You’re sitting at your desk, gazing out the window, and longing to be outside in the beautiful weather. Suddenly, a to-do list reminder dings on your calendar. An assignment or project that’s been hanging over your head is due tonight. Even though you’ve known about it for a while, you haven’t made any progress towards finishing it. The motivation to get it done isn’t there, no matter how much coffee you drink or post-it notes you stick on your desk.
Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common. Procrastination is a natural human tendency, especially when we aren’t thrilled about the job at hand. While it only makes sense to complete tasks quickly instead of facing the stress and consequences of avoiding our work, the temptation to procrastinate can seem ever-present. Even the most productive individuals fall victim to the lure of putting things off from time to time.
If you’ve ever managed a team or raised a teenager, you know that trying to motivate a procrastinator is virtually impossible. Because the reasons for procrastination are ultimately internal, outside influences do little to change our behavior. Looking inside, rather than making excuses or blaming others, is the only way to pull ourselves out of the procrastination trap. Our solutions are already present within; we just need to find them.
Rather than becoming our own worst enemy, a look into modern psychology offers insight as to why we perpetuate this counterproductive behavior. Just because we have a history of procrastinating doesn’t mean we’re destined to repeat bad habits. With active intention, it is possible to change our behavior. Studies on procrastination elucidate the many reasons we slack off. Getting to the root of the problem can help us realize when we’re procrastinating, so we can snap ourselves out of it and take action before it’s too late.
Overcoming the Common Causes of Procrastination
A variety of factors make us want to postpone vital jobs for our future self. According to Dr. Shahram Heshman (of Psychology Today), poor structure, unpleasant tasks, timing, anxiety, and our self-confidence level all play a role in procrastination. Our brain’s frontal lobe, which is responsible for executive function, influences our ability to plan, regulate emotions, and stay motivated. While some people’s brain chemistry might predispose them to procrastinate, there are strategies to overcome obstacles and start getting things done.
Minimizing our distractions is a practical first step to maintain focus on the task at hand. When we have something pressing that needs to get done, setting aside some quiet time free of cell phones, email notifications, or other interruptions will let us get it done much faster. A lack of structure in our workflow steals our efficiency. If you don’t have an explicit schedule or plan, set one up for yourself by breaking down a large task step by step. As you complete each step, cross it off to fuel your forward momentum.
Of course, no scheduling tricks will transform a truly dreaded task into an enjoyable one. When you’re facing a tedious or difficult task, working on it for shorter increments of time can ease the burden. Try to make these obligations more fun by getting creative. For instance, folding laundry or painting your closet isn’t as dull when you’ve got music playing in the background or a partner in crime to assist.
Attaching rewards to unpleasant tasks is another potential motivator. Telling ourselves that we can’t watch tv until the dishes are done, or we have to finish our work before heading off to happy hour is one way to keep ourselves accountable. This is where timing comes into play. Short-term rewards can be more effective in pushing past procrastination than the long-term effects which are already present.
After all, there is usually already a natural punishment and reward system that should theoretically incentivize us to get things done on time. If we don’t keep up with our work, we won’t get paid, or we might lose our job. On the other hand, completing projects in advance could get us a promotion or free-up our weekend. Likewise, to postpone quitting smoking or starting an exercise program risks long-term health consequences. The reverse is also true, with far-reaching benefits to be gained from starting healthy habits early in life. Even though we might be fully aware of the ultimate cost/benefit of not procrastinating, this isn’t always enough to motivate us at the moment. That’s where short-term rewards and punishments can help.
In some cases, an aversion to hard work isn’t the underlying reason for procrastination. Anxiety can also hold us back from taking care of essential duties. If we’re afraid of failure, we may choose to put things off. Perhaps you’ve always dreamed of finishing your college degree or starting a business. Although part of you wants to achieve this goal, fear of whether or not you’ll succeed can prevent you from taking that necessary leap.
Shying away from a goal breeds low self-esteem and confirms our suspicions that we won’t be successful. Reinforcing self-doubt can leave us trapped in a negative thought pattern that makes overcoming procrastination that much harder. One way to break this cycle is by reflecting on our past achievements. Looking back at accomplishments in other areas of our life can give us the confidence to take on new tasks with gusto.
Visualizing success and picturing ourselves conquering goals is also a powerful mental tool to shift our attitude and outlook. Imaging ourselves crossing the finish line can help us find the get-up-and-go attitude to head out for a jog. A little outside support can also go a long way in building our confidence. If you’re not quite sure how to get started, maybe talking to someone who has already been there will help. Are you looking to leave your job and start a new career path? Reach out to someone who has already done just that. Hearing their experience will paint a clearer picture of how things might play out for you.
Is Procrastination Holding You Back?
Any level of procrastination can become a detriment to our well-being and personal progress. Everyone has days where they choose to pass on little things that should get done; however, we must not put off the vital steps necessary to ensure our emotional health. Don’t compromise on what your heart is trying to tell you. The time to act is now. Rarely, would we allow a broken leg or sore throat to be left untreated. But unfortunately, it’s all too common to put a broken heart on the back-burner. Procrastination is especially common when it comes to life’s tough issues. Grief is one example.
Instead of waiting for grief to resolve itself, there are ways to address our feelings and proactively move forward. Enrolling in a Grief Recovery Program can unlock the doorway to true healing. If you feel like you’ve been living under a dark cloud after a loss (such as death, divorce, job loss, or another significant life change), there is hope for a better tomorrow. Break free of procrastination by taking advantage of our resources today. Your healing journey awaits.