You are probably here because you feel you are a procrastinator yourself, or you know someone who is. Welcome. Before we start here is a little bit of the truth for you:
EVERYONE IS PROCRASTINATING ON SOMETHING.
It is actually simple. By doing the action we are trying to postpone now, we would shorten the effort later and do it in smaller periods of time. So why do we wait until the last minute? Tim Urban would actually say it is due to our Procrastinating monkey that exists in our brain and loves instant gratification instead of rational thinking and work. Is he right?
Why Do We Procrastinate?
Here are a few ideas!
- Environmental Interuptions
Procrastination is best familiar to students during college time with all the exams, papers to write, thesis to think of. If I am being honest, even while writing this blog it took me way more than expected. I just had to find what constellations were visible in Europe and which country first discovered chocolate, only to stop doing that too, because I was feeling guilty for not doing the work I needed to be doing! And not to mention that guilt lasted for only two minutes until I saw that the movie I really wanted to watch was on TV.
Yeah! And do I know I am procrastinating? Of course! Can I help it? No. Have in mind that procrastination is not always bad. In this case, if I had pushed myself to do this while my brain was on ten different sides, think about what quality would I deliver in the end? Not very good I’m afraid. So you see, sometimes it is actually good to give yourself some time to procrastinate before you can actually focus on your task (more about that later).
But here are the real reasons to why people procrastinate!
Psychologists have a theory that whether we work on a project right now or we postpone it for later depends on the subjective value we give to that project. Meaning, if we value accomplishing the project now we will do it, but if we value leisure and fun as a way of receiving instant gratification we will find a way to postpone the hard work for later.
So if we wish to turn subjective value so it benefits us and we can manage to shorten the procrastination period we need to increase the value of doing a project sooner rather than later. Easier said than done.
The reason why procrastination is so famous and existent in our society today is because instant gratification sounds way better than waiting for the end result. It is all explained in the Marshmallow experiment with kids done at the Stanford University back in the 60s. In these experiments, children were offered a simple choice. They were offered a marshmallow and had to choose between having the opportunity to eat it now and so, receive instant satisfaction or, they could approximately wait 15 minutes and receive two marshmallows.
What that research showed later in the follow-up studies was that the children who were able to wait longer for the preferred double reward, tended to have better life outcomes, better SAT scores, better educational opportunities, richer and fuller lives, than those kids who could not postpone gratification.
So by learning that, we see that the purpose of the original study was to understand when does the control of delayed gratification, the ability to wait to obtain something that one wants, develops. In this case, it was showed it is formed in our childhood. So you see, being a procrastinator is not all on you, but still, let’s take the responsibility and accept that we have a certain part in this also, which leads us to #2.
- Work Takes Effort
By understanding that procrastination is well beyond just not doing something now, we can focus on the fact that we sometimes do postpone work because we just don’t want to put in the effort and hard work into reaching the finish line.
It is not only that we procrastinate because we are bored, but our own idea of how much time the work is going to take and how many pages we have to read, how many topics we have to learn, is making all of this harder.
The message behind this is:
THE ANTICIPATION OF HOW MUCH HARD WORK WE HAVE TO PUT IN, MAKES IT WORSE!
- We Lack Motivation
As we mentioned it before in our previous article on what drives our motivation and why we actually settle for things, dealing with a lot of work can take a hit on our motivation. But having a strong intrinsic and internal drive to why we want to accomplish something can help us fight this fight.
In the eyes of coaching and life coaches, this is why we procrastinate:
We easily find excuses to why we aren’t doing the work now, thus making the result co-dependent on the effect. This actually means that procrastination is not the cause of our actions it is the result of the effect of not having the motivation, the emotional connection, and the drive.
Our motivation is strongly connected to our goals, dreams, and desires in life. So when confronted with a task that is not in our future plans, our motivation can be weaker than for the things that we know will drive us forward.
- Environmental Interruptions
We have all faced some interruptions while we work, but what makes environmental interruptions so popular in procrastination?
They simply increase procrastination and take away our focus. Those interruptions can be anything from knowing we have dirty dishes to wash, to constantly seeing our phone light up because of social media. And frankly, the closer your phone is, the higher the volume, the easier it will be to just grab it and go through all the social media. After all what is a 5 minute scroll on Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat?
Oooh I know! A Time and focus killer.
Harsh! I know, but a necessary TLC!
You will thank me later.
- Make The Tasks Achievable
It is very easy to feel overwhelmed when faced with a lot of hard work ahead, but mostly because we see it as a long, bumpy road ahead. By shaping and downsizing our tasks and goals into smaller pieces we will maintain a positive insight and check of our motivation and productivity allowing us to achieve our tasks quicker and with more success.
By designing our future actions ahead of time, it will give us a timeline of what must be done at a certain time. It will leave no room for excuses we mentioned on top of the blog.
If it is on the paper or in your to-do list, you have to do it!
- Make priorities
Before going to bed at night, list all the chores or obligations or commitments you have to deal with tomorrow. This way you can have time to prioritize your tasks into seeing which ones you have to do immediately and which ones you can delegate or even delete from your to-do lists.
If you need a little bit of help deciding which tasks are urgent and important, which ones you can delegate and which ones you can completely postpone and procrastinate on, check our article about how to fix your time management. You will find useful tactics on how to make better decisions for your priorities and why making priorities will help you work better.
- Schedule a time for chores
As we mentioned above, chores and extra activities tend to be time-consuming and procrastination gold. So instead of being distracted by them, schedule a specific time of your day or week for those activities. By doing so your brain will automatically stop paying attention to them and allow your focus to be placed accordingly. Simple yet functional.
- Don’t lie to yourself
There will come a time when you will procrastinate and feel guilty for the work you didn’t do. But when you have the time, go over all the chores and tasks you missed and see why that was. What were your time-consuming activities (whether it was the internet, or simply boredom)?
Dedicate the time of your day to go over all of this. For me personally, it is when I go to bed. I always have either a feeling of being proud of myself because of the amount of things I accomplished in the day, or I feel myself looking for excuses and feeling guilty for escaping the much needed work.
- Change the environment
If you feel your creativity, imagination, focus and productivity is leaking, try and change the environment in which you are at the moment. Nobody says you can’t make your own ideal workplace at home or even in the park.
A lot of successful people have little traditions and rituals they do before they start doing their work. For someone it is a warm cup of freshly brewed coffee, for others it’s their favourite slippers, their favourite bench in the park, their favourite music on the radio. Find what suits for you and surround yourself with positive indicators and flow of productivity and motivation.
The truth is after all this, you will still find reasons or subconscious ways of not doing the work and just procrastinating, and that is okay. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Just have in mind that the quality of work, depends on you and you should always seek to gain more quality rather than insignificant quantity of work.