Have you ever had so many things to do that you found yourself struggling to finish projects and tasks and move on to other stuff? You’re certainly not alone. Procrastination is a challenge we have all faced at one time or another. For as long as humans have been around, we have been struggling with delaying, avoiding, and procrastinating on issues that matter to us.
Studies show that over 20 percent of the adult population put off or avoid doing certain tasks by allowing themselves to be overtaken by distractions. Some researchers define procrastination as a “form of self-regulation failure characterised by the irrational delay of tasks despite potentially negative consequences.”
Procrastination is often confused with laziness, but they are very different. Procrastination is an active process – you choose to do something else instead of the task that you know you should be doing. By contrast, laziness suggests apathy, inactivity and an unwillingness to act.
“People wait until . . . until . . . until . . . They wait, and they wait, and they wait, until that fateful day when they wake up and realise that while they were sitting around, paying dues, earning their keep, waiting for that elusive “perfect time,” their entire life has passed them by.”
― Richie Norton
Procrastination usually involves ignoring an unpleasant, but likely more important task, in favour of one that is more enjoyable or easier. Giving in to this impulse can have serious consequences. For example, even minor episodes of procrastination can make us feel guilty or ashamed. It can lead to reduced productivity and cause us to miss out on achieving our goals.
If we procrastinate over a long period of time, we can become demotivated and disillusioned with our work, which can lead to depression and even job loss, in extreme cases. There’s a tendency to assume that we procrastinate because we are weak or we’d simply rather be doing something more fun.
“Procrastination is the bad habit of putting off until the day after tomorrow what should have been done the day before yesterday.”
— Napoleon Hill
15 Key Reasons Why People Procrastinate
Why do We Wait? We often come up with a number of excuses to rationalise our behaviour. According to researchers, there are 15 key reasons why people procrastinate:
- Not knowing what needs to be done
- Not feeling in the mood to do it
- Not wanting to do it
- Not caring if it gets done
- Not caring when it gets done
- Not knowing how to do it
- Lacking the initiative to get started
- Being in the habit of waiting until the last minute
- Believing that you work better under pressure
- Thinking that you can finish it at the last minute
- Not knowing the appropriate priority of tasks
- Blaming sickness or poor health
- Waiting for the right moment
- Needing time to think about it
- Delaying one task in favour of working on another
“Someday’ is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you..”
― Timothy Ferriss
So, what is going on in the brain that causes us to avoid the things we know we should be doing?Behavioural psychology research reveals a phenomenon called “time inconsistency,” which helps explain why procrastination seems to control us in spite of our good intentions. Time inconsistency refers to the tendency of the human brain to value immediate rewards over future rewards.
While Future You can set goals, only Present You can take action. So, when the time comes to make a decision, you are no longer making a choice for your Future Self. Because you are in the present moment, your brain is thinking about your Present Self. Researchers have discovered that the Present Self really really really likes instant gratification, not long-term payoff.
Let’s say you decide to set a goal for yourself to lose weight. You are actually making plans for your Future Self. You are envisioning what you want your life to be like in the future. Researchers have found that when you think about your Future Self, it is quite easy for your brain to see the value in taking actions with long-term benefits. The Future Self values long-term rewards.
Here’s the thing: the Present Self and the Future Self are often at odds with one another. The Future Self wants to be trim and fit, but the Present Self wants a donut. You know you ‘should’ eat healthy today to avoid being overweight… but consequences, like an increased risk for diabetes or heart failure are… years away. The sugar hits you right here, right now.
This is one reason why you might go to bed feeling motivated to make a change in your life, and when you wake up you find yourself falling back into old patterns. Your brain values long-term benefits when they are in the future (tomorrow), but it values immediate gratification when it comes to the present moment (today).
“If you want to get anywhere, you have to start somewhere.”
― Frank Sonnenberg
Types of Procrastination
Some researchers classify procrastination in two main types: passive and active procrastinators.
