Have you ever found yourself sitting at your computer with the intention of completing that nagging assignment and then four hours later you’re drowning in your Facebook feed? We’ve all been there. While procrastination is nothing new, it can still wreak havoc on our productivity, leaving a bitter aftertaste of anger, frustration and a feeling of helplessness.
It is widely believed that at the heart of a procrastination problem lies a lack of time-management or planning skills. However, several psychological studies beg to differ and procrastination has been linked to habits of self-sabotage through a lack of self-regulation. So, while you’re sitting at your computer, staring at a blank page and determined to start, what motivates your hand to move towards your phone or a new tab?
Do any of these sound familiar?
“I’ve written over 100 words out of 3000! I should take a short well-deserved break”
“I’m just going to take a 10-minute break and let the ideas come to me”
“I have plenty of time to finish this assignment, I’ll come back to this in a couple of days and furtherdevelop my ideas”
Chronic procrastination or a systematic lack of self-regulation creates a continuous stress cycle lifestyle and consequentially can have far-reaching implications. So why do we do it? How do we do it? How do we beat it?
Why do we procrastinate?
If you’re struggling to motivate yourself to work on an important assignment, ask yourself these questions:
- Is this task important to me?
- Am I confident I can finish it on time? Does my track record support that confidence?
- Have I overcommitted myself?
- Is there another approach I could take to this task that would suit me better?
- Why am I so reluctant to start?
Answering the above can provide a spring board to understanding your procrastination situation.
Here are a few cornerstone issues that can lead to chronic procrastination:
Lack of relevance – If the task does not hold any personal meaning, interest or relevance, it can be tough to find the motivation to begin, especially if the task has been imposed as a requirement rather than choice.
Perfectionism – Having unrealistically high standards that discourage you from moving towards the completion of a task.
Evaluation anxiety – Evaluation anxiety is the fear of others judging your work. These external evaluations can build anxiety and may interfere with getting work finished.
Inability to handle the task – A lack of training or skill in your project area can become a brick wall that feels impassable when attempting tasks.
Fear of the unknown – Venturing into a project blind can be intimidating. This fear of not knowing how well you’ll perform can hinder a person’s ability to start a new project.
How do we procrastinate?
Procrastinators can be sorted into three main categories:
- Thrill seekers – People who work off the adrenaline rush that comes as a response to the threat of consequence and repercussion.
- Avoiders – People who avoid tasks out of fear of failure or fear of success; they’d prefer people think that they lacked energy or effort rather than skill.
- Decision procrastinators – People who put off a decision to defer the responsibility of a potential outcome.
How do we beat it?
So now we know why and how we procrastinate, the question remains:
“What can I do to beat the habit?”
Here are a few solutions to help you battle with your distraction matrix:
Just take the first step — Stop thinking and start doing, and keep doing. Cross those pesky psychological barriers by training your self-regulation like a muscle. Actually (and I mean actually) stick to your schedule on one assignment. Then approach every assignment with this mentality.
Find meaning — If it’s the content that you’re struggling to face, find a personal application of the concepts you’re exploring. Ask yourself: Why did you choose to do this study area? How do you see this content helping you in your future career path? How can this content be applied in the real world?
Finish it — Perfectionists have no problem starting but struggle at the finish line. Allocate yourself a set block of planning time and then set an early deadline for your task and meet it. If you’re still not satisfied, at least you have technically completed the task and have the opportunity for another round of editing.
Move — If procrastination is rooted in a lack of self-regulation, how better to address the issue than by incorporating other methods self-regulation into your daily life? Exercise is a useful tool of self-regulation. Once you start regularly pushing your psychological barriers, you’ll discover a flow-on effect into other tasks too.
Connect with your future self — Understand how a successful and stress-free completion of your task will benefit your future self.