Most of us have put things off at least once, just to avoid getting started. We'll tell you why it happens, how dangerous it is, and how to combat procrastination.
What is procrastination
Procrastination is the tendency to put things off, which leads to psychological problems. Everyone knows the process of putting off important tasks under any pretext. Some people compare procrastination to laziness; in fact, it is much more complicated. The procrastinator does not rest, but continues to waste energy on unnecessary actions instead of putting resources into what needs to be done. On the one hand, this is a normal mental reaction—to avoid unpleasant or seemingly difficult tasks. But it often escalates into serious trouble.
Since March 1, the UK has been celebrating National Procrastination Week (although for unknown reasons it sometimes starts later). Proponents of the idea suggest postponing non-urgent tasks to relieve the brain and learn to live for today. Their opponents celebrate the Day Against Procrastination on January 14, considering the habit of not doing things a sign of childishness and laziness. Scientists believe that boredom and taking breaks at work are helpful, but that the damage of procrastination is greater. For example, studies have shown that procrastinators have lower wages on average, while having more worries and getting sick more often.
Procrastination and laziness: what are the differences
Procrastination is caused by slowness, indecision and a lack of initiative. It is characterized by a refusal to accept responsibility, for example, to undertake a project. Procrastination – a temporary loss of motivation. If you think for a long time before starting work, it is not laziness, but a “slow start”. When a person does not procrastinate, but tackles a project later, often because he cannot estimate its true scope. That is, in this case there is a discrepancy between intention and action (wanting to do it, but not doing it), while a lazy employee will be more likely to simply refuse an additional task without trying to understand it.
Laziness is the unwillingness to do anything at all. Neurobiologists at Ruhr-University in Bochum explained that procrastination behavior can be registered on MRI. Someone who procrastinates has a larger amygdala than a workaholic. It is the part of the brain that is responsible for the generation of emotions, including anxiety. 264 people participated in the study who filled out questionnaires and underwent magnetic resonance imaging. Procrastinators were found to have reduced connectivity between the amygdala and the dorsal area of the anterior cingulate cortex, which enables behavioral choices as a result of evaluating situations and possible consequences. As a result, these individuals experience increased anxiety and fear of taking on a task. Scientists believe that due to such features of the physiology, a person often worries about possible negative consequences and hesitates for a long time.
According to Pierce Steele, author of The Procrastination Equation, about 95% of people admit that they sometimes “procrastinate” before starting a task. And Timothy Pichel, who wrote Solving the Riddle of Procrastination, believes it is an intuitive emotional response to something we don't want to do. In his study, he identified several triggers that discourage people from doing things and lead to procrastination. According to the scientist, you are most likely to procrastinate on a task if it is uninteresting, has no personal benefit, is very difficult, or is insufficiently structured.
Causes of procrastination
Unless the procrastination behavior has taken on a chronic form, the cause often lies in trivial matters:
- Inability to make decisions;
- Fear of important events, changes (including positive ones);
- Lack of inner motivation;
- The fixed idea of success that at the last minute it is always possible to do the work quickly and qualitatively
- Lack of planning skills;
- Lack of understanding of negative consequences;
Sometimes a person does not know how to set priorities or does not set overall goals: for him it does not matter what to do next. Some people procrastinate because they are insecure because they don't know how to approach the task and are afraid they will fail. It can be both fear of failure and fear of success, a common phobia that blocks potential accomplishments because in a familiar state of comfort and peace of mind.
Perfectionism is also the cause of procrastination – someone keeps perfecting the smallest details and is willing to violate the project's delivery terms because they are not good enough. Depending on the cause, it is possible to find a way to counteract the loss of time and reduce stress, because not keeping appointments brings guilt and reduced productivity.
How to combat procrastination: effective ways
Psychologists have long known that 20% of adults suffer from a chronic form of procrastination . If you suspect you are spending your time inefficiently, try to look at each individual situation. Procrastination is when you don't work but don't rest either. A person may start fidgeting, scrolling through their social media, and killing time in other ways just to avoid taking on the inevitable task. To a greater or lesser extent, this behavior is inherent in most people and is considered the norm. But when procrastination takes up several hours a day and leads to broken promises and broken deadlines, it's time to fight the habit.
To avoid putting things off at the last minute, learn how to plan. Reverse planning is a method of creating a schedule, but unlike standard to-do lists, it should focus on the positive. That is, instead of meetings, paying bills and annoying phone calls, put events, long-awaited appointments and things you enjoy in your daily planner. Even if the schedule is scheduled to minutes, you can always schedule a good night's sleep, a hot bath and a tasty dinner. This method was invented in 1988 by psychologist Neil Fiore, but it also works in today's reality.
Reverse scheduling helps you focus on a positive outlook and brings back your interest in life. With this calendar full of interesting events, it is already easier to find time for the mandatory, but not the most enjoyable tasks. This way, you will be distracted from what is important and can get back to doing the things you love, instead of the other way around.
One of the reasons why someone puts things off is because the task at hand seems too difficult. It is much easier to get started on a project if you set simple, achievable goals instead of a big, vague plan. Instead of saying to yourself, “Tonight, I'm going to study English,” say, “Tonight, I'm going to read a few pages from a textbook and do one assignment.” This will make the goals less daunting and more attainable. Another tip of the road is to tell those around you about your plans. That way you will have extra motivation to complete your task because the responsibility will be greater.
It is helpful to prepare in advance by anticipating what may get in the way. If you tend to get distracted by messenger messages, turn off the sound of your notifications or leave your phone in another room. It is better to eliminate external sources of annoyance immediately: close the windows if you are distracted by noise from the street, or put on music that relaxes you and helps you focus. Sometimes a change of scenery, meditation or a snack is enough to get you going.
The 15-minute rule
When the planning and preparation methods haven't worked, sometimes you have to work against your will. But here, as in any complex undertaking, the 15-minute rule works. Agree with yourself that you will spend this time on an uninteresting but mandatory task. If you do not want to continue working after this period, interrupt and look for reasons elsewhere. Perhaps you are very tired, you have not been outside for a walk for a long time, or you are bored with phone conversations with your best friend. The important thing is not to blame yourself for “lost time” and learn to use it to your advantage. It is extremely important to make productivity a long-term habit to prevent procrastination from reemerging.
Enjoy the process
It's hard to dive in when you only care about the outcome. Try to find the positive in all, even simple household tasks. You can combine cleaning with sports, think of the preparation of dinner as a creative process, and communication with unpleasant customers – as a training of self-control and strengthening of willpower. When you focus on the process and not just on a delayed (often still unknown) result, it becomes much easier. Moreover, when the performer is in a good mood, he or she can handle the tasks more quickly, and the result is pleasantly noticeable.
There's more to read about procrastination! Read this article about 15 steps that will help you stop procrastinating.