“While we waste our time hesitating and postponing, life is slipping away.” – Seneca
Ever wonder why you find yourself wanting to read an article on procrastination instead of working on that project due tomorrow?
Procrastination is a problem faced by many.
One more moment, an hour later, or tomorrow seems like an attractive proposition. Anything but today or now.
By then, you think, you would be better prepared. And, have more information, more courage, more energy, more interest, more capability, and more of so many more things to tackle the work at hand and do a better job.
All of these seem like valid and reasonable excuses. However, the truth is these are just excuses to put off taking up the work immediately.
Does procrastination help you in any way? At what cost? Why people procrastinate? What does a procrastinator do?
In this article, you will find answers to some of the most relevant questions about procrastination. And finally, the question you have been waiting to ask – Is there a way to overcome procrastination? Read on and find out for yourself!
What is procrastination?
The dictionary defines procrastination as the act of delaying or postponing tasks. In psychology, it is described as a “form of self-regulation failure characterized by the irrational delay of tasks despite potentially negative consequences”.
Procrastination can be an occasional indulgence or a chronic problem. It is an intentional and voluntary act, no matter what you want to persuade yourself and others to believe. It can affect an otherwise well-organized, committed, and disciplined person.
Procrastination involves the trouble you face in persuading yourself to do tasks you want to do, would like to do, and you know you should do. It means you squander away your time and energy on trivial tasks even when you have important, meaningful, and pressing tasks on hand.
Most people procrastinate occasionally and to some extent all through their lives. It is not an indication of anything serious. It is a natural human tendency to give in to this urge to put off doing things. Mild levels of procrastination don’t cause serious setbacks either.
In severe cases, procrastination can create roadblocks and hamper progress. It can prove detrimental to a person’s ability to pursue goals and succeed in life. When it reaches mammoth proportions, procrastination can even lead to increased levels of stress and anxiety and affect mental health and well-being.
Why do people procrastinate?
If you have the habit of postponing tasks unnecessarily and wasting your time on worthless pursuits, even when you are aware of what you are doing, you may have asked yourself this question a million times – Why do I procrastinate? Why can’t I persuade myself to do things that I know I should do? Why? Why? Why?
Understandably, you feel frustrated by your inability to carry out tasks. You may feel like pulling your hair out in frustration.
What causes procrastination? There are many reasons why some people procrastinate more than others. We can look at this from a common man’s perspective and a psychological point of view.
25 Common Causes of Procrastination
Procrastination is often interpreted as a lack of willpower or motivation. Many people tend to view it as mere laziness or the urge to relax. Some believe that they procrastinate because they like leaving things until the last minute or they work better under pressure.
Procrastination is none of these. The lack of willpower or motivation can be contributing factors to procrastination but they are not the sole reason why we procrastinate. The same is true for the habit among some to wait until the 11th hour or the belief that high-pressure situations act as a motivational force. Laziness and procrastination are not the same.
The real reasons why people procrastinate are:
- They don’t want to do it, plain and simple.
- They forgot all about it (probably because they don’t consider it important).
- They think they have more time left to finish the task.
- They are unable to make a decision.
- They are unsure about what they should do.
- They are having doubts about how to do the task.
- They are not bothered whether the task is finished or not.
- They are not in the mood to undertake the task.
- They are feeling too overwhelmed by the enormity of the task.
- They are lacking the initiative to get started.
- They are too exhausted and lack the energy to get started or finish the task.
- They are in poor health and they believe they are entitled to postpone doing it.
- They are waiting for the right opportunity.
- They need more time to weigh the pros and cons.
- They are prioritizing due to a lack of time.
- They overestimated the time left to complete it.
- They overestimated the time needed for the task.
- They overestimated their motivation levels.
- They are waiting to be in the right frame of mind to get started.
- They are lacking in self-discipline or self-control.
- They are too casual in their approach and have no value for time.
- They experience demotivating factors like anxiety and fear of failure or negative feedback.
