- We have all fallen victim to putting off tasks until the last minute.
- Contrary to popular belief, procrastination is not always due to laziness.
- To beat procrastination, you must first understand its causes and come up with practical ways to mitigate it.
- This article highlights six practical ways to stop procrastinating and start getting work done.
According to research, 15–20 percent of adults are chronic procrastinators, and one in every four adults considers procrastination a defining characteristic of their personality. Contrary to what some believe, sometimes procrastination results from something other than laziness.
As Albert Einstein famously said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Understanding our “why” helps us explore and discover the patterns and emotional triggers that cause our procrastination.
The Reasons Behind Procrastination:
Generally, there are two overarching reasons for procrastination.
1. The Inherent Tendency Humans Have to Seek Instant Gratification
Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow discusses two main systems of thinking. System one is concerned with making instant decisions and is the source of human error, while system two is concerned with slow, methodical analysis.
This is important because Kahneman discovered that system two uses a lot more energy than system one, so in trying to save the most energy, our mind defaults to the first system for most of the decisions we make. As a result, when we have a paper to write and want to watch our favorite television show, writing the paper represents system two, and watching the show represents system one.
2. Protection of Identity and Self-Worth
Nowadays, our identities are tied to many things outside of ourselves, and having our identity tied to a task or project is a common source of procrastination. For example, if we believe that doing well on a project is a direct representation of what we are worth as individuals. We will feel immense fear and pressure when trying to work on the project, and the possibility of failure will mean that we are procrastinating until the fear of disappointment outweighs the urgency of completing the task.
Ways to Overcome Procrastination:
As much as our brains are programmed to procrastinate, as demonstrated above, they can also be trained to form and maintain new habits. Procrastination is a difficult issue, and unlike many other things in life, it is often difficult to stop at will. However, like most habits, procrastination can be overcome with conscious effort.
1. Gain Awareness
You cannot solve a problem you’re not aware of. In this context, unaware means that you are putting off a task but are not aware of it as procrastination. To counteract this, you must understand that you can put off a task without necessarily procrastinating. Understanding the causes of your procrastination and recognizing it when it happens will help you weaken it.
2. Plan Ahead
In other words, simplify your work and leave no room for procrastination. Before you come up with a plan for the day, it’s already noon, and all you can do is get out of your inbox in time to attend a pre-scheduled meeting—there goes any hope of a productive day. For example, you can set aside a few minutes each night to plan out the next day’s activities.
3. Be Realistic
The road to beating procrastination is not meant to torture you into compliance. Contrary to popular belief, productivity does not entail getting up at 5 AM. If you’re not a morning person, getting up unusually early to work on tasks you’ve been putting off will feel like punishment, giving you even more reasons to procrastinate.
To increase your chances of success, set realistic goals and be sure to identify the time of day (or night) you work best and plan your schedule around that.
4. Break Down Your Tasks into Smaller Ones
A good way to ensure that your goals are realistic and achievable is to break them down into smaller, more manageable chunks. This makes large tasks less intimidating and allows you to make steady, gratifying progress. Your best bet is to divide it into tasks that can be completed in a single session without requiring a break, so remember this during the process as well.
5. Optimize Your Environment
Your physical and virtual environment affects your productivity more than you know. In today’s technical and post-pandemic era, switching off your phone or ignoring your email while working may do more harm than good, especially if you work remotely. You will therefore need the discipline to avoid responding to non-work distractions. Research shows that we imitate the behavior of others around us. You can optimize your physical environment by ensuring your workspace is comfortable, with everything you need easily accessible, and surrounding yourself with hardworking people that inspire you to follow suit.
6. Reward Yourself Regularly
We often procrastinate because a distraction might seem appealing and rewarding in the short-term, as opposed to doing the task whose reward comes much later.
As a result, you can reduce the likelihood of procrastination by associating tasks with short-term pleasant rewards. However, according to learned industriousness theory, rewarding yourself upon completion will still make you feel like the process is the punishment if you do not enjoy doing the work. So, instead of making rewards contingent on completing a task, it may be better to reward your progress along the way. You’ll learn to associate the work with something pleasant, thus increasing your likelihood of repeating the behavior.
Of course, these tips will work only if you want them to. If you are willing to take the necessary action and put in the effort to get work done, you have solved half of the problem. At the end of the day, you must eat that frog to reap the benefits.