What procrastination is, and is not
Procrastination is to intentionally delay a course of action to a later date, despite knowing that delaying it can have negative consequences, according to Canadian procrastination researcher Piers Steel.
Procrastination is not about having so many things to do that you simply run out of time and could not do them all. The key is that we are actively choosingto do something else than the task which would take us closer to our goal.
We deliberately engage in something else, despite knowing that there is a deadline and it is in our interest to complete the task.
For some, procrastination is related to having perfectionistic concerns– fears of making a mistake, worry about what others will think of your work, or doubt about whether you are good enough to do the job.
The effects of procrastination – not just a work thing!
Postponing dealing with tasks until a later date is not just something we do at work, it can affect every domain of our life.
As there is a strong link between procrastination and stress, it can have a negative impact on our physical, mental and interpersonal wellbeing.
Putting off or delaying doing something where there is a deadline does not mean you necessarily missthe deadline. In fact, most procrastinators do tend to finish the work, but last minute and at a huge personal cost.
Procrastinators can feel anxious and stressed from the huge amount of energy used to push through on something short notice. The classic ‘all nighter’ student comes to mind, staying up through the night to finish writing an essay for the deadline next morning.
Some procrastinators do delay starting a task until after the deadline has even passed, or don’t do the task at all. This can impact your work performance and career prospects, perhaps not being considered for a promotion due to delivering your work late or with questionable quality.
If you frequently have to be bailed out by others in your team to finish your work, because of starting too late, that can really affect your working relationships with your colleagues as well.
If you are a procrastinator, you might feel stressed out from not being able to get on top of your work, but it can also come from not getting on top of your ‘life admin’.
You might find yourself avoiding making a call to the plumber to fix that dripping tap or avoiding sorting through your taxes.
It can affect your relationships as well, leading to arguments with a partner about why you haven’t done what you said you would, or from letting friends or family down by not responding to text messages or calling them back.
Why we procrastinate
American data suggests 15-20% of the US population procrastinate, compared to about 5% in the 1970s.
In today’s society, we are increasingly getting overwhelmed by the amount of stimuli begging for our attention. So many things give us instant gratification, like social media, whereas carrying on with a challenging task might not give us anything gratifying or rewarding until at a much later stage.
No wonder that we therefore drift off in our minds, start thinking about other things or attempt to multitask. We just want that next dopamine kick. We frequently get interrupted from working in open plan offices or receiving new email notifications.
The to do list can feel endless. We therefore have to have the capacity to structure and organise our own work, to work independently despite all these distractions (which is a challenge to our impulse control), and to keep our focus on the task at hand. Really tricky!
The way forward
You might even be reading this as a way to procrastinate from something else, but as you are here now, consider how you could move forward. First be really honest with yourself about what this behaviour is costing you.
Tips for managing procrastination
1. Make tech your friend, not your foe
Technology can be as challenging to our performance as it is helpful - it is all about using it functionally.
- Get organised: Use apps like Todoistor Asanato set yourself clearly defined tasks to do, you can then also notice which tasks you tend to postpone on the scheduling apps.
- Manage distractions: Use apps like Forestas a way to block yourself from using your smartphone as a distraction. If you pick up your phone and start mindlessly scrolling, your tree dies – a fun way to keep you off your phone when you really need to focus.
2. Eat your frog
One productivity ‘hack’ is to consider the task you are avoiding as a frog - a big green frog sitting on your desk. It is unpleasant and you don’t like it. But as long as you’re not dealing with the frog, it’s sitting there staring at you, and it’s on your mind even when working on other things. Eat the frog to be over and done with it, it will release you to focus properly on other things afterwards.
3. Take adequate breaks (but don’t use them as avoidance!)
Make sure you get rest away from your work to clear your head, so that you are able to return to the desk and deal with any frogs you are avoiding. Just keep an eye on what you are doing as you pause. It is easy to get distracted and suddenly start avoiding the task again.
4. Give yourself rewards
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, as we have learned from The Shining, so if you are dealing with a particularly challenging frog, make sure to give yourself little incentives for carrying on. What will you give yourself when you finish? If possible, divide the task up into smaller parts and give rewards for each goal post you hit. Quick wins, for the win.
5. Accept B- work
If you are a perfectionist, and this is getting you stuck from finishing the work comfortably before a deadline, practise delivering what you consider to be “B-“, less than perfect work. You might be surprised at how other people value your work and think it is more than good enough, even if you judge it harshly yourself. Do this and you will liberate yourself to get on with other things, instead of fine polishing a piece of work beyond perfection.
6. Practise saying ‘No’
If someone asks for your attention as you are in the middle of this task, try to kindly let them know you can get back to them in x amount of time. Try to not take on more projects if you are already overloaded, if this is part of the reason why you are procrastinating.
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