Passive Procrastinators: Delay the task because they have trouble making decisions and acting on them
Active Procrastinators: Delay the task purposefully because working under pressure allows them to “feel challenged and motivated”
Others define the types of procrastinators based on different behavioural styles of procrastination, including:
Puts off tasks out of the fear of not being able to complete a task perfectly
Puts off tasks because they are not good at paying attention to detail
Doesn’t believe someone should dictate their time schedule
Puts off tasks out of fear of change or leaving the comfort of “the known”
Puts off tasks because they like working under pressure
Takes on too much and struggles with finding time to start and complete tasks
“Fight your fear, your laziness, your ignorance before you worry about fighting the competition.”
― Amit Kalantri
Procrastinators vs. Non-Procrastinators
Non-procrastinators focus on the task that needs to be done. They have a stronger personal identity and are less concerned about what psychologists call ‘social esteem’ (what others think of us) as opposed to self-esteem which is how we feel about ourselves.
According to psychologist Piers Steel, people who don’t procrastinate tend to be high in the personality trait known as conscientiousness, one of the broad dispositions identified by the Big Five theory of personality. People who are high in conscientiousness also tend to be high in other areas including self-discipline, persistence, and personal responsibility.
“Procrastination isn’t task management, it’s feeling management.”
― Scott Ginsberg
The Negative Impact of Procrastination
It is only in cases where procrastination becomes chronic and begins to have a serious impact on a person’s daily life that it becomes a more serious issue. In such instances, it’s not just a matter of having poor time management skills, it’s a major part of their lifestyle.
Perhaps they pay their bills late, don’t start work on big projects until the night before the deadline, delay gift shopping until the day before a birthday, and even file their income tax returns late. Unfortunately, this procrastination can have a serious impact on a number of life areas, including a person’s mental health and social, professional, and financial well-being:
- Higher levels of stress and illness
- Increased burden placed on social relationships
- Resentment from friends, family, and co-workers
- Consequences of delinquent bills and income tax returns
“Procrastination is like going to a fancy restaurant and filling up on bread and not leaving enough room for dinner.”
― Richie Norton
Changing Your Perspective
Let’s say you are procrastinating on doing your taxes. By identifying what triggers your procrastination, you can then make a plan to flip those triggers so that doing your taxes becomes more attractive. For example, if the trigger is:
Boring: You could go to your favourite café for a Saturday afternoon to do your taxes over a few coffees and pie, while indulging in a little people-watching.
Frustrating: You could take a book to the same café, and set a timer on your phone to limit yourself to working on your taxes for thirty minutes (and only work for longer if you’re on a roll and feel like keeping on going).
Difficult: You could research the tax process to see which steps you need to follow, and what paperwork you need to gather. Perhaps even visit the café during your Biological Prime Time, when you’ll naturally have more energy.
Unstructured or Ambiguous: You could make a detailed plan from your research that lists the very next steps you need to take.
Lacking in Personal Meaning: You could think about how much money you will get back in your refund and make a list of the meaningful things you’ll spend that money on.
Lacking in Intrinsic Rewards: For every fifteen minutes you spend on your taxes, you could set aside $5.00 to reward yourself in some meaningful way for reaching specific milestones.
“They say, “Look before you leap.” So look. But do not look for too long. Do not look into the void of uncertainty trying to predict each and every possible outcome, to evaluate every possible mistake, to prevent each possible failure. Look for the opportunity to leap, and leap faster than your fear can grab you. Leap before you talk yourself out of it, before you convince yourself to set up a temporary camp that turns into a permanent delay on your journey into your own heart.”
― Vironika Tugaleva
3 Strategies to Get Stuff Done When you don’t Want to
Throughout our journey in this life, there are going to be lot of things that we don’t want to do, but we have to do them, otherwise there are going to be severe repercussions. To loosen up this burden, you need some tools. Forcing yourself, and relying on willpower alone doesn’t work in the long run. So, here are 3 of our favourite strategies that will help you to get stuff done when you really do not want to:
Strategy #1: Implementation-Intention
One way to get yourself doing something is to plan out when and where to execute the task. Having a to-do-list is a perfect tool to make it work. When you are writing your tasks, especially for the most important ones, write next to them the location, and the time. When you intentionally set out to do something, you’re preparing you whole psyche for it. This means that attacking it is going to be a whole lot easier.
“Someday’ isn’t a real day like Monday or Tuesday; it’s just another word for ‘never.”
