Early 18th century English poet Edward Young called procrastination “the thief of time.” Procrastination is a psychological behavior that causes us to look for distractions while performing a specific task or duty. A common rationale procrastinators use to justify their time-wasting mentality is that they work better under pressure. Although procrastinating may seem like an innocent waste of time, for some people it can lead to stress over an inability to complete simple tasks or missing an important deadline. When procrastination does occur, there are certain tools we can apply to help us get over our time-wasting tendencies:
1. Understanding Why We Procrastinate
In order for us overcome our procrastination, we must first understand what causes us to procrastinate and what we turn to for a waste of time. A majority of the time we procrastinate is because we find the task we are trying to complete unpleasant. We subconsciously decide the job is too boring to garner our full attention and decide to spend time elsewhere. We fail to see the importance in finishing a task on time and often neglect deadlines. A common trait of a serial procrastinator is also disorganization. When our brains become scattered, all the attention we give to completing a task goes out the window. Lastly, an overwhelming task or multiple tasks can cause stress to crash down on our decision-making skills. It can even cause us to doubt our ability to complete a task, so we go out in search of tasks that are easier to finish. It’s important to remember that just because we forget about an important task doesn’t mean it is going to disappear.
“When you understand what's really going on, you can take action,” author and life coach Dr. Liisa Kyle told Medical Daily in email. “My favorite question for my coaching clients is: what has worked well for you in the past? How have you motivated yourself to get unstuck? For example, for some people, it helps to set a timer and to commit to tackle the avoided task for ten solid minutes. What often happens is that the time pressure is enough to overcome whatever inertia or 'block' there's been. Once you get started, it's so much easier to keep going.”
According to The Beans Group's survey on distraction, 80 percent of college students admit to spending over three hours a day procrastinating. Thirty percent of students said they were more likely to procrastinate during final exams and when final coursework or dissertations were due, proving that procrastination is more likely to happen when stress begins to build. Forty percent of students said the main reason they procrastinated was to avoid studying or work, 20 percent said it was due to boredom, 21 percent said it was a habit, and 14 percent said they were unable to stop. When asked where they went to procrastinate, 39 percent turned to browsing the Internet, 20 percent said social media, 16 percent said the TV, and five percent said killing time with their friends.
2. Implement Strategies For Avoiding Your Procrastination Triggers
There are always tell-tale signs leading up to procrastination, a little voice in our head that starts to throw our attention in a different direction. Once we identify our reasoning behind procrastination, setting up defenses will become much easier. For example, if you know the Internet and social media are big triggers for your procrastination, try to avoid the computer all together. If your work requires computer use, make sure you avoid time-wasting websites so that you aren’t tempted. Remember, “out of sight, out of mind.” More often than not, we should be able to focus our concentration by our own volition, but it’s OK to ask for help. Tell your friends and family that a certain amount of time in your day has been allotted to completing your work.
“When you DO catch yourself procrastinating, it's helpful to pause and ask what's really going on -- what's behind the procrastination,” Kyle added. “Is it fear or resentment or burnout or perfectionism or is it that your efforts are being scattered in too many directions to make progress in any of them?”
As we get more organized, it becomes easier to see what procrastination is really costing us. Part of staying organized means figuring out the amount of time we have to complete a task and what wasting time will mean for accomplishing our goals. When we lose sight of organization, procrastination begins to rear its ugly head because we lose sight of what’s important. Staying organized also means creating a to-do list and a schedule for completing minor tasks. Put easy tasks before hard tasks so that the momentum of completing each task builds. As we complete each task on our to-do list, the overwhelming nature of our work will begin to dissolve and we will find that the task, as a whole, is less complicated than we once thought. Organization not only applies to our mindset but also to keeping our work area neat and tidy. When papers and work material begin to clutter around the space we’re working in, it can be easy to forget about the work at hand and turn to distractions.
“People who procrastinate over think things and will often split their goal/task into hundreds of unmanageable parts,” life coach and hypnotherapist Chris Delaney told Medical Daily in an email. “Keep it simple and break each task down in to several easy to manage steps. Write down everything you need to do. Next to each task put easy, medium or hard. If you write a list of tasks some will seem difficult and some easy. Procrastinators will focus on how hard the hard task are and never start the task. If you first focus on easy and quick to complete tasks you will feel motivated as you easily complete 3-4 task within the first hour, you then think if I did these task easily I should try the harder task.”
4. Set Up A Reward System
We may find work easier to complete with a little compensation for our efforts. Sometimes we turn to procrastination because we feel we will not benefit from completing a task. A simple reward you can keep in mind is the satisfaction you will get from finishing a project. We can all remember a time when we finished an important task and how gratifying that feeling was. These moments can become imperative to completing our next assignment by giving us something to strive for. A reward can also be as modest as an enjoyable snack or meal that we afford ourselves after we finish part of our work. A pivotal part of receiving a reward is remembering that feeling for when it comes time to complete another task. You may find yourself having a little more motivation to work through it. Employers will sometimes use a reward system to incentivize their employees.
“One way to motivate people to do what they are not thrilled with, is to offer them a reward or a sneak peek at what they will receive as a result of doing the task they are putting off,” clinically trained marriage and family therapist, Stacy Lynn Harp, M.S. told Medical Daily in an email. “For example, if a boss insists on a paper being done by a specific due date, that boss can offer an incentive or an award for the person who does it first. Rewards matter and they are motivators. Most people who procrastinate will stop it if they are rewarded with something.”