- They use it as an act of rebellion. They dislike being forced to undertake tasks.
- They use it as an attention-grabbing and sensation-seeking opportunity.
- They are disconnected from reality.
Equating procrastination to any one of the above causes would be wrong. They merely act as triggers and are the reasons why we procrastinate. For example, lack of self-control together with some other reasons can make us procrastinate. But interpreting procrastination as a lack of self-control is incorrect.
Another point to remember is that these are all contributing factors that make us procrastinate. Usually, it is more than one factor or a combination of circumstances that leads to procrastination.
The psychology behind procrastination
In people who procrastinate regularly, the reason goes much deeper than any of the above-mentioned. The emotional and psychological origins of procrastination have recently come to light. There is a growing belief that a deficiency in distress tolerance can lead to procrastination.
Psychologists argue that when some people face the prospect of doing a task that stirs negative emotions in them, they tend to freeze and flee rather than attempt to overcome their emotional distress and find a way to finish the task.
Again, it is important to remember that these are partial contributing factors to procrastination and cannot be considered as the sole cause. Typically, procrastination is a result of a combination of factors – psychological, emotional, physical, perceptual, reactional, and more.
Let’s take a look at procrastination psychology to understand it better.
The feeling of despair can make a person put off doing things. When they are feeling helpless or hopeless and lack energy and motivation, work won’t seem so important. They will find it too demanding to begin the work or in case they manage to do that, to carry it through till the end.
The feeling of depression can trigger self-doubt. When there is doubt about how to tackle the task or your ability to handle the task, the feeling of insecurity will make you postpone working on it.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
People with obsessive-compulsive disorder are prone to procrastination. OCD has a direct relationship with unhealthy levels of perfectionism. Those suffering from OCD tend to harbor an unnatural fear about their ability to do something with the level of perfection they set for themselves.
Fear of making mistakes, doubts about their ability to execute the task correctly, and worry about others’ expectations can dissuade them from taking up the task. They will use delaying tactics to postpone it.
Besides, OCD can also lead to indecisiveness in some people. This is another reason to procrastinate.
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Many people with ADHD are known to have a hard time controlling their urge to procrastinate. When they are distracted by outside triggers as well as inner thoughts, they will find it hard to focus on any task. Getting themselves to work on something is really difficult, especially when the task is hard and uninteresting.
The tendency of a person to undermine their own efforts and life is considered a mental health issue. A person suffering from this disorder uses procrastination to sabotage their progress. They delay doing something even though they are very well aware of its importance and urgency. They indulge in this behavior because they feel they don’t deserve to succeed.
Related: 7 Signs of Self-Sabotaging Behavior
Pros and cons of procrastination
Procrastination is always seen as a negative behavior and something you need to avoid. So, are there any benefits involved in this? Let’s check it out.
Pros of procrastination
- It gives you the thrill of putting things off until the very last minute.
- You can use the time gained more productively.
- It can help you get rid of your urge to be perfect.
- It gives you extra time to do the task better.
- You may find a better and easier way to accomplish the task.
- It helps you avoid unimportant tasks.
Cons of procrastination
- It gives you unnecessary stress and anxiety.
- It may lead to missed opportunities and can cost you dearly.
- You may have to scramble to finish the task later.
- The quality of work done may not be as good because of a lack of time.
- It can lead to chaos in life with too much work piling up.
- It can become a habit.
How does procrastination affect your mental health?
Procrastination is often given negative connotations as it can prevent us from completing important tasks. This, in turn, can hamper our progress in life and prevent us from reaching our full potential.
It is associated with reduced levels of mental health, increased levels of stress, and low levels of well-being. Habitual and chronic procrastination can have serious repercussions on a person’s life and mental health.
