Psychology Behind Procrastination
Procrastination is defined as the act of unnecessarily delaying doing tasks that are assigned to you. While it appears that procrastination is a result of poor time management, the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa found that it is not the case. Instead, it is an emotion regulation problem, where one is focused on overcoming the negative emotions they are facing, hence purposely averts doing the action that makes them feel unpleasant. For example, when you delay cleaning your room because you feel awful completing that task. Other factors that could have led to procrastination are anxiety or fear, such as when you doubt your capabilities hence thinking that you are not enough to start this task or engage in overthinking. As a result, to avoid these negative emotions, our brain simply signals us to delay the task. However, providing ourselves with such immediate relief from negative emotions encourages us to procrastinate more, as it makes us feel rewarded from putting off the task. Eventually, procrastination can become a vicious cycle.
5 Tips to Overcome Procrastination
- Identify the Nature of Your Procrastination
Although we know that by theory, procrastination stems from the avoidance of negative feelings, the nature of our procrastination differs. Thus, we should evaluate by asking ourselves questions to find our unique root cause for procrastination. To do so, you can ask yourself: When do you procrastinate? How do you procrastinate? Why do you procrastinate? After answering these questions, you can then take precautions against the scenarios and minimise your chances of procrastinating. For example, if you are aware that you always delay doing your work till midnight (when) as you spend the time browsing social media instead (how) and the reason for doing so is because you feel stressed when you think about doing the work (why); you can find remedies such as preventing yourself from using social media or meditate to reduce stress levels.
- Set SMART Goals
Setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) helps you to break tasks up into manageable steps, motivating you to stop procrastination and start working towards these short-term goals.
Ask yourself what you want to achieve and why it is important. This goal needs to include what exactly you want to attain at the end. For example, instead of giving vague statements like “I want to be more knowledgeable”, define your goals more clearly by saying “I will read 10 books to gain more knowledge”. The second statement clearly specifies your action plan, allowing you to visualise your goals and be more motivated to complete it.
You should also make sure that the goal you have chosen is measurable so you can track your progress. For example, in the case of reading, you measure your goal by stating the number of books or even pages you want to read.
The goals you have set should also be realistic and attainable. Expecting yourself to read 1000 pages per day may not be achievable and even seem daunting, which could further encourage you to procrastinate. Instead, you should set goals that bring about a bit of a challenge, but not too far-fetched, like reading 50 pages a day.
It is important that the goal you set should matter to you and align with your objectives. For example, if you want to be more knowledgeable, setting a goal to run 10 laps around the track per week does not exactly fit your objective. Therefore, you should always ask yourself whether the goal is relevant and think about how the goal you put down can bring you closer to your objective or other goals in your life.
When setting your goal, you also need to ensure that these goals have a targeted deadline. This allows you to know clearly what you want to deliver and also plan time for the possible obstacles that might be in your way.
- Prioritise your task
A good way to help you prioritise will be through the use of the Eisenhower Matrix, a simple decision-making tool that helps us categorise and make the distinction between the 4 types of tasks as seen below.
By organising your tasks into these different columns, you can shift your focus on to the most important task, and remove any unnecessary task that will hinder your productivity and lead to procrastination. We are also able to rank the task we want to do first, by putting our attention on the “urgent” task before the important but “not urgent” task. Furthermore, this matrix can even help us plan for the long term as we put each small task into perspective with the bigger picture when we are filling in the quadrants.
- Partner up
Having someone to hold you accountable can also help you to reduce your tendency to procrastinate. For example, having a study buddy to encourage and study with will increase your commitment to your study schedule. You will be more motivated to study and avoid engaging in activities that trigger procrastination as your study buddy will also be depending on you to keep them on track. However, you should be careful when selecting your partner, as being with someone who has an even greater tendency to procrastinate could result in both of you abandoning your tasks together.
- Set up a reward system
Establishing a reward system could further boost self-control as you feel the positive emotions from accomplishing the task you set yourself up to do. The reward does not even need to be huge or costly as long it reinforces your good behaviour. You can simply just praise yourself after every small task that you have completed or if you want something more concrete, allow yourself to enjoy one of your favourite candies after completing your work. As long as the rewards you set in place generates pleasant emotions that make you crave for more, it becomes a strong motivating factor and helps you fight procrastination.
Although we feel bad whenever we procrastinate, we should not let it affect our mental health. Through better understanding and taking the steps to overcome procrastination, you can find the most suitable method for you to increase productivity. By mapping up the root cause, engaging in goal setting, prioritising the important task, finding someone to hold you accountable and putting in place a reward system, you can slowly but surely learn how to beat the problem of procrastination.