For me, my memory of being incessantly told by my parents to start studying earlier instead of going crazy at examination time is still fresh. Even today, they are well aware that some important tasks I end up leaving to the last minute, especially things like income tax return. It’s now become a ritualistic dance where my father will ask me whether I have filed my income tax return and I will tell him that there’s a week to go for the deadline which is too early for me. What I am trying to tell with these stories, is the fact that I am a procrastinator struggling to get rid of the addiction.
What is Procrastination?
Mindfit Hypnosis gives a very clear and succinct definition of procrastination as:
Procrastination is the practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference to more urgent ones, or doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones, and thus putting off impending tasks to a later time. In order for a behavior to be classified as procrastination: it must be counterproductive, needless, and delaying. Similarly, it is “to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay.”
With procrastination, you will always have the more important tasks at the back of your mind, which you will deliberately choose to postpone or delay by doing some unnecessary task. If we anyway know that there are other tasks to be tackled, why do we then end up procrastinating at all?
Causes of procrastination
1.The itch of perfection
A lot of us want that sense of perfection in any task that we embark on. However, the pursuit of perfection can often turn to delaying of the task until you feel the mood is right or that you have everything you need in place to do the task perfectly.
2. Choosing instant gratification
Which of these two tasks would you rather do – watch Netflix or go to the gym? It’s easy right. Netflix means instant entertainment while spending time in the gym over a long run will mean better health. Instant gratification is a seductive thing and most of us get sucked into it in various aspects of life like spending money today instead of saving for the future.
3. Fear of doing a big or unpleasant task
Some tasks are plain pleasant – for instance the aforementioned tax returns. For years I have found it annoying and would rather do anything to delay having to do it. Big tasks are another thing which easily induces procrastination as you would rather do something else than try to scale that mountain.
4. Initial Inertia
This is a personal observation that initial inertia of doing a task is more than half of the battle. For instance, switching on the laptop is a BIG task for me. So a lot of the things I think I need to do for this blog on the weekend never end up happening because who will switch on the laptop. However, once I do switch it on, it’s far easier for me to get at least some things done instead of spending away my entire weekend happily procrastinating.
5. No clear line of sight to the result
There is often a need to complete some tasks even if there is no result in sight for it. In fact, in my current role, there are enough number of times when I know a project may never see the light of the day but I still need to do it. Obviously, my procrastination game is at its’ highest level at that time!
6. Lack of discipline
I am not judging thy here, but let’s be honest – we could all do with some self-discipline. How many of us even notice that we are procrastinating while mindlessly scrolling through social media? How many of us try to do the important tasks before distracting ourselves? Unless you have a disciplining side to yourself, procrastination might be a long time friend to you.
7. No deadline or timeline to some tasks
I use my office gym and most of my colleagues know considering I end up lugging around my gym bag. Enough number of times I have heard some of them tell me – hey, I am going to join from tomorrow morning. Can you guess what happens next? Of course, I don’t see them. There is no timeline or deadline to achieve certain tasks which makes procrastination an easy out.
How is Procrastination bad?
While in recent terms, there are newer studies to say procrastination can have benefits to it, I tend to view them skeptically. To me, procrastination is weighed down with far more evils than any of the satellite benefits that some may see in it.
1. You don’t know where to draw the line
While procrastination in moderation or mild doses can be handled, I think the biggest worry with procrastination is where to draw the line. Once you start, it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole and keep tumbling into the dark to becoming a chronic procrastinator.
2. You can end up missing important deadlines
Most of us believe that procrastination is harmless as we do end up getting the important tasks done finally. But the more we give in to this guilty pleasure, there are bound to be consequences of missed deadlines.
3. The quality of work is bound to suffer
This should not come as a surprise. While I am all for creative mental fermentation of a task that needs to be done, enough tasks require multiple rounds. I often used to joke that I am like a rocket launcher whereby I get work done only when my ass is on fire. I still say it though the statement has certainly lost some of it’s sheen for me.
4. Procrastination is harmful to your health
There is enough research to show that procrastination leads to stress and anxiety. While procrastinating, we consciously delay the important tasks to do the trivial yet more enjoyable tasks. However, the stress and anxiety of the important tasks to be done lingers.
5. Not utilising your potential to the fullest
Since the time I have started blogging, I have realised that a lot of us can achieve much more when we start fighting the temptation of procrastinating. You can then choose to use the precious resource of time far more fruitfully and with much better results to show for it.
How can you stop Procrastinating?
1. Ditch perfection
Perfection is a vice and a guise for procrastination. The day you start telling yourself that getting a job done is more important than hiding behind the fear of not doing it perfectly, is the day atleast some of your procrastination worries can melt.
2. Break a big task into smaller tasks
Often, the thought of a big uncertain task makes it easier to ignore than get to it. For instance, if I need to work on a powerpoint presentation with a very vague brief, it is easier for me to break it down into tinier steps like putting my objective into bullet points, breaking that down into separate slides and then sketching out what goes on in each slide. Chunking of big tasks in your head will also make it a more manageable beast.
3. Self imposed deadlines
This, is the singular most important thing which has worked for me in my blogging history of almost a year! I started with a Monday, Wednesday and Friday schedule which has now been modified to drop Wednesday posts. In my earlier two attempts at blogging, I had often thought that when inspiration strikes, I will write. Never worked for me. With Elementum Money, even if there are instances of a day’s delay in publishing a post, I am still glad that I atleast get it done.
4. Start with short bursts
Often, we would rather procrastinate than get to work on something which could take us rather long to accomplish. While the pomodoro technique of working in 25 minute bursts is well acclaimed, I prefer to trick my mind into doing something for just 5 minutes. Once I am into the task and in a state of flow, I end up doing much more and sometimes enough for the psychological edge of finishing something. Just go for short bursts and you might be surprised at how much overcoming initial inertia works for you.
5. Eat that frog
One of the great books I read about overcoming procrastination was Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy. The concept is simple – in a given day we have multiple tasks of varying levels of pleasantness for us. We procrastinate most on what could be unpleasant to us. Tracy opines that even though getting done with that unpleasant task might be equivalent to eating a live frog in your mind, do that first. You don’t just get it out of the way, but also get a psychological edge having done something unpleasant.
What are the tasks you procrastinate on most? How do you overcome procrastination? Let me know in the comments below.