Procrastination: Why We Do It & How To Stop
“I’ll do it tomorrow.” How many times have you heard someone say that, or said it yourself? I know I’ve used this phrase on many occasions.
Or how about, “I’ll get to it, but let me just do this first.” The funny thing about it is, most of the time we don’t get to it tomorrow.
We always find more and more excuses, and somehow what needs to be done continually is pushed to the future. This is known as procrastination and can be a major roadblock to success.
What is Procrastination?
Procrastination is the act of delaying or postponing something that needs to be done. We all do this, whether pushing off schoolwork, doing the dishes, or going to the gym.
Procrastination is ingrained in our society and has been made worse with all the distractions readily available to us on a daily basis.
What this type of behavior leads to is regret. Even though we know a task must be completed, our natural tendencies are to push it off, finding something more enjoyable to do instead.
Inevitably, we will come to the point where the work needs to be finished and yet we have not done so. Regret is then the only choice we have. Shame takes the place of pride and accomplishment, all because we delayed doing what needed to be done.
There are professionals who believe that procrastination has a more positive aspect. This leads to a question that has interested me for a while. Can procrastination be beneficial?
Is Procrastination Really Helpful?
If you are like me, there may be times when you justify procrastination by thinking that it leads to more motivation and productivity.
The idea is that by pushing off work until the last moment, we will give one-hundred percent focus and effort to the task.
When I was in college, I lived and died by this thinking. I would wait until the night before a paper was due to write it, and maybe a day or two before a test to begin studying. While I got good grades, I know that I did not reach my potential in school as a result of this behavior.
Yes, I was motivated, and yes, I gave my full focus to the work. But, I also felt rushed and had to exert a lot of effort in a short period of time, which is exhausting.
There is some truth to the thinking that procrastination leads to a better output. But, I would not lean on it as an adequate and sustainable form of working for a successful future.
Procrastination may seem like it boosts productivity, but only if you have not glimpsed the incredible work that can be done without a delay. Countless benefits are experienced, the chief one being a better use of your time.
I find myself procrastinating sometimes when it comes to working out or writing, and the frustration I feel towards myself heavily outweighs the brief pleasure gotten from whatever activity I did instead.
We will get into more details about the benefits of not procrastinating and how to change our behavior later, but first, let’s take a look at why we procrastinate.
"Procrastination may seem like it boosts productivity, but only if you have not glimpsed the incredible work that can be done without a delay. Countless benefits are experienced, the chief one being a better use of your time."
Why Do We Procrastinate?
It’s a very interesting question as to why we procrastinate. I have briefly given some insight into this in the previous section, discussing the belief that it may result in an increase in productivity. But I know from my experience, I didn’t procrastinate with the thought that it would cause more motivation, rather it was simply a side effect.
Why we push off work that needs to be done stems from an underlying problem area or way of thinking. However, it can also be that you do not enjoy the activity.
On the website soulsalt.com, Lyn Christian discusses the causes of procrastination and how to overcome each of them. If you would like to read her full article, you can check it out here.
To gain a better perspective as to why we procrastinate, here is a list of the most common culprits.
Main Causes of Procrastination
- Fear of Failure: The fear of failure results when we have a deep fear of messing up and not performing well. There are many reasons why this type of thought comes about, including pressure from coaches/bosses/parents, not wanting to upset those who care about us, and putting overly high expectations on ourselves. In order to avoid having to face our fears, procrastination becomes an easy and safe alternative.
- Perfectionism: Having to do everything perfectly, and never feeling satisfied with one’s work is a sign of perfectionism. Nothing is ever good enough and this can become increasingly frustrating. Each time you do not do something perfectly (which is every time for a perfectionist) it takes a toll on your psyche. So, to avoid having to feel the negative emotions associated with perfectionism, procrastination begins to take place.
- Poor Focus: Distractions are plentiful, especially in the age of technology. As soon as you sit down to work on a paper, bzz bzz, you get a text. Or, while you’re working at your desk, you begin to hear the call of your favorite social media platform. If you lack focus it is easy to fall prey to these types of distractions and many more. Procrastination is defined as allowing other tasks to take precedent over what needs to be done. Poor focus leads to your attention constantly bouncing from one thing to another.
- No Joy in What You are Doing: Now this is a difficult one because there are some tasks we must do that are not necessarily enjoyable. I never found much fun in studying for math tests or having to work on a project in school; however, these must be done. When we do not find any fun in what we are doing, it’s easy to begin procrastinating. We push off one activity in favor of another that brings us more pleasure.
- Low Self-Discipline: The ability to force ourselves to perform tasks, even when we do not want to is a key characteristic of self-discipline. When this skill is not well developed, it can be difficult to get yourself on track. This leads to procrastination, which we then have a hard time overcoming since there is not a high level of discipline within ourselves to do so.
How Procrastination Hurts Us
Procrastinating, especially when it happens often, has many negative consequences. While it might seem insignificant and merely result in having to do work at a later time, the effects are much greater.
In a post on lifehack.org, Kirstin O’Donovan discusses eight ways that procrastination hurts us. If you would like to read her full article, you can here.
After reviewing the side effects Kirstin outlines, I have comprised my own list that includes some of the ones she provided, and a few of my own.
We all only have a certain amount of time each day to work towards our goals. When procrastination becomes a habit, it may seem harmless at the moment, until you look back on all the time wasted.
This looks at the effects of procrastination on a large scale. It’s one of those situations where we regret not putting in the work when we had the time. Instead, we chose to do all sorts of other activities, which did not help us get any closer to our goals.
