Usually, we think of procrastination as a bad habit, but this might not be the case. Research by Burka and Yuen, authors of Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It Now, have found that procrastination is not a bad habit, but a psychological syndrome caused by one’s fear. In other words, procrastination is not purely a problem of time management. Instead, it concerns people’s inner fears, expectations, doubts, and pressures.
There might be some people, like myself before, who’d always leave their tasks to the very last minute before the deadlines and look forward to a suddenly-burst extraordinary performance, or a very best luck ever. Some even say the closer the DDLs are, the more productive they are.
So, is the deadline really a force to drive us forward in a positive way?
My answer is negative, although from the surface it may seem harmless to some people, and can to some extent be converted to a motivator. However, deep inside, procrastination brings more harm than good for most of us.
Consequence of procrastination
On top of all the damages caused by procrastination: mental sufferings. Even though relaxing first brings instant joy, it’ll soon be replaced by overwhelmingly negative feelings: e.g. anxiety thinking, nagging pain, the guilt of not starting earlier, etc. Not hard to imagine how painful it is to be trapped in this situation for a long period.
From the view regarding one’s physical health, there’s also a detrimental consequence. Chasing DDLs usually means overworking at a late point. For example, burning the night oil in a row. If this continues as a habit, it will threaten one’s physical health as well.
There might be consequences to other people as well, because people who procrastinate a lot may be bad at time management. For example, being late for a date because they’ve not started dressing up earlier, or being unable to submit a task on time because they’ve wasted a lot of time thinking. These could then make them easy to not be trusted by others, and people around them may also sometimes feel disappointed.
Then, what at root drives us to procrastinate? What makes people consciously or unconsciously choose to procrastinate?
Reasons for procrastination
- Excessive perfectionism
People who are perfectionists normally have very high standards for themselves and for the work they do. Therefore, they easily fall into the fear of not being able to reach these standards or making mistakes on the way which will lead to undesirable results. By not getting started, the mistakes/failures will not happen, which means at this procrastinating point at least, they don’t have to worry too much.
Also, many perfectionists may waste too much time thinking about how to do it instead of actually doing it. They choose to wait till a perfect plan is ready. However, there is neither a flawless plan nor a perfect outcome. Plus, it’s extremely hard for excessive perfectionists to be fully satisfied with what they’ve achieved no matter how good it is.
- The rewards are too far away.
Studies have shown that the farther the due date is, the less binding force it may execute on us, and the easier it is for us to feel unmotivated to start. Compared to gaining rewards from a not-so-recent future, instant gratification is much easier.
This might be the very reason why many people choose to enjoy first and do later. For example, if the deadline for an assignment is 2 weeks from now, then spending 2 days watching a new series on Netflix doesn’t seem like a big deal.
- Fear of difficulty
The reason for this fear is we know the goal is too big and requires hard work. Sometimes when we are given a big task, e.g. dissertation, we might be very likely to feel overwhelmed, not knowing where to start or how. The motivation then downgrades to 0. Similarly, when a monthly personal KPI has been given, even just thinking of it brings a lot of headaches already, let alone start doing.
- Lack of awareness and skills of time management
Sad but true, I know:(
For these, getting so used to an unstructured work/study style makes it even harder not to procrastinate. Never thinking of organizing or not knowing how is a big hindrance to their productivity. But, it’s totally fine if you just enjoy the flow and do not worry about getting things done. However, for those who crave progression and success, then tackling procrastination and learning how to manage your time and organize things well is extremely important. Let TickTick help with that 🙌
- Dislike of taking orders
As some of you might feel relatable, deadlines and dues are set usually by other people, either our professors or team leaders, to the tasks assigned. As for those who have strong self-awareness and do not want to be tasked by others, they consciously or subconsciously resort to procrastination as a way to resist the order. Meanwhile, they try to declare some autonomy and freedom by refusing to do things at this moment and ignoring them till later.
Ways to fight against procrastination
The most painful part of procrastination is not working on the task, it is starting the work. Therefore, to beat procrastination is actually to find out ways to get us started.
Where to start
- Set a realistic goal and fairly evaluate your ability
Make sure your goal is inspiring but also attainable, based on the evaluation of your ability now and the potential to grow, plus the time and effort needed in achieving your goal.
For example, if I have three free weekends this month, then I probably establish a goal: finishing reading a book this month. Many procrastinators are too optimistic about their ability in the future and underestimate the time needed to complete the task. When deadlines approach, it’s just frightening and frustrating.
- Divide the goal into more achievable ones
If the goal seems too big to reach, then cut it into smaller pieces to reduce the fear of a sudden commitment.
Going back to that book-reading example, to finish reading a book in a month, I may divide the task into reading ¼ every week, and then 10 pages each for working days and 20 pages each for unscheduled weekends. Compared to 1 book, 10 pages just sounds like a breeze.
- Trim the unnecessary and only keep the priorities
According to Pareto Principle, 20% of the things in life can determine 80% of the results. Therefore, when facing multiple tasks, sort them out based on urgency, importance, necessity, and other indicators. Next, take the lead in dealing with high-priority things. This method can effectively help us abandon those low-value and insignificant activities and rationally allocate limited time and energy for the maximum return.
- Start from a small task
Some may argue that starting from a hard task is better for time management. However, for a lagging person like myself before, starting is the most difficult part as I said. Therefore, an easy task can first “allure” me to start, and when finishing this, the rest of my day is then kept in a feeling-productive momentum.
- Increase incentive mechanism
The best way to do that is to bond the completion of a certain task with an instant reward. For example, if I finish writing my blog draft today, I’d be rewarded with 30 mins to play with my dog. If reading through all literature within the scheduled time when writing a dissertation, I’ll treat myself to a big meal or an outing day. In this way, before each task starts, motivation will replace stress to activate your enthusiasm.
P.s. Please remember, what the reward for is always your hard work and progress, not the results.
- Reduce the task aversion from a mental side
Go deeper into the given task and find/develop some parts you feel passionate about from it. If you’ve found out the joy of doing things, then a task will not be a task anymore, but a daily trivial, something like teeth-brushing. Those who work out consistently no matter how busy he/she is, are actually regarding working-out as a daily activity. This sounds a little bit like self-brainwashing, but believe me, it brings positive results in the long run.
Other possible solutions
- Make use of visual tools
Write the daily tasks down for enhanced execution force: Some research has found out that writing down your to-do tasks makes it easier for you to complete them.
Check it done for enhanced encouragement: When I see the visual hints, e.g. a visual tick, like the logo of TickTick, that tells me I’ve achieved something, it is like energy transferred into my body. Not only visually, but it’s also a mental encouragement I’ve got from the process.
- Create a co-supervising system
By inviting a friend/colleague to co-supervise each other, it may help you two to both keep on the right track. Also, in this co-supervision scheme, competitive people will hate to lose. By losing here actually means your friend finished her task while you didn’t. A positive competition vibe is formed here to probably give you a little gentle push.
Like Mark Twain said, "The secret of getting ahead is getting started”. Although it’s not easy to completely beat procrastination, it’s still good to be less-procrastinated. Now is always better than later, stop being the last-minute person and get started now!