Procrastination. It’s a fascinating phenomenon, and one that approximately 20% of adults admit to having a problem with. True procrastination isn’t just putting off the things we dread or attempting to avoid the inevitable. For many, procrastination sneaks in and interferes with parts of life that we actually want to engage in. Some of us are guilty of only the occasional procrastination, while for others, it becomes a way of life.
Before we really dig into what procrastination is, how it affects our lives and how to transform a tendency to wait until the last minute into healthier habits, it’s important to understand what procrastination isn’t.
We live in a time where it seems like everyone constantly has more on their plate than they can handle. Between work, home and outside commitments, many of us are running non-stop from the moment our feet hit the floor in the morning. As a result, we often over-commit ourselves and struggle to check off all of the things on our to-do lists. This isn’t procrastination, although continually stretching yourself to the limit can contribute to it.
Procrastination is a different beast entirely. Procrastination can be described as voluntarily postponing a task, even when we know that doing so could carry detrimental consequences. What’s so interesting about procrastination is that sometimes we do it with things we actually enjoy doing and when there is no legitimate reason for wanting to put something off. So, what’s really behind this troubling behavior and how can put the kibosh on it for good?
Why We Procrastinate
It’s estimated that we procrastinate at a rate that is four times higher than it was three decades ago. Procrastination has always been a fact of life, but something has shifted that has caused it to become more prominent, and in some cases severely interfere with a person’s quality of life.
There are plenty of theories about why we procrastinate, and we could explore and argue each of them for hours. But the fact remains that we aren’t procrastinators when we’re born, and this implies that it’s a learned behavior that can be overcome.
Overcoming procrastination usually involves dealing with some negative emotions and thought patterns on how we approach certain aspects of life. For instance, someone who procrastinates paying a bill - even when they have the money and could pay it in less than two minutes online, might have underlying negative emotions about financial insecurity.
Likewise, someone who puts off writing a research paper might have a fear of failure or someone who continually puts off going to the doctor might really be concerned that something is wrong. Often times, procrastination gives us a bit of a cushion in coming face to face with our own flaws or fears. When we finally do accomplish our tasks, we can give ourselves a pat on the back for getting the job done just in the nick of time. This makes us feel good about ourselves, rather than bad.
If this all sounds a little too deep, we can also look at the fact that some people just enjoy the rush of accomplishing something at the last minute. There are plenty of people who claim to work best under pressure, so they’ve turned procrastination into an asset, rather than viewing it as a habit that should be changed.
The Effects of Procrastination
Almost all of us have been guilty of procrastinating at one time or another. Who hasn’t been in the position of just wanting to relax and stream a few episodes of their favorite show instead of tackling the dishes or preparing for the big presentation due at the end of the week? If this happens occasionally, it’s not really a problem. In fact, you might even classify it as self-care.
However, when the occasional bout of procrastination becomes more frequent and you can start to see a habit forming, it can begin to negatively interfere with your life in a number of ways.
One of the most significant effects of procrastination is the impact that it can have on your health. Putting things off until the last minute means that you’re constantly behind the eight ball and often unprepared if the slightest snag arises. This can leave you feeling like you’re always on edge, always rushed and lead to a predisposition for depression and anxiety.
Procrastination can also be bad for your health when you’re continually putting off the things you need to do to maintain a healthy lifestyle. For instance, putting off appointments or finding reasons to not show up for your fitness commitments. With things like this, when nobody is really holding you accountable, procrastination can easily spiral into a lack of self care.
Chronic procrastinators are also at a greater risk of having lower self esteem, suffering from chronic fatigue, losing the traction they need to get ahead at work or school, damaging their relationships and generally make poorer decisions in just about every aspect of their lives.
When put this way, procrastination loses some of its temptation. Are you ready to kick the procrastination habit, whether it’s a daily occurrence or a once in awhile type of thing? Here are 8 tips for breaking up with procrastination and living a more productive, healthier and happier life.
8 Tips for Breaking the Cycle of Procrastination
We’ve recently welcomed in a new year, and that means that many of us have made commitments to making positive changes in our lives – some of which might be losing a little momentum due to procrastination.
This is the perfect time of year to do an honest assessment of how procrastination affects your life. If you’re tired of being held captive by your tendency to continually put things off, here are 8 tips for kicking procrastination to the curb and living a more fulfilling life.
Take two. Sometimes we procrastinate because the task in front of us seems insurmountable and we have absolutely no idea of where to even begin. This might be the case when you have lots of little things that need to be done. Think of all the times you’ve put off cleaning out the garage or doing a Marie Kondo-style purge of your house because the task just seemed to huge.
There’s a strategy for this type of procrastination, called the 2 minute rule. The deal is that you start out by doing something for just 2 minutes. Spend 2 minutes just cleaning out the closet, working on the opening paragraph of you research paper or even working towards your self-care goals, like cleansing your face in the morning.
By doing this you’re eliminating the “I don’t have time” excuse and while 2 minutes isn’t long enough to get a lot done, it’s often enough to spark a fire to keep going. Once you’ve got 2 minutes mastered, try stretching it out to 5 or 15.
Don’t save the hardest stuff for last. We’ve all been there. You have a ton of things to do, so you quickly start crossing off the easiest tasks on the list and procrastinate with the ones that are more complex and time consuming. The problem with this is that by the time you reach the end portion of the list, you’re out of energy and more likely to make up excuses to put it all off for another day.
Next time, resist the temptation to take the easy route and instead go for the hardest, most dreaded tasks first. Not only do you get a sense of accomplishment from checking these items off your to-do list, you’ll also have a weight lifted off your shoulders which will give you even more energy to tackle the rest of your responsibilities.
Stop the cycle of perfectionism. Instead of worrying about being perfect, just focus on getting the task done. When you don’t procrastinate, there will be plenty of time to go back, revise or rework it until it meets your expectations. Letting go of the desire for perfection can actually improve production and the quality of what you’re putting out there.
Remove distractions. Distractions give us a reason to interrupt what we should be doing and pursue something else. Examples of distractions include elements of your environment, such as chatty coworkers or a noisy coffee shop. It could also be that technology is behind your tendency to be easily distracted. If this is the case, put the phone and laptop away.
What if you need these devices to tackle your to-do list? There are apps that you can install that will monitor and help put the overcome your tendency to wander the digital universe.
Make short term and long term goals. Sometimes we lose perspective regarding when something needs to be done, which can lead to procrastination. For example, you know you have a deadline for that big work project but in your mind, it’s still two weeks away so you have plenty of time.
Before you put it on the backburner, take a look at the complete project and spend a few minutes breaking it down into short and long term goals. For instance, you might need to create an outline or start researching sources for information. Maybe you need to contact someone about collaboration.
Breaking it down into lists of things that need to be accomplished in the next couple days and another one for tasks that can wait until closer to the due date, like finding graphics for your PowerPoint presentation, will help you avoid a mad rush at the last minute.
Stop multitasking. Research has shown that multi-taskers aren’t always the most productive individuals. While multitasking lets you feel like you’re getting a lot accomplished, the reality is that you’re not getting nearly as much done as you would if you just focused in on one task at a time.
Use peak energy times to your advantage. Some of us are morning people while others are night owls. If you have the opportunity, why not use your peak productive times to your advantage rather than always working against your natural schedule?
It’s only natural to want to put off things that require your attention when your body’s natural rhythm is telling you that it’s time to lounge around and do absolutely anything other than what you should be doing. Try tackling those things that are always the subject of your procrastination during peak energy times instead.
Go easy on yourself. Procrastination is often a habit that’s formed from a lifetime of behaviors. You don’t have to completely transform yourself overnight. Instead, try taking baby steps and work on changing one behavior at a time. Also, don’t be hesitant about rewarding yourself for a job well done. Sometimes a little incentive is all that you need to become more productive and make procrastination a thing of the past.
Want to know how to make 2019 one your best years yet? It all starts with making yourself a priority, and that includes finally kicking the negative habits that are holding you back. Procrastination isn’t self-care. In fact, you could say it’s self-sabotage. Make this the year that you reclaim your personal power and bid procrastination a well-deserved farewell.