators chronically avoid difficult tasks and may deliberately look for distractions. Procrastination tends to reflect a person’s struggles with self-control.
No matter how well-organized and committed you are, chances are that you have found yourself frittering away hours on trivial pursuits (watching TV, updating your Facebook status, shopping online) when you should have been spending that time on work or school-related projects.
Whether you’re putting off finishing a project for work, avoiding homework assignments, or ignoring household chores, procrastination can have a major impact on your job, your grades, and your life.
Why do we procrastinate?
Let’s look at the main reasons why we procrastinate. You might see yourself in one or more of these or even all of them.
· Fear of failure
You will want to take on many tasks and projects during your life, and you won’t exactly feel ready for them. You may lack self-confidence or experience, and because of that, you’re afraid that you might fail.
· Lack of purpose
When you have no vision and no sense of purpose, there is nothing that you want to do. You haven’t thought of it. You lack a purpose, and therefore there is no momentum in you to get moving, no catalyst, no fire. You simply exist without an intention.
· No motivation
There’s a strange relationship between motivation and action. For most of our lives, we’ve been told a lie, and that lie is that we need the motivation to act.
You might get motivated once in a while when you see something that genuinely moves you, like listening to a fiery speech, but by and large, you won’t get motivated out of thin air.
Instead, you get motivated when you take action. When you move, you tell your body what you want to do. Your brain listens and will chip in to help you.
· No planning
To move, though, you need action. But if you act without a plan, you’ll find yourself back into the arms of procrastination.
Planning implies taking that vision and slicing it into bite-size actionable goals. It also means prioritizing those goals and assigning them to the months, weeks, and days ahead.
Another common cause of procrastination is perfectionism. The opposite of procrastination is doing the right thing at the right time. That implies finishing a project and moving on to the next one. When you are a perfectionist, you’ll keep accumulating unfinished projects.
· Distracting environment
The environment in which we operate has a direct influence on our actions, behaviors, and attitudes. Most people find themselves in an environment and begin to adapt or mold to that environment. But when the environment is prone or inviting to distractions, your ability to concentrate and focus on your tasks will suffer.
Procrastination can also be a result of depression. Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and a lack of energy can make it difficult to start (and finish) the simplest task.
· Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Procrastination is also pretty common in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder. One reason is that OCD is often linked with maladaptive, unhealthy perfectionism, which causes fears about making new mistakes, doubts about whether you are doing something correctly, and worry over others’ expectations of you.
Other causes may include not knowing what needs to be done, and how to do something, not wanting to do something, not caring if it gets done or not or when something gets done, not feeling in the mood to do it, being in the habit of waiting until the last minute, etc.
Types of procrastination
Some researchers classify procrastination into two main types: passive and active procrastinators.
- Passive procrastinators: Delay the task because they have trouble making decisions and acting on them.
- Active procrastinators: Delay the task purposefully because working under pressure allows them to “feel challenged and motivated”.
The negative impact of procrastination
Procrastination may relieve pressure at the moment, but it can have steep emotional, physical, and practical costs. Students who routinely procrastinate tend to get lower grades, workers who procrastinate produce lower-quality work, and in general, habitual procrastinators can experience reduced well-being in the form of insomnia or immune system and gastrointestinal disturbance. Procrastination can also jeopardize both personal and professional relationships.
It is only in cases where procrastination becomes chronic and begins to have a serious impact on a person’s daily life that it becomes a more serious issue. In such instances, it’s not just a matter of having poor time management skills, it’s a major part of their lifestyle.
Unfortunately, this procrastination can have a serious impact on several life areas, including a person’s mental health and social, professional, and financial well-being:
- Higher levels of stress and illness
- The increased burden placed on social relationships
- Resentment from friends, family, co-workers, and fellow students
- Consequences of delinquent bills and income tax returns
How to overcome procrastinating
Fortunately, there are several different things you can do to fight procrastination and start getting things done on time.
1. Make a list.
Start by creating a to-do list with things that you would like to accomplish. If necessary, put a date next to each item if there is a deadline that you need to meet.
Estimate how long each task will take to complete, and then double that number so that you don’t fall into the cognitive trap of underestimating how long each project will take.
2. Break projects down into more manageable segments.
When you are faced with a big project, you might feel daunted, intimidated, or even hopeless when you look at the sheer amount of work involved. At this point, take individual items on your list and break them down into a series of steps.
3. Recognize the warning signs.
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.
4. Eliminate distraction.
It’s hard to get any real work done when you keep turning your attention to what’s on television or you keep checking your friends’ Facebook status updates.
Assign yourself a period during which you turn off all distractions—such as music, television, and social networking sites—and use that time to focus all of your attention on the task at hand.
5. Reward yourself.
Once you have completed a task (or even a small portion of a larger task), it is important to reward yourself for your efforts.
Allow yourself to indulge in something that you find fun and enjoyable, whether it’s attending a sporting event, playing a video game, watching your favorite TV show, or looking at pictures on a social sharing site.
6. Use the Eisenhower Matrix.
Use the Eisenhower Matrix to assign your priorities on the importance and urgency scales during your planning sessions. By optimizing those, over time, you should have fewer and less urgent matters. Those that are urgent will be true emergencies.
In this case, you’ll run your life on your terms, and you will have the mind space and energy to work on what is critical. Most importantly, you won’t have the busyness to use as an excuse to avoid working on the significant things in your life—one less chance for procrastination.
The bottom line:
Breaking the procrastination habit isn’t easy. While procrastination might not be something you can avoid entirely, becoming cognizant of the reasons why you procrastinate and how to overcome those tendencies can help. By implementing these strategies, you might find that it is easier to get started on your important tasks.