Can you imagine failing even more than procrastinating, while writing an article about procrastination? I didn’t even have to imagine such a fail, instead, I just empirically experienced it. So, after seeing all the funny cat videos on YouTube, scrolling through all the social media channels, visiting kitchen for more than 1000 times, cleaning my room and being about to start vacuuming the Sahara clean, I thought: ok, time to start with the article. Actually, it’s not that I immediately experienced an enlightening flow of inspiration, but rather I was motivated by the haunting voice of approaching deadline.
On one hand, I am always fooled by this excuse that I am able to think more creatively when under time pressure. On the other hand, the sad feeling that there is not much time left (and the only one to blame is me) is not the most pleasant one. So why do people (including myself) engage in this completely irrational postponement of work, even though they consciously know they will be worse off? What are the mechanisms of this process? Is there any remedy to the problem? Maybe some research has already found relevant information that will help understand this quite confusing topic? If you can relate to the problem of procrastination, keep on reading.
Why do people procrastinate?
Procrastination, which sounds like being a contagious disease, is usually defined as “the avoidance of the implementation of intension”. I think that explaining this definition to students is not necessary, easier would be to say: “thing you always do, especially before the exams”. There are two ways to look at procrastination: as a personality issue or as a behaviour. While the former one may serve as a good excuse (“I am just like that”), the latter brings more hope for a change and remedy. Unfortunately, majority of the research indicates that the tendency to procrastinate is stable across time and situations and, therefore, it can be seen as a fixed personality trait. Moreover, procrastination is related to some other personality characteristics. For example, scoring low on trait conscientiousness, which is defined as “the propensity to follow socially prescribed norms for impulse control, to be goal directed, to plan, and to be able to delay gratification”, is very closely related to procrastination. So low conscientiousness= high chance for delaying your work. Moreover, neuroticism, defined as degree to which a person is prone to experience anxiety, hostility, depression, vulnerability, and impulsiveness is also related to procrastination. Lastly, procrastinators usually score low on self-esteem. Research suggests that those who are generally not that self-confident, use procrastination as a comforting excuse for why they failed.
The conclusion here would be: if you have any of these personality traits, the future doesn’t look bright. This would be a sad reality and a sad perspective that you will probably procrastinate forever. Luckily, I don’t buy such explanations and prefer a more proactive and positive approach. Thus, procrastination can also be seen as a behaviour that people engage in. We can change behaviours, can’t we? The extent to which person may want to procrastinate would depend then on a context of the situation the person is in. For example, according to Parkinson’s Law, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. Therefore, the more time we perceive to have for completing given task, the more likely we will fill it with unnecessary activities. Another contextual factor: the task we are working on. There are three characteristics of a task, which make us procrastinate more:
- Low task value: If the task does not bring any fun or does not result in any reward, we simply turn to more enjoyable activities
- Expectations: If you see the task as difficult and you will need a lot of effort to compete it, you will procrastinate more
- Fear of failure: if you are afraid to fail on completing the task, you will probably want to postpone this unpleasant confrontation
Another aspect that can influence our propensity to procrastination may lay in the availability of distractors. To put it simply: the easier it is for you to watch something on YouTube or access Facebook, the more likely you will indulge in postponing your work. Lastly, social factor can maybe count as well. If you know that others really count on you to finish your task on time and you do not want to be the bottleneck of a process, you may probably try harder to avoid procrastination. Also, if others around you engage in procrastination, you may feel that such a behaviour is a standard thing to do and, therefore, you would procrastinate even more.
How to cope with procrastination?
If we consider that procrastination is indeed a behaviour, it is crucial to work on changing it and creating positive habits. First of all, you have to realize why you actually procrastinate. Is there a problem with the task or maybe with your wrong perception of time? Maybe you have too many distractions available or maybe you think you can work better under time pressure? Once you realize what the reasons of your procrastination are, try to avoid factors that cause them. Here are 7 inspiring tips on how you can cope with this problematic, self-defeating behaviour.
- Just start: the most difficult stage of any kind of task is the beginning, and this is when most of people put the work off. However, once you start, you will see that the task is actually not that difficult as you thought it would be. Moreover, you will start feeling more self-confident about your ability to complete it and you will be more satisfied with yourself in general. This way, you can evoke positive emotions about the task you are working on.
- Do not be a perfectionist: people often complain that they cannot start with a task because they want to complete it so well, that even thinking about it makes them feel stuck and they just simply cannot proceed. In case you use this excuse, remember two well-known sayings: better done than perfect and perfect is an enemy of good. It is wiser to complete the work just well enough and correct it afterwards, rather than not to complete anything at all.
- Find a way to care: think about positive aspects of a task. For example, if you really do not like writing essays, think about the benefits such a writing exercise may bring you. You can also promise yourself a small reward for finishing the work in a one go.
- Work with proximal deadlines: instead of having one, vague deadline, somewhere in the future, divide task into separate deadlines for each stage of the project. This is a powerful tool, especially for those who say that working under pressure is more motivating for them.
- Avoid distractions: determine what your the worst distractors are and remove them from your sight or ban the access to them. For example, switch your phone on the airplane mode while you are working. Do not look up your emails or any other messages. You can also block some of the websites using a tool like StayFocued.
- Learn to pre-commit: nothing works better than a feeling of social pressure. Even if you complete a task just for yourself, give a promise to others that you will finish it in a given time frame. For example, if you learn for an exam, commit that you will send notes to your friend. When you have to complete an assignment, first ask someone to check it for you and give exact date of sending it. The feeling of being accountable makes a huge difference.
- Use the Pomodoro technique: very simple, yet powerful. Divide your task into 25-minute work periods, which are called Pomodoro (named after a kitchen timer). Each 25-minute work time is followed by 5 minutes of break. After you complete four Pomodoro’s, you can take 20 minutes of break. Such a system allows for control over your breaks and prevents minutes spent on Facebook from turning into hours.
Procrastination is a very intriguing phenomenon, because it is quite unusual that people intentionally do something that makes them worse-off. Also, interestingly enough, procrastination is sometimes referred to as the student syndrome, as it is very common among undergraduates and has been examined mainly using student samples. At the same time, it seems that a few good time management’s tricks can help a lot alleviate the problem. I will study this phenomenon more thoroughly, surely making use of these techniques. I encourage you to apply them too, especially in the upcoming exam week!