Conquering the Art of Procrastination
It's safe to say we've all mastered the art of procrastination. From doing the washing up to completing - or even starting - a project for work, procrastination has been the answer. It's a comfort blanket we all feel we need. In fact, Piers Steel, researcher and speaker, states that "95 per cent of us procrastinate to some degree". Though in the long run, we know it's actually more stressful to do so. So why do we do it?
What is procrastination?
Let's start with the basics: Procrastination is when you put off a task or project. There is also good procrastination and bad procrastination.
The good kind can be beneficial and productive. For example, when I was at university, my go-to procrastination was excessive planning. I'd write down quotes from every source under the heading of the paragraph they lined up with, list my key points and arguments for each section, and so on. It was definitely procrastination, but when it came to writing it, I had the whole essay in front of me - I just had to put it together!
But bad procrastination "just makes you miserable with little to show for it". It's totally unproductive and leaves you in a sticky spot when that task or project is due to be complete.
It's also vital to note that there are psychological and emotional reasons we procrastinate. We need to understand those before we can tackle procrastination itself.
Why do we procrastinate?
There are lots of factors that lead us to procrastinate. Contrary to popular belief, laziness isn't one of them; the two are very different.
Procrastination is active, whilst laziness is inactive. We choose to procrastinate and actively put off our tasks by doing something else. Being lazy indicates "apathy, inactivity and an unwillingness to act".
The most common reasons we procrastinate are:
- "Feeling overwhelmed
- Lack of motivation
- Distraction" 
These factors vary depending on the type of task you're avoiding. With a work project, for example, you probably procrastinate because you're confused. Whereas with a chore, like doing your laundry, it's more likely boredom.
Procrastination and Well-being
Giving in to procrastination can be detrimental to our well-being. Even avoiding the small things can leave us feeling "guilty or ashamed". However, it's the long term impact that we should acknowledge.
Procrastinating lowers the productivity of the particular task we're avoiding, but it can reduce productivity across the board. If we procrastinate consistently over a prolonged period, we can become "demotivated and disillusioned with our work". This mindset can lead to depression.
So, how can we overcome it?
The first step in overcoming procrastination is to recognise why we are doing it. Once identified, there are lots of things we can do to tackle it.
- Lists: Make a written to-do list - the key here is to write rather than type. Crossing them off one by one is so satisfying and will encourage you to keep going. Though, if you have long-term tasks on the list, like 'finish essay', for example, you won't feel motivated to do them. It's important to note that "if a task takes longer than thirty minutes, break[ing] it up into smaller tasks" can help.
- Focus: If you're a serial procrastinator (which, let's face it, is the majority of us), focus on one task at a time. You're only going to overwhelm yourself more if you try to do everything at once.
- Start: Once you've chosen the task to focus on, "you must take immediate action. Today.".
- **Commit: "**Focus on doing, not avoiding". Even tackling little tasks throughout the day is more productive than avoiding them altogether. Remember: "Small action is still action. Five minutes can make all the difference".
- Forgive yourself: It's easy to beat yourself up over missing a deadline or avoiding doing something important. But remember to look after yourself, and forgive yourself for procrastinating in the past. Research shows "the more you can forgive yourself for past procrastination, the more likely you are to overcome your current procrastination and take action". You've recognised it's an issue, and you're working on it. That's amazing!
- Work at your best: Some tasks will be more arduous than others, so schedule those in at your peak times. If you work better in the morning, do them in the morning. It's as simple as "identifying when you're most effective" and doing the more difficult tasks, then.
- Procrastination power playlist: We all have songs that wake us up and get us moving. So, use them! Make yourself a 'Procrastination Power Playlist' filled with songs that get you energised. When you're tackling a task, play your music to get you motivated. Studies show that "the brain likes to have a trigger to create a new habit, plus you're more likely to follow through when you're feeling good in your body".
- Distraction-free zone: Distractions come in all forms, from a squeaky chair to social media. Try to eliminate the things that distract you; switch off your notifications, for example.
- Let go: Most of us have to-do lists longer than our arms. Are we actually going to do them all? Probably not. And that's okay! If that's the case, cross them off and "give yourself permission to let it go".
- Have fun: We put things off for a reason, and boredom is one of them. Have fun with it, dance to your music in between tasks, or reward yourself. Rewards are hugely motivating and can be great tools when building new habits.
- Just start: "The anticipation and initial dive into a project are the most difficult and unpleasant". As soon as you've begun, the pressure eases, and the task feels more doable. You can worry about it until you do it, or you can do it and move on. Once you start, "accomplishment, inspiration and confidence have room to motivate your work".
- Address it: If none of the above advice is getting you motivated or helping with a particular task, perhaps we need to go back to our list of reasons. If you're feeling overwhelmed or confused, talk to someone. Whether that's your boss or a friend, it's vital for your well-being that you air your feelings. If you're bored, perhaps your work isn't stimulating you anymore. Ask yourself why that might be. Is it too easy? Too hard? Are you disinterested in the job? Stimulating your brain and enjoying the work you do is paramount, especially as we spend around one-third of our lives at work.
Whilst not all of these tips can help every scenario, the main goal here is to identify why you feel you need to procrastinate. Once you've done so, you'll be able to target the source directly and work from there.
- Mind Tools Content Team. How Can I Stop Procrastinating? Overcoming the Habit of Delaying Important Tasks [Internet]. Mindtools.com. 2009.
- Joki K. How to Stop Procrastinating and Take Control of Your Life [Internet]. Grammarly Blog. 2017.
- Loder V. 10 Scientifically Proven Tips for Beating Procrastination. Forbes [Internet]. 2016 Apr 26.