Procrastination is one of the foremost enemies of productivity. Putting things off until the last minute can mean an unhappy boss or a rickety set of shelves, depending on the type of task involved. If you always find yourself rushing and flitting from task to task, read on, and learn how to stop procrastinating in your own life.
Procrastination Meaning and Causes of Procrastination
According to a psychology professor, Joseph Ferrari, Ph. D, around 20% of American adults are chronic procrastinators. He postulates that everyone procrastinates at times, but not everyone is a serial procrastinator. But what is the meaning of procrastination?
Procrastination means putting off a task that needs to be done until the very last minute or even completely. Procrastinators tend to still be working hard as a deadline is approaching, not because the task was challenging or there was too much work, but because they spent the time beforehand doing other things. Procrastinators may:
- Spend lots of time on social media sites
- Clean your house as an excuse to not perform another task
- Read, listen to music, or any other number of hobbies
- Perform other related tasks that don’t actually complete the desired professional goal
- Work frantically towards another goal that is due at a much later date
Understanding why you procrastinate can help to break those habits. Procrastination is not laziness. Laziness means not wanting to do anything, whereas procrastinators prioritize less important tasks than what actually needs to be done. The most common reason for this is that the necessary job is unpleasant, boring, or associated with bad feelings or memories, so the brain looks for something more rewarding.
The downside to this task aversion is that we then become filled with negative feelings for not having performed the tasks we know we were “supposed” to do. This can lead to feelings of:
These negative feelings become more deeply associated with this type of task, reinforcing the brain’s desire to put them off until the last minute. How can you stop procrastinating and break the cycle?
Five Ways to Stop Procrastinating
There are some really effective strategies to stop procrastinating, with most of them involving a bit of willpower, and the genuine desire to improve.
Journal As You Work
Oh no, more work! Yes, that’s true, we’re giving you yet another task to add to your list. However, if you journal how long a task takes you, when you started it, when you finished, and how you felt at each stage of the working, it can help you plan better in the future. Keep this journal of procrastination safe and refer back to it whenever you start a new project with a deadline.
Set Realistic Timescales
Stop working at that frenetic and stress-fueled pace all the time. Think about how long a task will take you based on previous experience (hence the journal). Think about taking time for yourself, time for research, time for stretching, toilet breaks – the works. Set a deadline based on all that, plus a few hours or days more, depending on the task.
Put Your Devices Away
Get rid of all non-essential devices and close social media apps unless you need them for work.
Take More Breaks
How does working less help? Working straight through for six hours with no break makes you cranky, stressed out, sore, and tired. You then associate those feelings with that type of task, which makes you less likely to want to approach it head-on in the future. That is a direct cause of procrastination. Take regular breaks and always try to do something in that break that makes you smile. Plus, according t o Science Daily, people who take more breaks are more focused.
Find Your “Why”
If you’ve broken off a vital task to do something else, ask yourself why this secondary task needs doing now. Write it down. Talk to a friend or colleague about it. What are the benefits of completing this other task now? If it turns out there are no real benefits, you should find it easier to put that task to one side and return to the matter at hand.
How to Procrastinate Effectively
Are we about to contradict all the advice we’ve just given? No, not at all. Chronic procrastination can lead to you missing deadlines and producing poor quality work. However, if you don’t have any spectacularly critical projects, a bit of procrastination could be a benefit.
If you have tasks that you want to do, but that aren’t urgent, leave them for an hour longer than you were going to. In that time, brainstorm all the different ways you might go at that task. Keep a journal for these brainstorms, or a sketchbook, or sheet music book depending on your specialism. From time to time, come back to this book – you might just find some ideas that blossom into productive projects.
Another reason to procrastinate is to take the time for some self-care. Before you do this, make sure the task you are putting off will not cause you to feel guilty or ashamed. Only put off tasks that can safely and rewardingly be done later. That’s the key to effective procrastination. Take an hour to:
- Take a long bath
- Go for a walk
- Sit in the garden
- Cook a meal or bake a cake or cookies
- Spend time with your partner or kids
- Talk to a friend on the phone
When we are always rushing, we can forget to do these simple things that bring us joy. Make a list of the things that really make you smile, and stop procrastinating. Instead pick one of those things rather than just scrolling through social media or scrubbing the cupboards.
If you’ve been called a procrastinator, meaning someone who puts tasks off until the very last minute or indefinitely, you’re not alone. Use journaling and effective self-questioning to return focus to a task at hand, and remove the temptation of electronic devices and social media to stop procrastinating.