Merriam Webster dictionary defines the work procrastinate as intentionally putting off the doing of something that should be done. And the procrastination happens even if we’re aware of the negative consequences it might have on us. The word itself comes from the Latin verb procrastinare, which means putting off something until tomorrow. But it’s derived from the ancient Greek word akrasia which means doing something against our better judgement.
It happens to all of us, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Remember when you were in high school or even college how you would rather tidy up your room instead of actually learning for the exam? That’s procrastination!
You’re probably aware that you procrastinate, but somehow you’re still doing it. Don’t worry. Today we’re here to help you understand procrastination better - why does it happen, how does it affect us, etc; and what can you do to overcome it.
Why Do Procrastinators Procrastinate, and How Does It Affect Their Productivity?
First things first, procrastination isn’t laziness. Those who are lazy don’t do anything and they’re fine with it, while procrastinators have the desire to do something but they can’t force themselves to start.
Procrastination, in fact, can be quite harmful. Every procrastinator is aware of their procrastination, and each time they put off a task they know it's a bad idea. Yet, because of self-awareness, they feel even worse after procrastinating. Dr. Fuschia Sirois, professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield believes that people get into this cycle of chronic procrastination because they’re unable to manage negative moods related to their tasks.
To put it differently, according to her, we procrastinate because we aren’t able to cope with anxiety, boredom, insecurity, frustration, etc. that we feel when we think of a certain task. The task itself could be just unpleasant and this could force you to postpone it. But on a deeper level, you could be staring at a blank sheet of paper and doubting your own ability to write that article you’re supposed to do.
All of these feelings are causing us stress and anxiety, and if we stay in the cycle long enough we can cause issues for our physical and mental health.
Chronic procrastinators aren’t only bad for themselves - this issue can interfere with their personal and professional relationships. It’s a vicious cycle, where one thing pulls the next one, and so on. The behaviour eventually leads to major decrease in productivity and efficiency, and it can even reflect on the entire team.
What you need to understand is that procrastinators rarely do absolutely nothing; they rather spend their time completing marginally useful tasks.
How Can We Beat Procrastination?
Procrastination can be beat, but yeah, it requires work. Unfortunately, you probably won’t stop it just because you’ve installed a time management app, or started implementing a new strategy for organizing your workload. Since the issue starts at a deeper level, we must go deep to fix it.
Bigger Better Offer (B.B.O.)
A psychiatrist and neuroscientist Dr. Judson Brewer figured out that our brains needed a “Bigger Better Offer” in order to stop doing something. Since procrastination is avoidance of an unpleasant task, the avoidance looks like an award to our brain. This award should help us feel better in the present moment, without causing harm in the future. However, that award must be internal, not dependent on anything but ourselves, because almost everything you just thought of is another form of procrastination.
Self-Forgiveness and Self-Compassion
A study in 2010 showed that students who were able to forgive themselves for procrastinating when studying for one exam, were procrastinating less when studying for the next one. The researchers established that self-forgiveness let individuals move past the bad behaviour and focus on the exam instead of their past actions.
Another study in 2012 found that procrastinators have high stress levels, but low self-compassion levels. The key is to treat our mistakes with compassion and kindness instead of harsh words or punishments. Several other studies confirmed that self-compassion helps increase motivation and promote growth. In return, this decreases our stress levels, boosts the feeling of self-worth and helps us feel more optimistic, positive and curious.
Make the Benefits Feel Bigger
The task we’re postponing is making us feel bad in numerous ways, it’s why we’re putting it off. But, if we could visualize how great we’d feel after the task is done it might push us to move and do something about this. To do this properly, you should paint a vivid mental picture of the moment when you’re finishing the task. Imagine that sense of satisfaction you’ll get once you’re done, or the good it will do for you and your company. You can also imagine getting praise from your mentors for a job well done. These are simple tactics, but could push you to stop holding up, and actually start working.
Get Some Data
One of the things that can help you beat procrastination is analyzing your own behaviour. While you can sit down and break down why you haven’t done the task, what was stopping you on a psychological level, you can also take a look at the data.
For example, I love the data our employee monitoring software shows me. In the dashboard you can see the list of your tasks, the priorities, etc. But you can also see where your time went during the day. Let’s say that yesterday you had to complete that one thing you don’t like doing, you can jump into the dashboard and see what you were doing instead. Maybe you were browsing social media, maybe you were reading the news, or completing some menial tasks instead of focusing on what’s important.
The more realistic picture of your own behaviour you have, the easier it will be for you to figure out how to correct this behaviour, and a work time tracker is a great tool that can help you with this.
What Else Can you Do?
Procrastination is a habit, which means you won’t break it overnight. There’s no such thing as a “single best way to beat procrastination”. It depends on you, and the way you usually break bad habits. You’ll have to figure out what works best in your case, but besides the strategies we’ve described above, there are some smaller things you could do that can help you out:
- Make a daily to-do list
- Create an action plan and stick to it
- Measure your productivity
- Face the most complicated tasks first
- Set deadlines
- Block out distractions
- Plan your breaks
- Don’t be a perfectionist
- Motivate yourself
- Reward yourself
- Get a motivational buddy
What Are the Benefits of Overcoming Procrastination?
Learning how to manage your procrastination will take time, but you must stay dedicated to it. Once you overcome it, and gain control over your emotions, you’ll gain control over your to-do list as well.
You won’t keep feeling like you’re under pressure all the time. Since you were leaving everything for the last minute, you were feeling stressed and your boss was probably always right behind you checking how far along have you come. By beating procrastination and actually completing things on time, you’ll regain the trust you’ve had from your manager and they’ll stop micromanaging you - leaving you with a feeling of peace and independence.
On the other hand, your job performance will improve greatly, you’ll avoid feeling stressed all the time, and you’ll have more time for yourself.
So, stop reading this article about how to overcome procrastination and just get to work.
This article was originally written on May 3rd, 2016 by Marija Grgur. It was updated on May 18th, 2020, by Bojana Djordjevic.