“While you’re busy procrastinating, life is busy slipping away.”
We all have, at different times in life, procrastinated. Let’s look at some scenarios.
You really need to complete a task right now, but you can’t wait to reply to the WhatsApp message that has been there. It’s just a few minutes, of course. You read the messages and reply to as little or as many as you can. You start chatting…boom…30 minutes have passed. Oh, you feel hungry. You can’t be productive while you’re hungry, right? After eating, you realize you need some sleep for your brain to refresh. The list goes on and on, and by the end of the day, your most important task is successfully uncompleted.
You look at a task you have to perform; it seems big and complex, and you don’t know how to start. You don’t even think you can handle it. To save yourself the stress of having to think it through at that moment, you decide to see a movie, play a game, check your emails, read an article online, or read fiction. You keep trying to avoid or ignore the task even when you know you’ll still have to do it. Well, maybe you can find a way tomorrow.
The task is important, but not urgent. You still have a few days to the deadline. You look at it at that moment, but you don’t feel up to it. So, you decide to leave it since you still have some time. Maybe, to compensate yourself and feel like you’re productive, you go ahead to accomplish less essential tasks. This happens again tomorrow, or you fill the day with less important tasks until the deadline.
What is Procrastination?
Procrastination is the chronic, intentional delay, ignorance, or avoidance of a task, even though it must still be accomplished later on, notwithstanding the negative consequences. According to researchers, “Procrastination is a form of self-regulation failure characterized by the irrational delay of tasks despite potentially negative consequences.”
Why do we procrastinate?
Procrastination has many root causes, including lack of self-control, improper time management, perfectionism, fear and doubt, laziness, and bad mood.
People have argued procrastination is not directly related to self-control. But it does. You procrastinate because you can’t get yourself under discipline to achieve a task or the discipline to avoid being distracted by trivial things while working on something. Self-control is the ability to regulate yourself to act in a certain way without allowing the situation or environment to determine what to do.
When you’re not managing your time well, you have every reason to procrastinate the essential things while allowing things of no significance to occupy your time. This is why having a todo list is one of the ways of conquering procrastination.
Perfectionists feel the need to procrastinate because they want it to be great. They don’t want a substandard result or to be criticized. It is psychologically acceptable for them to put off doing something rather than facing the possibility of not doing it well.
Most procrastinators have one thing in common: not feeling like it. You look at a task, and you don’t feel up to it. Hence, you put it off till tomorrow. This stems from the fact that humans hate stress, discomfort, and what makes them unhappy. We feel like doing that task at the moment will stress us out, make us unhappy, and discomfort us. This thus brings the fear that we may not actually be able to accomplish them because of our current demeanor.
However, there’s no guarantee that you’ll feel up to it tomorrow because there’s more to why you procrastinated than not being in the mood to tackle the task at the moment.
There’s this illusion of being able to perform under pressure. This happens when the deadline is here or almost passed. Well, you don’t actually perform exceptionally well under pressure. It’s just the euphoria of achieving something in such a short period that gives you a sense of accomplishment.
Is procrastination harmful?
Procrastination has a zero percent productive rate for us. In fact, a recent study by Psychological Science reported that procrastination doesn’t just hurt your work, academics, and finances; it can also bring about severe health damages. This is because procrastination comes with anxiety and stress, and this additional stress contributes to negative psychophysiological impacts on the body, which increases our vulnerability for illness.
Other adverse effects of procrastination:
- For students, procrastination causes lower grades and leads to low self-esteem. Putting off assignments and study has done more harm than good to 95% of procrastinating students. Then, when you look at those feeling better, you feel like a lesser being, hurting your self-confidence.
- It kills productivity and creativity.
- It’s such a huge time killer.
- It reduces your general well-being, has steep emotional, physical, and practical costs.
- Procrastination hurts both personal and professional relationships.
- According to Dr. Timothy Pychyl, “Procrastinating when it comes to one’s health—putting off exercise and checkups, and failing to commit to healthy eating—can lead to a higher risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease.”
How can we deal with this ravager of productivity, killer of time, and destroyer of destinies?
“The really happy people are those who have broken the chains of procrastination, those who find satisfaction in doing the job at hand. They’re full of eagerness, zest, productivity. You can be, too.”
– Norman Vincent Peale
1. First things first, you need to recognize that you are procrastinating:
Every procrastination is a delay, but not all delays are procrastination. You need to differentiate between purposeful delay and delay from irrelevant distractions and not feeling like it.
2. Forgive yourself for procrastinating: this is the second most effective step in this journey.
There are three essential parts to self-forgiveness. You have to:
- recognize the commission of objective wrong and accept responsibility for that mistake.
- feel guilt and regret, and eventually
- Overcome these feelings (i.e., self-forgiveness) and, in doing so, experience a change in motivation from self-punishment to self-acceptance.
Procrastination feeds on making us feel bad about our choices. For this reason, we have to forgive ourselves for this wrong, thereby reducing the negative emotions we have in relation to the task so that we’ll try again. If we don’t forgive, we maintain the motivation to avoid, and we’re more likely to procrastinate again.
3. Realize that you don’t have to be in the mood to do certain tasks before you do them:
Like I mentioned earlier, most times, we procrastinate because we don’t feel up to it. But this isn’t the way it works. You have to face the task whether or not you feel like it. You don’t always have to feel good all the time. You just have to get on with the task. Moreover, there is no assurance that you’ll feel up to it tomorrow. You need to leave the comfort zone in your head and deal with it.
4. Delay instant gratification:
When we are faced with important tasks sometimes, we feel an urgent need to do something else. This is because your present self doesn’t always care about your future self. The important tasks you ought to perform will probably take a long time to manifest. And that’s a benefit for your future self.
But your present self doesn’t really care about that. It wants to be satisfied immediately. It wants the result it can see right away. Thus, it steers your mind away from the tasks to trial things like checking your social media feeds, seeing a movie, sleeping, chatting, or just any other thing. Of course, these things are equally necessary, but they’re not what you’re supposed to be doing right then. They have their time. So, you need to delay all instant gratification and focus on the task you have at hand. Always recognize when your mind starts wondering. Pull it back and focus.
5. Break the task into smaller realistic parts:
Always take it one step at a time. You don’t have to take it all at the same time. Break the tasks into smaller bits and start from there. If you’re writing an article, start with the topic first and create an outline. You can then research each element of the outline and write on it. Don’t try to take the whole staircase at a time; you can only take it one step to the end.
6. Create a well-organized and detailed to-do list:
This can become a keystone habit that’ll greatly transform your life and help you manage your time effectively. Create a detailed and organized todo list every day and try sticking to it. This way, you’ll be aware of the important tasks you need to do for the day and their order of importance or urgency. Thus, you wouldn’t allow anything not in the list to distract you. Make sure you note down the reason you really need to achieve those listed tasks. Motivate yourself with these reasons and never wait until the deadline is near to work on them.
Just get started:
One of the reasons we procrastinate is the fear of getting started. You’ll realize that this fear comes from not knowing how to go about the task. However, the moment you break this fear and start from somewhere, you’ll realize that there wasn’t anything to fear. You’re more likely to accomplish a task when you start than when you’re still deciding.
One more thing: FOCUS. Starting is one thing. Focusing on the task is another thing. Keep your mind on your prize, and don’t allow yourself to be distracted.