― Robert Herjavec
Strategy #2: Temptation Bundling
Most people are doing this without really being aware of it. Usually we procrastinate on something because it’s painful. We feel it in our chest whenever we think about it. The trick here is to bring something into the present moment that will make us feel good while doing the task that feels hard to do. The mind is powerful. Even by simply thinking about a thing that you like, your brain will release a chemical called dopamine which will motivate you to action.
“Procrastination causes pressure that zaps creativity and excellence.”
― Todd Stocker
Strategy #3: Break it down
Break down a task into smaller pieces that you know you can achieve. Let’s say you want to write a book. It’s pretty intimidating as a whole project at first. Instead of going aimlessly, write down how many sessions of 30 minutes you may need to finish the book and spread them throughout the coming days. Each time you accomplish a session cross it off your list.
“Those who begin things, but never complete them, accomplish nothing.”
― Frank Sonnenberg
How To Finish What You Start
Being a productive person comes down to one thing: you finish what you start. Period. Unfinished projects, goals left behind, and jumping from one thing to another all reinforce the identity of being a lazy person. You’re not a lazy person, you just don’t have the skills yet to finish what you start… so why don’t you?
Mistake #1: Doing too Much
Sometimes we burden ourselves with too many tasks to do, especially at the beginning of something that we newly get into. We exude a lot of willpower at the start, and when it goes away, we feel sluggish, irritated, and we no longer want to get the job done anymore.
Mistake #2: Perfectionism
Perfectionism is a counter productive mindset for many of us to achieve the thing we want. We get into the illusion that everything needs to be perfect before exposing our content to the world. Perfectionism stems mainly from fear, and overthinking. A strict deadline will usually solve this problem.
Mistake #3: Impatience
More and more we want things fast. We want instant access, on demand, rapid results. This means we lose sight of the goal because our results do not match our expectations. Pressure builds and anxiety heightens until we throw the goal out the window.
“Whatever you are waiting for won’t come to you; you have to go for it.”
― Israelmore Ayivor
Here are 3 quick-action tips that can get you to the finish line:
Tip #1: Do a Little Each Day
Small, consistent action is the best way to finish what you start and to also get really good at what you do. A seed doesn’t become a tree in just a matter of days, even with all the world’s water and nutrients. It takes time to grow and to nurture anything of value.
“Try not to attract stress in your life through procrastination; the future already has its challenging demands.”
― Edmond Mbiaka
Tip #2: Be Realistic
When our unrealistic expectations do not meet reality, we tend to get demotivated, disappointed and blame ourselves for not achieving our goals. Remember that your efforts dictate your expectations. When you start small, you’re not carried away in the fantasy of your possible outcome. You’re merely doing the small task at hand, and doing your best to be in the present moment with as much joy as possible.
“The breeding ground of fear is procrastination and inaction. We overcome them not by preparation, but by taking action.”
― Debasish Mridha
Tip #3: Focus on the Process Rather Than the Outcome
Whenever we obsess over the result, we forget about the process. We pull ourselves out of the present moment and suck all of the joy out of whatever we are doing. Disappointment then clouds our mind and we get frustrated, throw our hands in the air, and don’t finish the thing. When your focus is on what you’re doing, you can create outstanding work. When you are present with your process, you allow yourself to enjoy the moment and open up the doors to creativity.
“Tomorrow is red with the blood of murdered resolutions.”
― Charles H. Spurgeon
No one is coming to save you; no one is coming to make life right for you; no one is coming to solve your problems. If you don’t do something, nothing is going to change. The dream of a rescuer who will deliver us may offer a kind of comfort, but it leaves us passive and powerless. We may think “if only I suffer long enough, if only I yearn desperately enough, somehow a miracle will happen”, but this is the kind of self-deception you pay for with your life as it drains away into the abyss of unredeemable possibilities and irretrievable days, months, and decades.
“We live our lives thinking about what will happen tomorrow, and we don’t take care of ourselves today. We don’t have time now, but we fool ourselves into thinking that everything will be different in the day to come. You are living a fantasy believing you will finish tomorrow, what you haven’t even started yet. Stop postponing your life until tomorrow. Don’t let others steal your today. Don’t make other people’s priorities, yours. Don’t let busyness and your everyday routine, postpone your dreams.”
― Gustavo Razzetti