If you’ve ever canceled an important event by maybe doing your weekly laundry after a busy week, you know it will be unfair to call yourself lazy. It’s not like you are watching your favorite show on Netflix or hanging out with friends. You are cleaning, a task you would eventually do. This is not poor time management or laziness. It is procrastination. We have all faced procrastination at one time or another; we have been struggling with postponing, avoiding, or procrastinating on tasks or events that are important to us.
The basics of procrastination.
People have been procrastinating for many years. Ancient Greek philosophers came up with a word to explain this kind of behavior: Akrasia. Akrasia is a condition where you act against your somber judgment; you perform a task even though you know you should do something else-better described as lack of self-control.
The greatest question is why we procrastinate. What goes through our minds that we avoid the things we set out to do? Scientifically, there is a phenomenon recognized by behavioral psychology research called time inconsistency. Time inconsistency is the ability of the brain to recognize immediate rewards more than later rewards. For instance, when you set future goals, say losing weight, you find yourself taking present actions. This is among the reasons why you can retire to bed feeling motivated about changing something in your life only to wake up going back to old ways.
Our brain appreciates long-term consequences when they are in the future and values present satisfaction in the current moment. However, you cannot depend on future benefits and consequences to cheer up your present self. It would help if you thought about bringing long-term rewards and consequences to the present moment. For instance, you have a report to submit in two weeks; you have been aware of the task for quite some time and continued to postpone. You experience anxiety thinking about a report you have to write, and you don’t do anything about it. Then suddenly, the day before the due date, future punishments become present, and you write the report a few hours before its deadline.
People blame technology for the increased rate of procrastination, especially the internet. How many times have you started browsing something, and you get disrupted by other irrelevant sites? And before you realize it, the time has passed, and you still do not have the actual information you were searching for. However, new technology can also assist us not to procrastinate if we use it wisely. For instance, you don’t have to surf the internet for long hours on unnecessary tasks. You can install a system that can log you out after a specific period. Use the internet as a tool, not as a way of procrastinating.
How to stop procrastination
Just like most habits, procrastination can easily be overcome. I have outlined strategies to help you deal with and avoid procrastination.
Step 1: Acknowledge that you are procrastinating.
You can be postponing an event because you’ve had to re-arrange your tasks. If you are putting off an important task for a genuine reason, then you are not procrastinating. However, if you start to delay things regularly, or change focus because you don’t want to do something, then definitely you are.
You may also be procrastinating if you:
- Keep performing low-priority tasks throughout the day.
- Go through your work schedule several times without making any decision on how to go about it.
- Skip an important task on your To-Do list for a long-time.
- Start a high-priority item and then go off to make a sandwich.
- Hold on until you are in the “right mood,” or wait for the “right time” to start a task.
- Keep on doing unnecessary that other people keep on requesting you to do, rather than tackling important tasks on your schedule.
Step 2: Understand why you are procrastinating.
It is essential to understand why you are procrastinating before trying to stop it. For example, you avoid a particular task because it is unpleasant, or maybe you are not in a good mood. You should take steps to kill the boredom quickly so that you can focus on your task and find it more enjoyable.
Procrastination can be caused by poor organization. When you organize your To-Do list effectively, there is an unlikelihood of procrastinating. However, you can still feel overloaded by a task even if you are organized. Perhaps you doubt your ability to perform the job, or maybe you are afraid you might not do the task correctly, so you delay it and tackle other simpler work. Some people are so scared of success as much as failure; they think that doing a job successfully will lead them to be overloaded with more tasks.
Poor decision-making can also lead to procrastination. If you are not sure of what to do, you will postpone taking action when you don’t do the right thing.
Step 3: Try anti-procrastination strategies.
You can only overcome procrastinating by avoiding practicing it, so try as many of the strategies named below as possible to help you stop the habit.
- Reward yourself when you finish a task on time. You can treat yourself with a cup of coffee from your favorite spot.
- Forgive yourself for delaying tasks in the past. Self-forgiveness makes you feel more positive and reduce the chances of procrastination in the future.
- Handle tasks as soon as they appear; do not wait until they pile up.
- Request someone to check up on your progress. If you don’t have someone, you can use Procraster, an online tool that helps in self-monitoring.
- Avoid distractions when tackling a task- you can turn off the TV, emails, and social media.
- Start with the tasks you feel are least enjoyable. This will motivate you to do more pleasant work the rest of the day.
For other people, procrastination is not just a bad habit; it can be a sign of an existing health condition, such as depression, anxiety, OCD, or ADHD. Research shows that chronic procrastination can be linked to severe illness and stress.