I’m sure you’ve been there, I know I have. You’ve had months and months to finish that report, thesis or bird table.
What is procrastination?
Some people may think that procrastination is simply putting off doing a task. But there’s a bit more to it than that. From a psychologist’s point of view, procrastination is the delaying of tasks for ones that are less important or for ones that are more enjoyable. For example, if you were going to paint a fence, but it was raining and so you had to wait for it to dry. I don’t think anyone would consider that procrastinating. However, if you delayed painting the fence to watch Netflix or YouTube videos, then I think we would all agree that was procrastinating.
Some people are of the opinion that as long as you get your work done then no harm has been done. However, that lumps together procrastination with actual productive tasks that help you get your work done and these need to be separated. A study was done of procrastination by college students in 1997 by APS Fellow Dianne Tice and APS William James Fellow Roy Baumeister, which showed that students that procrastinated ended up with lower grades and higher cumulative amounts of stress and illness. I know that feeling…
In short, procrastination is the failure of self-regulation and not just a matter of time management, where you know exactly what you need to do but just can’t bring yourself to do it.
Why are some people affected by it?
- They know full well what they are doing is self-sabotaging, but don’t have the self-discipline to
- They undermine themselves and would rather people consider themselves to have failed through lack of effort, not ability
Impulsiveness and lack of self-discipline
How to overcome procrastination
Am I even procrastinating?
- Filling up your To Do List with low priority tasks
- Leaving tasks on your To Do List for a long period of time
- Putting off your high priority task because it’s not the ‘right time’ or you’re not in the ‘right mood’
- Getting ready to tackle that important task and then immediately dashing off for a coffee break
Sound familiar? Thought so 🙂
Why am I procrastinating?
Motivate yourself to overcome procrastination
- Give yourself a reward when you reach one of your goals. This doesn’t need to be a big thing, it could be a chocolate bar after finishing off a piece of writing. It just needs to be something pleasant to focus on.
- Be accountable! Have someone check up on you to keep you on track. Having to let someone else know what progress you’ve made who can think objectively and not be influenced by your procrastinating.
- Really focus on what you don’t want to do.
- Eat that frog! Do that most unpleasant task first, before you postpone with less important tasks. Early on in the day is when your self-discipline is at its highest.
- Think about the cost of your time. If you’re an employee, what does your employer pay you for your time? Or if you work for yourself, what is your hourly charge? Are you earning that money right now? If not, get back to those important tasks!
Five actionable ways to overcome procrastination
Do something you enjoy or care about doing
This probably seems really obvious now, but if you’re really struggling to work on something, it might just be time to stop. Is the struggle really worth it? Maybe you just need to work out why you need to do it. You could also try to make the task more enjoyable or fun. I think you’d be surprised by how approaching a task from a different angle.
I recently came back from building a bridge in Rwanda. There were different tasks, some fun and some completely back breaking. One of the more back breaking ones involved moving rocks around all day. This became one of the most fun tasks once we had some music playing and a comradery going with other team members.
Commit to five minutes of work
The hardest part is just starting. Seriously. Just commit to starting for a few minutes and set a timer if you want. you will soon find that the work’s not so bad and you will find yourself in a bit of a rhythm. You might find that with exercising or going to a class. Sometimes I end up talking myself out of going for a jog, but once I commit to just getting changed and stepping outside, there’s no real chance of me not going for a jog at that point.
Accountability buddy – Goal Buddies
Goal Buddies is an app I’ve started using where you sign up to have an accountability buddy. You simply answer a few quick questions about what you want to get done, like writing this blog post or revising for your exams. Then you’re matched up with a buddy who is working towards similar goals. You’re matched together for four weeks and you report to your buddy who can check and comment on how you are doing.
Block out any distractions
- Cold Turkey writer is a stand alone web app that turns your laptop into a typewriter by running full screen. Better still you can lock into the app for a certain period of time or until you have reached a certain word count.
- StayFocusd is a Google Chrome extension that limits your daily use to certain websites that you list out like, Facebook or Instagram. You can place a time limit, block a website completely or block everything apart from a few websites you need to use to be productive. Drastic stuff, I know, but very useful.
- Specific – vague goals, like ‘I want to buy a house’ aren’t going to be much help on their own. Really drill down to what, why and how you want to achieve. This will help you picture succeeding and motivate you.
- Measurable – is your goal quantifiable? Can you track and measure your progress as you work towards your goal? If the answer is no, then maybe you need to think about how it can be.
- Achievable – is your goal realistic? Do you have the right skills, experience and resources available to you? It is good to stretch yourself, but there’s no point setting yourself up for a fall. If you keep setting and meeting achievable goals, that can only be good for your self-esteem and will reinforce your productive habits.
- Relevant – make sure this is the right goal for you. You might feel you should be doing this, but is your heart actually in it? Is it going to be worthwhile for you in the long run. Remember, if you’re motivated to do something, you’re much less likely to procrastinate.
- Time-bound – have a clear deadline and maybe even milestones along the way to meet. This ties back in with be specific with your goal setting. If you’re trying to buy a house, maybe you still need to save up for it. If you don’t give yourself a deadline, how do you know how much money you need to save each month towards your house? Being time-bound will help you focus on what you need to do today.
This a great way to set goals that will give you a much better chance of completing them. It may not seem too appealing, looking at that list there, but it will definitely be worth it and you will thank yourself in a few months time.