What is Procrastination?
Procrastination. Defined as the “act of putting off or delaying something,” procrastination is the bane of all productivity. It’s the exact opposite of productivity, which is “getting things done.”
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This time of year provides a natural season to reevaluate your life and refine your ability to get things done in a timely, stress-free fashion.
Why do we procrastinate, anyway? It’s never a good idea to put off doing important things, and yet we still find ways to convince ourselves that it’s totally okay to “do it later.”
Why we procrastinate
The majority of humanity admits to procrastinating. Tim Pychyl, the author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, says that procrastination is “a purely visceral, emotional reaction to something we don’t want to do.” In simple terms, we put off doing the stuff we don’t want to do.
There are some tasks we just don’t enjoy. Pychyl identified seven different triggers that make tasks seem more unpleasant: boring, frustrating, difficult, ambiguous, unstructured, not rewarding, and lacking in personal meaning.
These seven triggers make a task so distasteful that we emotionally shut down when considering the task, leading right to procrastination. Procrastinating doesn’t make sense. Simply DOING the task and getting it over with should be the logical choice. The emotional overwhelm of the seven triggers, however, causes the limbic system to kick into gear and convince the logical side of your brain (the part that would normally realize that you should just do the task and get it out of the way) to do something more fun instead. Procrastination happens when you choose to pursue the “more fun” path instead of facing the adverse task head-on.
The problem with this is that procrastination is almost always followed by guilt. The “more fun” path becomes bitter and painful as we realize we used it as a distraction from getting something necessary or important done. And we all know that guilt can be debilitating!
There is hope, though! You don’t have to give in to your emotional response to a distasteful task.
Now that you know what is actually going on, here are a few simple ideas to overcome procrastination.
Beat Procrastination at its Own Game
Next time you encounter a task that makes you want to procrastinate, review the seven triggers. Figure out which one is causing you to react with dread to an activity. Next, try to change your thoughts toward the task, making the idea of doing it more exciting.
If you find a task boring, try to place it in an exciting light. Make it a game to complete the task – how fast can you get it done? If ambiguity is what is holding you back, go find the clarification you need.
Is the length of time the project will take bothering you? Try breaking it down into smaller pieces. If you think it’s going to take six hours to do the task, ask yourself if you can handle working on it for three? Or go even smaller – how about one hour? Or even half an hour!
Do whatever it takes to adjust your perspective on the given task so that you no longer resist doing it. Just do something to get it going. Once you’ve started, it’ll be a lot easier to keep going.
Breaking the Habit of Procrastination
For many of us, procrastination becomes a vicious habit that once we start giving in to it, it takes over our lives. That nagging little corner of our minds that tells us we don’t need to do that RIGHT now begins to have a stronger and stronger voice as we give in to it more.
Of course, the more we give in to procrastination, the stronger the guilt that comes along with it. While there are brief moments of enjoyment as we procrastinate with activities that are “more fun,” the sick feeling that follows when we realize we missed a deadline isn’t worth it! Neither is doing shoddy, fast work at the very last minute because we suddenly realize that we have to turn work in NOW!
Next time you find yourself resisting a task, take a few minutes to do a simple exercise. Make a list of the costs of procrastination (this isn’t procrastination, I promise!). Write down how putting this off might affect your finances, your stress level, your happiness, health, and so on. Next, write down the benefits of doing it now, instead of later.
Compare your lists and confront the reality – doing this now will actually improve your life.
Get Rid of Distractions
While you’re tackling an adverse task, do your best to cut out distractions. Turn off devices and disconnect from the online world. Put books, games, and other enticing items out of sight. The less access you have to these distractions, the more likely you are to avoid giving in to them.
It may also be beneficial to make a list of the things that you know you tend to put off, both personally and professionally. If there are certain things that cause you to procrastinate over and over, go ahead and make a list of the costs as well. Use this as a motivator to dive in and tackle these things when they come up, instead of making excuses and avoiding them until the very last minute.
What are some things that drive you to procrastination? I’d love to hear about them, along with any tips and tricks you’ve learned over the years to conquer procrastination!