Everyone procrastinates, let’s face it. Having spent three years as a student I am no stranger to putting work off to the last minute. My final year was the worst, not only the fact that I wasn’t keen on starting daunting assignments straight away, but that living with a house-full of avid procrastinators made us all mess around together. Working with words also lends itself to procrastination; I have had writer’s block on countless occasions, and instead of getting on with the task at hand I have found myself organising my photos, shopping online, and tweeting about how far behind I was.
Everyone is familiar with the “I’ll do it tomorrow”, “it’s not due for another week”and “ooh another drunk-person-falling-over video!” mentality. It is normal to procrastinate to some degree; at least 95 percent of people say they procrastinate occasionally. So why do we choose to put ourselves in stressful situations by leaving it to the eleventh hour? It only brings panic, guilt and disapproval for not meeting deadlines. These feelings can encourage further procrastination. It can become a vicious circle.
Psychologist Neil Fiore, author of The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt- Free Play, has suggested procrastination is a mechanism for coping with the anxiety involved with completing a task. Others such as Dr. Piers Steel, one of the world’s leading researchers in motivation and procrastination and author of The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done, suggest that low self-confidence and a dislike of the task play a role. There have even been links to Freud’spleasure principle – we put off what we don’t want to do, thinking it will bring on negative emotions, and instead fulfil our desire to feel good by taking part in distractions.
However, Piers Steel indicates impulsiveness is a key factor. He says that most people who procrastinate are impulsive as they value what they can have today more than what they can have tomorrow. Steel suggests we’d rather do something that has immediate rewards, like checking Facebook, than study for an exam that is weeks in the future.
Interestingly, this is an adaptive natural tendency. Clinical psychologist Nando Pelusi, author of The Ups and Downs of Ambition, states that our ancestors were more worried about survival on a day to day basis. Short-term thinking was essential, but planning was limited to solving immediate problems. Thinking about the future was a distraction from survival. This may no longer be an issue today, but it is harder to get down to tasks that don’t give us short-term pleasure and may cause short-term pain.
Joseph Ferrari, author of Still Procrastinating? The No Regret Guide To Getting It Done, states that everyone procrastinates, but not everybody is a procrastinator. His research suggests 20 percent of people in the U.S. are chronic procrastinators, which is much more than it used to be, and higher than those diagnosed with depression and phobias. Technology may have something to do with this; we have no end of distractions at our fingertips which can serve as instant rewards.
Before you can think about overcoming procrastination, it is important to understand that there are different kinds of procrastinators. Pamela Wiegartz, author of The Worrier’s Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, suggests that some people delay tasks on purpose so that they have the challenge of the looming deadline to motivate them to work hard. They have no desire to change as they feel in control of their time and live in the moment. These are known as active procrastinators. Timothy A. Pychyl, author of Procrastinator’s Digest says that the idea that they work best under pressure provides additional enjoyment and motivation to procrastinate. Other people, however, may delay tasks because they worry about failing, have perfectionist expectations and are indecisive; They are known as passive procrastinators, and can experience constant stress and anxiety.
Tips for Productivity
Whether you’re an active or passive procrastinator, and you want to combat the problem, trying harder to get things done will not work. You must first understand the cause of your procrastination – be it distractions, avoidance of tasks you dislike or fear of failure – before you create a long-term solution.
- Banish distractions: distractions are a major cause of procrastination. The urge to chat with your friends, check your e-mails and play games can often sidetrack you from the task. You can minimise online distractions by downloading a program called ‘Cold Turkey’ which temporarily blocks your access to popular social media sites, websites and online games. Create a tidy workspace, preferably work alone, and then schedule time to see friends so you’re not completely out of the loop.
- Be decisive: people with a perfectionist mindset spend too much time making decisions about their work. Yes, it is important to weigh your options carefully and make informed decisions, but time can be wasted, delaying the project further. Avoid this by setting aside some time each day for making decisions and set a date for completing this process.
- Get organised: if you have a lot of small tasks to complete and don’t know where to start, prioritise them by making a list of them all and ranking them in order of importance, based on when they’re due. Then set yourself mini-deadlines to finish a few every day. For complex, daunting tasks, break them down into easy to handle chunks and set goals for completing the individual sections.
- Increase rewards: to make a task feel more immediate, focus on the short-term rewards. Treat yourself to a coffee break or a quick chat with a friend once you’ve finished a task.
- Believe in yourself: A fear of failure causes the passive procrastinator to put off work. They will subconsciously delay the completion of the project because they are nervous about the result or reaction. To overcome this type of procrastination, visualize yourself succeeding in the project and imagine the steps that you will need to take in order to succeed. Once you have visualized the steps, act on them.
So don’t put off what you can do today! Find motivation in the fact that when all your work is done you’ll feel so much better for it, and you’ll be able to immerse yourself in all distractions you desire…