Procrastination is the bane of many’s existence, me included. Waiting to do something until the last minute shoots a lot of projects and opportunities in the foot, and degrades the quality of our work. But why do we procrastinate? Is it anxiety, is it laziness, is it lack of ambition? Here’s why you procrastinate and how to stop.
Why you procrastinate
According to psychologicalscience.org, “There’s no single type of procrastinator, but several general impressions have emerged over years of research. Chronic procrastinators have perpetual problems finishing tasks, while situational ones delay based on the task itself. A perfect storm of procrastination occurs when an unpleasant task meets a person who’s high in impulsivity and low in self-discipline. (The behavior is strongly linked with the Big Five personality trait of conscientiousness.) Most delayers betray a tendency for self-defeat, but they can arrive at this point from either a negative state (fear of failure, for instance, or perfectionism) or a positive one (the joy of temptation). All told, these qualities have led researchers to call procrastination the “quintessential” breakdown of self-control.”
That’s a hard pill to swallow, that those who procrastinate lack “self-discipline” and are experiencing a “breakdown of self-control” But, it adds up. Too often we think these tasks that we have to get done are so distant, that it doesn’t require our attention for a while. The problem is most of us will continue telling ourselves that up until the day before a project or task is due to be finished.
But how do we stop procrastination? It has to do with practicing self-control. Here’s 3 tips that can help.
1. Break tasks down
When you have a big project that is approaching the deadline, anxiety can quickly take over, preventing you from wanting to start. While this is harder to do the night before the deadline, for the next big project, plan to start small. Perhaps 2 weeks before the deadline, do a small part of the project, like really small. For example, if you a 10 page class paper due in two weeks, spend the first day picking out the title. This will relieve some of the anxiety you would have faced in the future, and also provided a sense of accomplishment. The next day, do a little bit bigger of a task, and so on. This way you are conditioning yourself to enjoy making progress, no matter how small. Making a to-do list can also help. Make a long list with really small tasks. Start working on the minuscule tasks and check them off the list. When you see that you have completed a lot of tasks and have checked several things off, this will also condition you to enjoy progress and work towards more.
2. Change your environment
Trying to get done a big task in your bedroom is hard to do. Not only is this the environment where you rest and relax in, no one is watching you, meaning you can easily plop down and take a nap. Try going to into a public place to work. A coffee shop for example is full of people being productive. This a good kind of peer-pressure, because sitting down and watching YouTube in a coffee shop is going to be kind of embarrassing. Also, you obviously can’t just take a nap! Coffee shops will also provide coffee, a great drink for boosting productivity due to the caffeine content. If coffee isn’t your thing, try going to a park and working on your tasks there. Ultimately, the point is to get out of a comfortable environment where you are tempted to slack off. Remember, procrastination boils down to a lack of self-control, so forcing yourself to relocate to an environment where it’s harder to slip back into old habits will lead to a conditioning against taking a nap when you should be working on your commitments.
3. Remove distractions
One of my biggest distractions when trying to get something done is my phone. I can spend hours on phone flicking between all of my social media apps, all of which are designed to suck you in so you watch as much content as possible. This is perhaps the biggest trigger that causes people to procrastinate. You suddenly hit a road stop in your progress and you retreat to your phone for a “break” that ends up lasting hours. One of my personal methods of nipping this in the bud is going to a public place and leaving my phone in my car. I still have my phone near in case of an emergency, but it’s far out of sight and thus out of mind. There are also various reasons why I cannot get my phone easily. Firstly, if I get up I lose my seat. Secondly, I have to pack up all my things including my laptop if I want to go grab my phone, or else someone could steal it. That’s a lot of effort required to grab my phone and it does a great job at stopping my being distracted by my phone. Ultimately, if you have a trigger that causes you to procrastinate, find a way to eliminate it. The best rule is out of sight out of mind, so even removing that trigger from your immediate point of view could do wonders for keeping you on focus.
If you struggle with procrastination, remember that you ultimately lack self-control. It’s not an insult, the majority of people fall into this category, me included. To begin becoming more productive, you must learn to train yourself to like progress and enjoy working. That may seem like an odd put it, but it also has to do with brain chemistry. When succumbing to temptation, you are condition your brain to enjoy slacking off and doing something that will bring immediate satisfaction. The tips above can work to begin conditioning your brain to accomplishing tasks. Procrastination is hard to outgrow, but once you do, life will be so much easier.
Are you a procrastinator? Do these tips help? Let us know in the comments below!