Procrastination is often confused with laziness.
What is procrastination?
Procrastination is… …not completing a task or goal you’ve committed to for no valid reason, and instead, doing something of lesser importance. Postponing the important task takes place despite there being negative consequences to not following through on the original task or goal. Everyone procrastinates. However, procrastination becomes problematic by how bad the negative consequences are of us not following through on things.
What do you procrastinate about?
Procrastination occurs in many different areas of life, such as work, household, studies, health, financial, social, family, relationships, self-development, and decision making. Really any task we need to complete, any problem we need to solve, or any goal we might want to achieve, can be a source of procrastination. For many people, there will be certain areas of their life they are able to follow through on and certain areas where procrastination reigns.
Typical types of procrastination
Watching Netflix, reading, gaming online, online gambling or surfing the net. These activities are often lower priority tasks such as sorting, tidying, checking emails, socialising with friends/family/your partner or distractions like sleeping, eating, smoking or daydreaming.
The causes of procrastination
The reason people procrastinate is because they hold unhelpful rules and assumptions about themselves or how the world works. These unhelpful rules and assumptions often generate discomfort about doing a task or goal (e.g., anger, resentment, frustration, boredom, anxiety, fear, embarrassment, depression, despair, exhaustion, etc), and procrastination becomes a strategy to avoid the discomfort.
The unhelpful rules and assumptions most often linked to procrastination are:
Needing To Be In Charge (e.g., “Things should be done my way. I shouldn’t have to do things I don’t want to, or just because someone else says so”)
Pleasure Seeking (e.g., “Life’s too short to be doing things that are boring or hard, fun should always come first”)
Fear Of Failure Or Disapproval (e.g., “I must do things perfectly, otherwise I will fail or others will think badly of me”)
Fear Of Uncertainty Or Catastrophe (e.g., “I must be certain of what will happen. What if it’s bad? I am better off not doing anything than risking it”)
Low Self-Confidence (e.g., “I can’t do it. I am just too incapable and inadequate”)
Depleted Energy (e.g., “I can’t do things when I am stressed, fatigued, unmotivated, or depressed”).
The problem with procrastination
Procrastinating is pleasurable in the short-term but long-term it can have disastrous effects such as self-loathing, anger, frustration and even more discomfort (e.g., guilt and shame). When you continue to procrastinate, self-criticism, piling up tasks, punishment or loss keep procrastination going. The discomfort we feel when we delay doing things makes the task or goal even more aversive. Next time around, procrastination looks likes like an attractive option. It can be tough to break the cycle of procrastination.
How to overcome procrastination
Clarity, task approach and time availability is the key. To gain clarity as to exactly what tasks or goals need to be done, try the following:
• write a ‘To Do’ list of tasks and goals you need to work on. This could be a list for the day, the week, the month, or longer, depending on what makes most sense for your circumstances;
• then prioritise the list of tasks, numbering them from most important to least important;
• then grade each task, that is, break the task into all the small steps or ‘chunks’ that are involved in achieving the task; and
• finally, accurately estimate how much time each step of each task or goal will take (Note., people who procrastinate often overestimate or underestimate the time it will take to do something, so you may need to actually time tasks to practice getting more accurate at your time telling).
Tips for defeating procrastination:
Worst-First: knock out the worst task first, so all other tasks after that are easy by comparison.
Using Momentum: start doing a task that you like and that energises you, and then without a break quickly switch to a task that you have been putting off.
Just 5-Minutes: plan to spend just 5 minutes on the task. This is such a small amount of time, so you will feel you can tolerate just 5 minutes. At the end of the 5 minutes, reassess and see if you can spend just another 5 minutes on the task, and so on.
Set Time Limits: set a specific amount of time to work on a task (e.g. 30 minutes), and stick to just that, rather than extending things even if you feel you can.
Prime Time: work out what time of day you are most productive or energised or creative, and use this time to get started on your tasks or goals. The idea is to attempt tasks when you are at your optimum.
Prime Place: be aware of what types of environments you get more done in, and what types of environments have distractions that make you more likely to procrastinate. Isolate yourself if necessary to minimise social and other distractions.
Remember-Then-Do: as soon as you remember you need to do a task, seize that moment to follow through.
Reminders: if you often forget tasks, use visual reminders and prompts to help you (e.g., place notes or lists in prominent places like on the fridge or bathroom mirror, or program reminders in your mobile phone).
Visualise: use imagery to clearly visualise the task being successfully completed in your mind, and use the momentum from the visualisation to get going on the task in real life.
Focus: if you are feeling unsettled, take a moment to close your eyes and focus on your breath. Try to lengthen out each breath in and each breath out. Spend 510 minutes using your slow breathing to settle and focus, and then return to the task.
Plan Rewards: reward yourself after something has been achieved or as a well earned break from a task. The more you reward yourself for small achievements, the less you will feel like you are missing out or being deprived, hence you will procrastinate less.
Use a timetable
Regarding time-availability, use a timetable to either schedule or unschedule your week. Scheduling is a more structured method, where you write your existing commitments into your timetable and then plan time in your week for doing specific tasks and goals you have been putting off.
Unscheduling is a more flexible method, where like the schedule you write into your timetable your existing commitments and routine. This helps you to see when you have blocks of time available to devote to the tasks and goals you have been putting off. When these blocks of free time arise, mark on your timetable every 30 minutes you spend working on a task or goal.
Other things to consider:
Below are other practical tips that may be helpful in getting you going and following through on tasks.
Self-monitoring is the process of recognising and recording what you have achieved. So when you have accomplished some work on a task or completed a task, mark it in on your unschedule, or tick it off on your schedule. Don’t let these things go unnoticed or get swept under the carpet, but instead acknowledge your achievements. It is amazing how something as simple as merely crossing a task off your ‘To Do List’, can make you feel really good and keep you doing more.
Another tip is to tell someone you trust that you are aiming to complete certain tasks or goals. Telling someone has three aims.
Firstly, when you tell other people it signifies a more serious commitment that you are going to follow through on things, compared to when you do things in secret. Secondly, having another person check in with how you are going can be motivating, as it makes you feel accountable to someone other than yourself.
Finally, if you are struggling, then that person can be someone you can gain support from in tough times.
Another thing to consider is whether a lack of assertiveness is getting in the way of you overcoming your procrastination. For example, if you are find it difficult to say “no”. You might take on unnecessary tasks, which reduces the time you have available for the real priority tasks and goals you need to be working on. Another example is you may find it difficult to make requests of others, such as telling people you need some time alone to work on something important. As such, this may keep any social distractions going that interfere with working on your tasks and goals.
Assertiveness is a skill that takes some time and practice to develop. It involves recognising you have the right to say ‘no’ and make reasonable requests. It also involves not just what you say but how you say it. Speak in a clear and confident tone with a direct manner to get your point across. Make eye contact, stand up straight and listen to others.
Don’t be hard on yourself
Self-Criticism Backfires. People will often beat themselves up and become highly self-critical as a consequence of their procrastination. They will say things to themselves like “you lazy so and so, pull yourself together and get started, you know you should do this!” The intention of doing this is often to motivate yourself into action, sort of a ‘tough love’ approach.
However, this generally backfires as the more you chastise yourself, the more the task or goal feels like a chore, and the more unmotivated you will feel, hence the more you will keep procrastinating. If you don’t believe us, think of how you might motivate a child or a good friend to do a task? Would you be harsh and yell at them? Or would you be encouraging and praising? Remember that everyone procrastinates. Create a schedule and give yourself a reward for work done. That’s a good start!