Some of the common effects of procrastination on mental health are:
- Feelings of stress, anxiety, shame, and guilt
- Feelings of confusion and the state of being overwhelmed
- Tendency to blame yourself for lost opportunities
- Panic caused by lost time
- Low self-esteem as life is in shambles
- Increased self-doubt because of the inability to finish tasks on time
- Reduced levels of self-belief due to poor decision-making skills
- Loss of self-confidence as reputation takes a hit
You tend to procrastinate doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a mental health disorder. However, if you are displaying other signs of the ailment, you can get yourself screened. Procrastination problem is indeed associated with psychological disorders.
Related: 6 Activities That Help with Anxiety
How to stop procrastinating?
This is the million-dollar question.
Again, you know the solution but fail to muster up the courage and willpower to implement it. Blame it on procrastination.
You can take multiple approaches to get rid of this habit. Firstly, you need to figure out the core reason behind your tendency to procrastinate.
As already mentioned, procrastination is a result of multiple triggers. Without knowing the primary trigger, trying to eliminate it would be hard and ineffective. For every reason to procrastinate, you can find a counter-argument. For example, if your reason is that you are unclear about the task, you can always invest time in understanding it better before attempting the task.
Overcoming procrastination is achievable; here are a few suggestions you can try.
1. Stop paying attention to how you feel
If you are waiting for the perfect set of circumstances before you try to do some work, you are going to wait forever. Waiting for that green signal from your brain to try your hand at the task is just foolish. There is no guarantee that you will feel any different tomorrow or the day after.
In case you want to be in the mood for work, again, it would be a waste of time and opportunity. Learn to ignore this message and get on with the task. Or else, you will end up sabotaging your chances.
2. Stop trying to be perfect and resist focusing on success
You may not be ready or prepared to undertake the task. However, if you are sincere in your attempt, you know that you will do your best. Isn’t that enough?
You need to convince yourself that not every task needs to be done with perfection or success is the only outcome open to you. There are very few things that you should attempt only if you are fully prepared. Such as flying a plane or doing surgery. You can fail in everything else, learn from it, and still be happy.
You can do things less than perfect and still enjoy success in life. You can fail in some tasks and still enjoy a happy and fulfilling life. After all, you are human and as they say, it is human to fail. Picking yourself up after failure is what matters.
Contentment in life is brought in by a strange set of circumstances. Don’t bother too much about them. Moreover, being perfect and successful is not the be-all and end-all. Learn to accept this simple truth.
3. Starting small also means starting
In case you feel you are not ready or afraid of failure or something along these lines that is preventing you from starting the task, convince yourself to start.
Take small steps even as you learn on the way. This is definitely better than not doing anything. As you go ahead with the task, you will feel more and more sure of yourself and you will be able to finish it.
Unless you start doing the task, you won’t know how much work is involved or how difficult it will be. Slowly and surely find your way till the end.
Here are some more tips to help you get rid of the procrastination problem.
- Set goals, draw up a plan of action, and implement it.
- Prioritize the work you want to finish.
- Break down bigger tasks into smaller achievable ones.
- Learn better time management.
- Work for short periods at a time.
- Eliminate distractions that can throw you off the track.
- Identify your most and least productive periods and schedule the task accordingly.
- Set milestones to assess your progress.
- Monitor your daily progress.
- Reward yourself for reaching milestones.
- Tune your focus on the outcome, away from the task.
- Visualize yourself succeeding in completing the task.
- Count to twenty when you feel the urge to procrastinate.
- Learn to embrace flaws and stop looking for perfection in everything you attempt.
- Firmly believe in yourself and your ability to overcome procrastination.
You may think that you have many tomorrows to finish the task. Tomorrows can become yesterdays in the blink of an eye. Ultimately, you will be left holding the sack.
Tomorrow will come, but it won’t change if you don’t do anything different today. The only way you’ll feel a little different tomorrow is by doing something different today.
Instead, convince yourself to start the task and try to do it the best way possible. You cannot go wrong with this approach. After all, you cannot do better than your best. You will be happy to see that it turned out fine.
And, as Walter Payton said, “Remember, tomorrow is promised to no one.”