Never do today what you can put off for tomorrow. Better yet, never put off ’til tomorrow what you can avoid altogether!
Everybody procrastinates. Yes, everybody does have an element of avoiding problems and difficult tasks and becoming easily prone to distractions or sometimes deliberately looking for them. Procrastination is a practice of doing more enjoyable things than doing less enjoyable things; doing less urgent tasks instead of urgent ones due to many psychological reasons. We all use to put off tasks until last minute possible. Procrastination can lead to guilt, self-doubt, depression and negative feelings.
Procrastinators often say they perform better under pressure (I say that sometimes too), but more often that’s not justifying right? Wait…
It is psychologically more acceptable to never tackle a task than to face the possibility of failing on performance. But first, let’s discuss the factors about why we procrastinate.
Why We Procrastinate?
We often come up with a number of excuses or rationalizations to justify our behavior. People with social anxiety may procrastinate because they don’t want to make a phone call, want to avoid a social interaction, or because they feel their work or performance must be ‘perfect’. There are 15 key reasons why people procrastinate:
- Not knowing what needs to be done.
- Not knowing how to do something.
- Not wanting to do something.
- Not caring if it gets done or not.
- Not caring when something gets done.
- Not feeling in the mood to do it.
- Being in the habit of waiting until the last minute.
- Believing that you work better under pressure.
- Thinking that you can finish it at the last minute.
- Lacking the initiative to get started.
- Blaming sickness or poor health.
- Waiting for the right moment.
- Needing time to think about the task.
- Delaying one task in favor of working on another.
Psychology Behind Procrastination
The Freudian Pleasure Principle is mainly responsible for procrastination. In order to seek pleasure and satisfaction, we tend to do those things which are less important to us (because important things have a deadline; no pun intended) and delay stressful tasks. Anxiety and depression these days force us to procrastinate.
In psychology, coping means to support own conscious effort, to solve personal and interpersonal problems, in order to try to master, minimize or tolerate stress. Some of the worth mentioning coping responses of a procrastinator are as follows:
- Distraction: Engaging and involving in other tasks or actions to prevent awareness of the task (e.g. intensive video game playing or web browsing). They are very sensitive to instant gratification and become powerless.
- Avoidance: Avoiding the location or situation where the task takes place (e.g. you are avoiding a client meeting frequently because he questions you about the project progress).
- Denial: Pretending that your behavior is not actually procrastinating, but rather a task which is more important than the avoided one, or that the essential task that should be done is not of immediate importance.
- Valorization: Pointing in satisfaction to what one achieved in the meantime while one should have been doing something else.
- Descending counter-factuality: Comparing a life situation with others who have it worse (e.g. “Yes I procrastinated and delayed my task but look at John he screwed up the entire project and the client is not happy with him.”)
- Blaming: Delusional attributions to external factors, such as rationalizing that the procrastination is due to external forces beyond one’s control (e.g. “I’m not procrastinating, but this assignment is tough.” or “I’m not procrastinating, my health doesn’t allow that. I am feeling down and want to go home.”)
How to Stop Procrastinating?
Sometimes, it is okay to procrastinate, as it gives you more time to think and anticipate in certain matters. But most of the time, it is harmful for your career as well as mental health. You will soon sink into frustration, depression and lethargy. Now as you have demystified the science behind procrastination, it’s time to stop practicing it and lead a productive life.
Make a commitment
It all starts with a commitment. A commitment and a promise to yourself that you will stop procrastinating and bring out the best in you. Wake up, commit to yourself that you will be doing this today and get the stuff done. Set a realistic goal for a year or so and stick to it. Divide that goal into monthly and weekly smaller milestones and stay committed to them. Commitment to yourself forces your inner-self to scold you and make you realize when you are getting off-track from your goals. Say it loudly now, “I will accomplish my XYZ goal by the end of this year”. Also, promise yourself a reward for each goal that you meet. The reward can be in any form. For example, “I will get myself an icecream after completing this task”, “I will play Counter Strike for an hour after finishing this.”
Utilize Social Pressure
Find an accountability partner in your social circle. He/she will provide the motivation to kick off the task or start a project. Make a commitment to your friend, colleague or wife. Tell them your life goals and deadlines you set. This light social pressure will help you push forward. Basically, the social connection helps keep the project stimulating and engaging just like a sport or a game.
Strip your workspace of all distractions. Research shows that your cluttered desk distracts you and inhibit your productivity. Clean up your desk and minimize the stuff. Take some time to clean up your mess daily. This will help you to focus more and start off your day with happiness. Avoid social media presence during work. Social media is the major reason of workplace distraction. Put your phone and desktop OS notifications on “Do Not Disturb” mode. Most people are distracted easily and make themselves busy in surfing web and playing online games. Block these major time-sinks. There are many browser extensions that can shut down these productivity leeching websites for you while working. Download StayFocusd and WorkMode for Google Chrome while for Mozilla Firefox, LeechBlock is useful.
Manage your time
Focusing on time and keeping track of it, helps you take control of your task and reduces your desire to procrastinate. Get straight to your work without hunting for files, notes or tools. Don’t waste too much time in overthinking about the preparation of the task. Next time you catch yourself saying, “I can do this later”, just do it! and do it at the same moment. The feeling you get when you finish, will be so much better than any relief you get from putting it off. You can also use productivity and project management tools to manage your time. Trello, Asana, Basecamp are prime examples of such tools.
Utilize your energy
Utilize your energy better by prioritizing your tasks. A research proves that the first three hours of your working day are the most important and productive ones because physical and mental energy levels are high in the morning and can be used for problem solving and decision making. Schedule programming and debugging in those first three hours while low priority tasks (checking emails, research and code reviews) in the rest.
Taking frequent breaks between your work will help you regain energy and focus, and replenish the power of your mind. Our mind works at its best if it works in small chunks of time. Go on a break after some time and do push-ups, take a nap or go for a walk to regain your energy. A great productivity technique in this regard is Pomodoro Technique. It makes sure that you take breaks regularly during your working ours.
Switch between tasks
Try switching your tasks from time to time. This will maintain your interest in your work and you will not feel boredom and lethargy while doing it. It will allow yourself to stay motivated on every task. You can also set a timer and spend equal amount of time on each task. It will make boring task look more interesting.
Replace Negative Thoughts With Positive Ones
Our subconscious mind is extremely powerful. When you talk to yourself in a positive way, and remind yourself of your past successes, it will give you motivation to take action. Contrary to this, when you are stuck in negative mode, it can be hard to break out of the avoidance cycle. If you find that negative thinking is a major role-player to your avoidance of tasks, you may benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy. To know more secrets of your thoughts and feelings, read The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy.
- Tuckman, B.W., Abry, D.A, & Smith, D.R. (2008). Learning and motivation strategies: Your guide to success (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
- The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy