Procrastination is a habitual problem that challenges our productivity in more ways than just stopping us from striking off tasks on our to-do lists. Do you think the internet and living a fast-paced life result in procrastination, and it’s a new age problem? You might be wrong. We have a bunch of ancient procrastination quotes that prove that people have been struggling with the problem of putting off work for later since time immemorial.
Thanks to the internet, we are more aware of the dangers of procrastination and an increasing number of people look for help online. If you’re here, reading this super lengthy blog on procrastination, kudos to you- you’re at least blessed with the realization to change this self-sabotaging habit.
Procrastination is a complex phenomenon, condition, problem, or whatever you’d like to call it. This is why, knowing what it exactly is, what it does to you, and finding the right kind of help is crucial to solving the exact problem that makes you procrastinate. We will go about this in a very systematic manner, so you can skip a few topics if that’s not the kind of information you need. Without any further ado, let’s explore.
WHY DO WE PROCRASTINATE?
Procrastination is like smoking. You know it’s bad for you, but you can’t talk yourself out of the vicious cycle. If you’ve been branding yourself as a lazy person because you can’t stop procrastinating, there’s a lot more to it than just wanting to slouch from work. When you understand the psychological mechanism behind it, you know what you’re fighting and you’re no more shooting in the dark.
There are a host of reasons why people might give in to procrastination when they have an important task at hand with a decent amount of time to get done with it. Let’s say you have an assignment and you have to turn it in within 10 days. A typical procrastinator would while away 8 days and end up working under pressure on the last two days or pull an all-nighter before the submission.
We know the consequence will be a high level of distress in the future, but we still lack the absolute insight to act in order to avoid such a consequence. The most common cause of procrastination is a lack of self-control. Some people are so good at sitting in one place and accomplishing everything that they plan without succumbing to procrastination. However, there are a bunch of reasons why people procrastinate, with a lack of self-control setting the base. We can categorize these reasons into four broad areas, which are as follows-
Lack of Proper Goal
The first step to initiating any task successfully and to have a sense of direction is to have a concrete idea as to what the exact goal is. For instance, having an abstract idea like “learn a new language” is the first step that has to be followed by planning where to start, how to progress, how much time to dedicate to the topics and other nuances. This detailed familiarity with what exactly would get you to your ultimate goal is what will constantly keep prompting you to achieve your goal without making excuses from lack of clarity of what you’d have to do when you sit yourself down to start.
However, many people (on a subconscious level), miss out on this completely. While you might have a surface level idea of what you want to do or achieve, it is more likely to get you confused when it’s just a big ball of tangled wool in your head. Unless you decide to define your goals more clearly and untangle the woolen ball, it might overwhelm you or leave you clueless in a way that you’d find yourself procrastinating every time you try to start.
Besides this, a part of it also comes from the inability to imagine the future outcome of completing the task. If you can envision how incredibly beneficial or rewarding it would be to complete the task, you would be able to beat procrastination. However, this would require conscious efforts so that you can convince yourself to get to work.
Lack of Motivation
One of the common causes of procrastination is not feeling motivated enough to complete or even start doing a task. This is a very common problem that is generalizable even to habits and procrastinating on building a good habit or getting rid of a bad one. If you’ve been planning to get up early in the morning but have been failing consistently, it has two components to it- lack of resolve and lack of motivation. Both these components are intertwined; thus, both need to be addressed if you’re keen on overcoming procrastination.
Your lack of motivation to get the tasks done might also stem from not having immediate or attractive rewards. Maybe you don’t see the task as being rewarding in itself, or maybe you don’t see the rewards in the foresight.
When you catch yourself procrastinating because of this, you have to put things into perspective, and in case there is no foreseeable reward, you can come up with some. For instance, if you’re trying to develop the habit of waking up early but fail to achieve it because the task in itself doesn’t feel rewarding, you can think of things that make you feel good, like having a cup of your coffee soon after getting up, reading several pages of your favorite book, or something alike.
While it may sound ironic, perfectionism also leads to procrastination. As a procrastinating perfectionist, when you’re about to start the task, you might be afraid of making mistakes, thus keeping it for later to be more ready to give your best. This becomes a cycle and as the deadline approaches, you’re forced to quickly complete the task, resulting in guilt.
Other Underlying Reasons
While procrastination is a major problem in itself, it can as well show up as one of the symptoms or indicators of a bigger underlying problem. Some of the common conditions that are characterized by a tendency to procrastinate are depression, ADHD, anxiety (and its types), self-handicapping, low self-esteem, avoidant personality disorder, and many more.
Disclaimer: If you are suffering from any of the mental disorders or if your tendency to procrastinate is seriously affecting your day-to-day functioning and productivity, make it a point to talk about your struggle with procrastination with your therapist/ psychiatrist.
While these are some of the common reasons why we procrastinate, the list doesn’t end here. Shedding light on the most common causes of procrastination can help us set goals to target and work on those reasons, which regulates our thought pattern and behavior.
IS IT NORMAL TO PROCRASTINATE?
The short answer to this question is- yes and no. While it is quite normal for the larger population that procrastinates, for some people, procrastination might indicate a bigger problem or a symptom of an aggravating mental disorder in a worst-case scenario. However, a few things might draw a useful distinction between when it is normal versus when it is not normal to procrastinate.
The clearest distinction that you can draw is by going back to the “why do we procrastinate” heading (in case you skipped it) and see which category you relate to. It is normal or close to normal (unless a chronic case of procrastination that causes too much trouble) for as long as you’re not putting your finger on the fourth category, that is, procrastination from other underlying reasons.
However, procrastination, whether resulting from laziness, distractions, unwillingness to do something that requires a lot of focus and time, or any other reason can become a challenge when it stops you from achieving your goals on a daily basis. You will need a little bit of introspection here to understand if your case is that of chronic procrastination or not.
No matter what the reason for your procrastination is or if you’re an amateur procrastinator or a ninja procrastinator, overcoming procrastination can change your life.
THE VICIOUS CYCLE OF PROCRASTINATION
Most of the time, procrastination starts with the contradicting thought of ‘not procrastinating’ with the next task that you’d get. People are full of energy and motivation to deal with the next task with perfection, keeping the idea of procrastinating at bay. However, the moment you get the task, procrastination starts taking control. Here are the stages that are a part of the vicious cycle of procrastination-
Stage 1- I have a lot of time
The first stage starts when the first thought that strikes you is “I have a lot of time with this task, so I can take a bit of time to mentally prepare myself to start”. This very thought is a red signal because proactive people get into action or at the very least start planning when they have a new task in hand.
Stage 2- Maybe I should start now
The second stage progresses to the dilemma of starting the work. However, the fact that you still might have days before the submission is due can stop you from getting started or persisting if you’re a master procrastinator. For most people, the “maybe” stage goes on for days and lasts for as long as there’s not enough pressure of not having enough time.
Stage 3- I think this task won’t need so much time
This is a stage that might or might not be true for everyone. When there’s a lot of work to be completed and there’s not much time left, many people try to justify this by telling themselves that the task might be doable even if they do it just sometime before the deadline. This is a classic case of denial which leads to a greater degree of procrastination.
Stage 4- I need to rush now
Once you have no more time to procrastinate, you would have to reluctantly sit yourself down and start working. This is the stage when the seed of guilt is sown. This stage is the one that causes the most damage to your mental peace and balance, resulting in guilt, helplessness, distress, anxiety, and self-blame. However, this is also when you promise yourself that you’d never again procrastinate. This is like a little ray of hope in the dark that you create or a little false optimism that you give yourself.
Stage 5- Why do I do this?
At the peak of pressure and the looming deadline, you ask yourself why you procrastinate every single time with every single task. This is when guilt takes charge and it stays even after you somehow manage to meet the deadline. For perfectionistic procrastinators, the feeling of guilt is magnified even more. However, stage one repeats itself as soon as there’s another task to be done.
We will soon discuss how to work on this cycle to overcome the tendency to procrastinate when we talk about “how to overcome procrastination”.
WHY IS IT HARD TO OVERCOME PROCRASTINATION?
When you procrastinate or are at the different stages of procrastination, you would experience an array of emotions. It starts with relief and a sense of false security that you have a lot of time. While you experience impending guilt, there’s one thing that keeps the cycle going each time for the first couple of stages- being lazy in the present moment and not being able to connect with your future self. This is the motivating factor or the reinforcing factor that initiates the cycle.
Once you’ve made it to the third stage, it is too late to look back and repent. However, the very inability to be able to look past the first two stages of absolute bliss is what has you procrastinate every single time or quite often.
Almost every emotion that a procrastinator feels while procrastinating, whether positive or negative, comes to guilt in the end. However, the relief of not having to deal with the burden of the task in the present moment becomes a major reinforcement that keeps the habit of procrastinating running.
Since the reinforcement is too strong and seemingly more rewarding than the reward that completing the task would offer, it becomes hard to overcome procrastination. However, in a true sense, procrastination is not as rewarding as completing a certain task. You fail to connect with your goal, your future self, and the reward that awaits in the future that makes procrastination seem more lucrative.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF PROCRASTINATION
The rewards of procrastination are quite short-lived and they are soon replaced by many undesirable consequences. This is also the right time to bring to your attention that many times, procrastination can also lead to bigger problems like depression and anxiety disorders. This means that there is a bidirectional relationship between procrastination and these mental disorders. Reiterating this blog to the heading that we’re discussing, following are the consequences of procrastination-
One of the most common consequences of procrastinating for a long time is low self-esteem. With every single instance of procrastinating, people lose confidence in themselves and start believing something is inherently wrong with them. However, this is an important reminder that even for someone who suffers from chronic procrastination, there’s hope and you can definitely overcome this.
Anxiety is the fear of the future, and since procrastination is exactly about keeping tasks for the future, there’s a clear relationship between procrastination and anxiety. When the deadline of a certain task that you’re on approaches, your mind would take you to the horrors of not being able to meet the deadline, doing a sub-par job at the task, and other similar things and this builds anxiety.
feelings of Worthlessness
Quite naturally, when you repeatedly fail to meet your deadlines, don’t meet the expectations that you set for yourself for the quality of work, and are constantly finding yourself wasting your time doing nothing when you could actually just get to work, you’d attribute all these shortcomings to yourself. There are two things that can come out of it- feeling worthless or being accountable and taking action.
While it sounds pretty easy, our mind plays its tricks on us and chooses the easier and lazier alternative, that is, feeling worthless.
Lack of Productivity
One of the reasons why it is very important to seek help, find information, and understanding how to stop procrastinating is that being stuck in the cycle of procrastination can have you feeling less productive each time. It is yet again a bidirectional relationship wherein you start procrastinating because you’re not in productive space, and it soon turns the other way round and you feel your habit of procrastinating gets you to be less productive or unproductive.
None of these effects of procrastination are desirable (obviously). The reason why it is important to look at these effects of procrastination is that they can motivate you to address the issue and work on it. Now that we’ve talked about what procrastination can do to you, let’s cut to the chase and talk about overcoming procrastination.
HOW TO OVERCOME PROCRASTINATION?
Irrespective of whether or not you read through the entire blog, this is an exclusive topic that most people hunt for soon after answering “what is procrastination” for themselves. The reason why it is crucial to overcome procrastination is that it can eventually impact the quality of your work and life to the extent of causing many undesirable outcomes. Luckily, overcoming procrastination is far from impossible, and here’s how you can work on it.
Figure out the Nature of Your Procrastination
When you notice clear indications that you’re procrastinating, it is also crucial to understand the nature of your procrastination. We have talked about the various reasons as to why we procrastinate in one of the headings. These reasons could be- lack of goal-orientation, lack of motivation, perfectionism, task aversion, laziness, or a bigger problem. It is important that you identify with one of the major reasons why you procrastinate (even something out of the list that I have created) so that you gain a clear idea about the nature of your procrastination.
It is almost like diagnosing the exact problem so that you can treat it with the right medicines. While some types of procrastinators like lazy and unmotivated procrastinators would need more planning, perfectionists who procrastinate need to be a little easy on themselves. So, while procrastination is one big problem with many types, knowing the exact nature of your procrastination will help you work on it better.
Make Peace with Your Past Procrastinating Self
Nothing can sabotage all your efforts towards overcoming procrastination as much as you blaming yourself for the number of times you have had procrastinated in the past. You have to understand that your past self has no control over what you do in the present unless you’d want it otherwise. However, what actually your past behavior can do is give you more reasons to do better and to make a significant improvement.
Talk to yourself and forgive yourself for being a procrastinator. Promise yourself that you will change and take baby steps to be more action-oriented.
Have a Plan
Having a plan of action generally helps every person achieve everything on their to-do list (or at least the majority of things). However, it is way more helpful a technique for people who procrastinate because many of us do so as we are less goal-oriented or we are too short-sighted. The moment you have a task at hand or a habit that you plan to form, you have to look at it from different angles and see where it is going to take you.
For a task, you have to set a time as to when you plan to get into action, how much time the whole thing will need, how many days you have, what regular timings you would want to set aside for sitting at the desk and work. This will help you fall into the habit of doing something more naturally. Your mind will be able to create a virtual space that is completely dedicated to that task. You can also observe what part of the day you feel most productive and keep that time reserved for all the important business that needs to be taken care of.
As for habits, the plan of action is to fit it in your day. Whether it is about having two extra bottles of water, waking up early, making a list of expenses every day, reading the Bible or Bhagwat Gita, or just about anything, you have to see where exactly it fits in your day the best and start accommodating it.
Break Down the Task into Bits and Pieces
So many people tend to dive right into working when they have a task no matter how complicated or simple it is. When we talk about simpler tasks like “write an essay by next Friday”, there’s not much of dissection that is required. You just have to promise yourself (and keep the promise) that you plan to write the outline, then start with the introductory paragraph, do the body of it, and wrap it up on a different day way before it is due so that you can also proofread.
However, for more complicated tasks like a thesis or an important work-related project, you have to divide it into bits and pieces based on how much time you have for it. If you have about 10 pieces of the whole task, you have a better idea as to where you have to start from and how you will be progressing. This is extremely helpful for people who lack a sense of goal or are unable to give the task a head-start.
Think of Rewards
People fail to form new, useful habits because the change, though desirable, is not as rewarding as it is to slack off. For instance, you know waking up early has an array of benefits. But there has to be something more rewarding than staying in your bed and hitting the snooze button every morning.
This is when you would have to think of all the things that make you instantly happy. Whether it is a cup of coffee, pleasant music, your commitment to staying fit, or reading that favorite book, you have to set a trap for yourself. Of course, nothing can be as comfortable as sleeping till late, but it is all about a fair negotiation coupled with pushing yourself to step out of your comfort zone.
You can think of it something like this- if you’re jumping into a pool of freezing water, setting teeny tiny perks and rewards can be like making sure the water is at least lukewarm before you jump right in.
Be Your Own Cop
There’s nobody in the world who can have better control over you than yourself. This might sound cliched, but it is indeed true. If you’ve come to a complete realization that procrastination is a hurdle that is doing a lot of harm to your productivity, you have to be your own cop and monitor every move that you make. It is like a battle between you and your mind- and you have to constantly talk yourself out of procrastinating.
Every time you find your inner self telling you to keep the task for the next day, you have to consciously lead yourself back to planning your work and getting into action right away. Breaking the vicious cycle of procrastination is all about being conscious enough about what tricks your mind tries to play and counter those tricks with rational reasons as to why you should not be procrastinating.
Adopt one of the ‘No Procrastinating’ Techniques
There are a bunch of amazing techniques that help keep a check on the tendency to procrastinate. One such technique is the Pomodoro technique wherein you plan your work/ study time and break time so that you follow a rhythm, thus neither procrastinating nor overworking yourself. Other techniques are the Ivy Lee technique, having visual cues, Seinfield Strategy, and temptation bundling. I plan to write one blog each about all these techniques to help you better, so stay tuned!
We’ve repeatedly talked about how procrastination can also be one of the symptoms of depression, anxiety disorder, avoidant personality disorder, including many others. When that is the case, it is best to talk to a therapist, or in case you’re already seeking therapy, also bring your struggle with procrastination to your therapist’s notice. This will help you understand the nature of your procrastination better and work on it while also dealing with the mental disorder.
While I have curated this lengthy content on what is procrastination, why we do it, what it does to us, how it works, and how we can overcome procrastination, we can go on and on and we’d still be unraveling more about it. It is safe to say that there are many types of procrastination and procrastinators, and when you know what type you are, working on it becomes easier and more doable.
It is also true that overcoming procrastination is not as pleasant, easy, or a treat. It would be wrong for anyone to expect a flowery blog that glamorizes the act of overcoming procrastination. It can be hard, but the good news is that it is not impossible at all.
Certain things that you will have to keep in mind when you’re trying to overcome procrastination is that you have to step out of your comfort zone, forgive yourself for procrastinating in the past, never say ‘one last time’, and be patient and take it slow. When you do all of these and stay true to yourself, you will see the change happen.