Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were supposed to accomplish a task but couldn’t start doing it and eventually put it off till the deadline comes? I bet you have. Time to time, all of us fall prey to a behavior called procrastination.
So what is procrastination?
According to Wikipedia’s definition, procrastination is the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished by a certain deadline. A common sign of procrastination is when you’re doing trivial and more pleasurable tasks instead of doing something more meaningful, but not so pleasurable. It’s interesting to know that procrastination etymology refers to a Latin word pro-crastinus, which means “belonging to tomorrow”. This type of behavior was first described by ancient Greek philosopher Herodotus in his books. So, it is fair to say that the notion of procrastination is as old as our civilization.
We all procrastinate at some time or another, and researchers assume that the problem can be pretty common. However, not much statistics is available about the rate of procrastination spread among the workforce.
The only study that I have found on the Web is the survey conducted on a personal initiative of Medium writer and author Darius Foroux. He surveyed 2219 working adults and, according to his survey’s results, 88% of the workforce admits that they procrastinate at least one hour a day. This statistics is pretty eloquent, isn’t it?
So, taking the fact that procrastination is a wide-spread issue, let’s figure out where it comes from.
Why do we procrastinate?
In fact, there is no single opinion on why we procrastinate. Some researchers think that the tendency to procrastinate is inherited genetically. It’s all because our ancient ancestors didn’t plan for the long-term, because their main purpose was to survive in an aggressive environment. In this sense, procrastination gave them some evolutionary benefits.
Other psychology researches associate procrastination with other causes, such as the failure of an executive function, the inability to focus on things, poor mood regulation, etc.
But if we look at procrastination from a more simple point of view, we may find out that there may be several reasons why this type of behavior emerges. Among them are:
- Fear of failure, which often comes from unrealistic expectations of yourself. Let’s say you’re a new employee who has just got an urgent assignment from your boss. You definitely will be afraid of failure, because in this case, you may lose your job.
- Fear of giving up control. Procrastinators often don’t like deadlines because they think that deadlines take away their control over their work.
- The lack of interest in the task being done. Sometimes you just want to avoid a boring job. Some dull and time-consuming tasks in which you personally don’t see any benefit may be an excellent example of this.
- Being overwhelmed. When you’re overwhelmed, sometimes you don’t know where to begin a task, and so you delay starting it.
- Being physically exhausted. When you’re physically exhausted, you simply don’t have enough energy to start any task, not to mention the job that you don’t want to do even when you’re at your best conditions.
In general, it is fair to say that the reasons why we procrastinate are usually complex. It’s up to each individual to figure out why they put off important things.
Why Procrastination is Bad
One thing that is bad about procrastination is that it comes with a price. If you postpone an important task for a certain period of time, you end up either with shorter time constraints for completion of this task, which results in a rush, or even more severe consequences like being laid off for not doing your job.
Unfortunately, procrastination can result in a lot more damage than we can think. Falling into procrastination too often may affect a person’s ability to set long-term goals, which in turn results in poor results in their work, career, study, and other essential activities during their life.
Besides this direct detrimental impact, procrastination also has indirect adverse effects. Usually, procrastinators are well aware that they are doing something wrong when they put off important tasks in favor of leisure activities. Awareness of this makes them feel guilty, and the level of their anxiety is only rising over time. There is evidence that chronic procrastination is linked to low self-confidence, low energy, and depression. Very often, the quality of life of chronic procrastinators is much worse than of those who can resist this behavior.
How To Stop Procrastination
I confess that I have issues with motivation too. I have my personal battle with procrastination every day. However, I’m trying to find solutions and develop a system on how to overcome procrastination, as I want to move forward and get positive results out of my work. Below, I share my personal tips and tricks that help me to succeed in this challenge.
Have a plan (schedule) for every day
As it is mentioned above, sometimes procrastination derives from the fact that you have too many things to do, and you don’t know where to start. In this situation, the proper prioritization of the tasks helps a lot. When you have a plan, you’re not confused, but disciplined, because you know what activity to start with and what to do next. This approach not only helps you start but switch between the tasks without delays. Sure, there will be some disruption of your plan because of unexpected requests, which are pretty common in the manager’s work. But you may also plan some time buffer for such kind of activities.
By the way, I’m trying to plan not only my working days but my weekends and days off as well.
Think of side benefits of boring tasks
If you have to perform a task that you are not very eager to do, because it looks unfamiliar to you or challenging, it is very easy to fall prey to procrastination. In this case, I usually try to find some extra benefit I will get if I complete this task, for example, to learn a new skill that may become useful later. Another example of a potential side benefit of your tedious tasks is meeting new people in your organization. These new contacts are certain to be efficient. I believe that it is possible to find such side benefits for most of the boring tasks that you face.
Break the task into smaller chunks
This is probably the most popular advice on how to beat procrastination that I’ve ever met. But I tested it on myself many times, and I can totally confirm that it works. Time to time, a new task you face may seem to be so big, unclear, and intimidating that you are constantly putting it off. One of the reasons behind this behavior is that you just don’t see the way how to get from the starting point to the final result. This way may take so long that it makes you frustrated and demotivated even to start. But when you break this task into smaller pieces, it resolves two issues at once. First, the plan on how to achieve the final result will become more clear and, as a result, more manageable. Second, each chunk of the task will lead you to an interim result and give you a feeling of satisfaction from task completion, which is a good motivation by itself.
Another thing that I found useful when breaking down the tasks into pieces is keeping an activity log, in other words, documenting what you’ve already done and what should be done next. This log helps me later pick up the work from the point where I finished. Also, it amplifies the sense of completeness, because it may serve as some kind of work artifact, especially in those cases, when the result itself is not very feasible.
Come up with a reward
I believe that the most common situation when procrastination manifests itself is when you’re facing a really boring task. In this case, most of us defer this undesired dull task in favor of another more pleasant activity. For example, instead of starting work on a monthly report, you may keep scrolling social media sites. The trick I use in such situations implies that you can’t just start doing what makes you happy. You have to deserve it. Make a deal with yourself that only after you get the boring task (or some part of it) done, you may allow yourself to do what you really like. You simply reverse the order of these activities, which completely eliminates procrastination. It is difficult and requires a great willpower effort. However, if you master it, you’ll be able to defeat procrastination forever.
By the way, I often use this trick not only in my work but also in everyday life, for example, when I have to go through some unpleasant medical procedures.
So, these are my tips on how to combat procrastination and achieve better results in your life. Please, share in comments whether you’re struggling with procrastination or not. How do you deal with this?