"Procrastinating, especially when it happens often, has many negative consequences. While it might seem insignificant and merely result in having to do work at a later time, the effects are much greater."
Contrary to the belief that procrastination leads to more productivity, it actually results in the reverse. Pushing off work until the last minute causes us to be less productive.
Utilizing our time wisely, we are able to get more work done in the same amount of time. Without procrastination and delaying what needs to be done, we are able to complete many more tasks throughout the day.
However, when this bad habit exists, the amount of work we can do in a day or week significantly diminishes.
Lower Work Quality
Along with a decrease in overall productivity levels, the quality of the work we produce will also be diminished.
The reason for this lies in the rushed feeling that comes along with pushing off work. I feel this even when my work has no deadline since in my mind I feel as if it should already be done.
When there is a deadline given by some external authority, whether that be school or work, the feeling of being rushed multiplies. We then hurry to finish the work and as a result, the finished product is of lower quality than we otherwise could have produced.
It Will Damage Your Reputation
A great way to build a strong reputation for ourselves is by producing high-quality work in a productive manner, no matter what profession or industry we are in.
Constant procrastination, as we’ve seen decreases both of these. This results in a poor reputation for ourselves. People will not want to work with us as much, since the work we produce is not as high quality due to the habit of procrastination.
4 Ways to Stop Procrastinating
#1 Locate When You Procrastinate
It will be incredibly difficult to stop ourselves from procrastinating if we are unaware of when we are doing it.
So, the first step towards changing our behavior is to pinpoint the activities when we procrastinate the most.
During this time you simply want to become aware of your actions. Many times we do not realize that what we are doing is in fact procrastination.
We want to become more conscious of when our work is being pushed off. No longer will we be able to ask the question, “Where has my time gone?”
Start by trying to name, in the moment, each time you procrastinate. If you are really serious about overcoming this habit, begin to keep a notebook of all the times you do it.
Make notes to yourself and keep track of all the times you take part in this behavior, and what you were supposed to be doing instead.
By understanding when we tend to procrastinate, we can be more on defense during those time and put more effort into focusing on the task at hand.
#2 Determine What You Do Instead
Once we begin to locate when we procrastinate, another trend will begin to reveal itself; what we do instead.
There will be certain activities that we do on a regular basis that fill up the time created by procrastination. Do you play a game on your phone, look at social media, hang out with friends, play with your dog, or any other sort of activity?
The reason it is important to locate what you do lies in the pleasure likely derived from the activity. If we do something instead of work we ought to be doing, the reason is usually that we find that task more fun and immediately rewarding.
We do not want to eliminate these joyful times from our life, but they should be planned in a manner that does not lead to procrastination.
One way to do this is to schedule some time each day for the activities you usually do while procrastinating. That way, your mind gets that hit of fun and pleasure without interfering with the work you need to do.
#3 Discover Why
Earlier in the article, some of the reasons why we procrastinate were given. The next step in overcoming procrastination deals with why.
Since there are many underlying psychological problem areas that could be causing us to procrastinate, it is beneficial to locate the cause for ourselves.
Do you suffer from a fear of failure? Or is it perfectionism that causes you to continually push-off work? Maybe it’s that you simply do not find any joy in what you are doing, so you decide to seek it elsewhere.
Whatever the reason, it is an important step to find out why we procrastinate. With this information, we can attack any underlying problems that may be the culprit.
For example, if you suffer from poor self-discipline, then you may want to practice saying no to yourself once a day to begin regaining control over your mind.
Or, if you are a perfectionist, focusing on the process rather than the end result can be a good way to help get you on the right track.
Once we locate the cause of our procrastination, it becomes much easier to change the bad habit.
#4 Time Your Work/Set Completion Points
The last step in working to overcome procrastination involves some practical techniques you can begin to utilize.
The first technique is to time your work. It can seem overwhelming when we sit down to work and do not know how long we must focus. Our minds enjoy having an end to work towards.
If we have an open-ended time we must work, then procrastination can be the easiest way to find relief. However, by allotting ourselves two hours, let’s say, there is an attainable target we are working towards.
This way, we have an end in sight, which makes focusing for the amount of time given much easier.
Another technique you can use is pretty similar, except instead of timing your work, you set a completion point. A completion point is a target you reach for the day, after which you can stop working.
I find this to be a better technique for me when I am performing activities that I want to focus on completing rather than spending time on, such as writing.
When I am writing, I provide myself with a target to work towards each day. Usually, it is a section completed or a number of words written.
However, if I am doing a more open-ended task, such as reading or exercising, I will utilize the time technique.
Both of these are exceptional techniques at helping to curb procrastination and improve focus.
Procrastination is the act of delaying or pushing off one activity in favor of another. There are many reasons why we procrastinate, but one thing is for sure, it kills productivity and results in quite a few negative side effects.
If our goal is to be as successful as we can be, it is necessary to curb procrastinating behavior. This can be done by following the four steps I have outlined above.
You must locate when you procrastinate, what you do instead of working, why you procrastinate, and then incorporate the two techniques of timing yourself and setting completion points.
If these four steps are done, I truly believe anyone can overcome and stop the habit of procrastination.
Do you tend to procrastinate a lot? Is it something that you feel gets in the way of your productivity? Please leave a comment below.
If you have any questions or concerns related to procrastination or any other performance psychology topic, please feel free to reach out to me.
Thank you for reading, and I wish you the best of success in all you do.
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