How to stop procrastinating? No matter how productive we believe ourselves to be, we have all tried delaying in some aspects while knowing this delay can harm us.
This is procrastination.
Needless to say, procrastination affects productivity at work and study.
At work, studies show that procrastination and work performance are negatively related. Procrastination can cause lower salaries, a higher chance of underemployment or even unemployment.
For students, a study concluded that procrastination has an all-round impact on academic performance, e.g. classroom learning, classroom participation, preparation for exams, etc.
You may think you procrastinated simply because of time management. This may only be partly true. There can be other deeper psychological causes.
To stop procrastinating properly, you must know what the roots are and tackle them accordingly.
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Psychological causes of procrastination
1. Procrastinate to self-regulate emotions
“It’s too boring.”
“I don’t like doing this.”
“I don’t know how to do it.”
Surely, these are some of the most common thoughts to go before we allow procrastination to happen.
What is behind these thoughts? Can we explain these simply by time management? Obviously not.
Dr. Tim Pychyl at Carleton University and Dr. Fuschia Sirois at the University of Sheffield, both experts in studying procrastination, shed some light on this.
They explained that procrastination “functions as an emotion-regulation strategy that provides short-term mood repair“.
In other words, we procrastinate because we want to instantly avoid some emotional hardship by indulging ourselves in some short-term pleasure and making ourselves feel better while knowingly putting away something good for us in the long run.
Worst still, our minds tend to look for rewards. Once we were rewarded with short-term pleasure by procrastination, there is a tendency that we will procrastinate again.
So, what emotions we are trying to fix? Here are some typical ones.
Your fear of success
People procrastinate because they are afraid of the success that they know will result if they move ahead now. Because success is heavy, carries responsibility with it, it is much easier to procrastinate and live on the “someday I’ll” philosophy. – Denis Waitley
Despite you may find it hard to believe, this quote from the American author carries some truth in it.
Dr. Neil Fiore named this phenomenon ‘pole vaulter syndrome’ in his book The Now Habit. These new responsibilities brings us out of our comfort zone as there are new challenges ahead and new things to learn.
When you get more successful, more eyes will be on you. People will envy you and you will get more competitors. In turn, the pressure from the expectations of others or yourself will grow.
As a result, you procrastinate.
Your fear of failure
Often, you have a compelling voice telling you to start working only after having everything prepared and planned. Or, there is a voice telling you to “take it slow” to avoid failure, as it may show incapability or invite criticisms.
We must differentiate procrastination form necessary planning.
You lose our productivity if you want to protect yourself from failure, as Nic Voge of Princeton University said in a TED Talk.
This is especially when you foresee some difficulties that may fail you. In other words, you are perceiving it is an all-or-nothing event.
2. Authoritarian parenting style when you were small
In a study of literature published from 2000 to 2018, there is evidence supporting that authoritarian parents (harsh, demanding and micromanaging with low warmth) are more likely to result in academic or general procrastination of their children.
However, children of authoritative parents (demanding with high warmth and quality parental-child attachment) are less likely to develop procrastination tendencies.
This is because children can hardly develop self-regulating skills under authoritarian parents. Micro-managed children will also find it hard to develop decision-making and complete tasks themselves.
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Don’t blame yourself for procrastinating!
We procrastinate and feel guilty, don’t we?
After we procrastinate, we realize the deadline gets closer suddenly, don’t we?
We feel more stressed and more upset after we procrastinate (after the short moment of joy from procrastination passes) for losing the time.
It gets even more stressful, frustrated and anxious when we realize we might not be able to achieve the goal because of the time loss.
At this juncture, if you blame yourself for procrastination, you are making things worse. You are building up your stress and negative emotions.
And you will get stressed out. The only result is – you cannot finish the task and can only turn out crap (forgive me for being this blunt).
Therefore, if you procrastinated, accept it and move on for the moment. Focus on what you need to do first!
Forgiving yourself for procrastination may have another surprising result. A study shows that if we are able to forgive ourselves for procrastinating in an event, say exam, we may procrastinate less in the next similar event, e.g. another exam. This is because people “move past their maladaptive behavior and focus on the upcoming [event] without the burden of past acts.”
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How to stop procrastinating
While we can deal with time management issues simply with productivity hacks, psychological changes are hard to make.
Two basic tips. No magic. But you have to be consciously determined for it to give desired effects.
1. Redirect your focus to action
When your procrastination is caused by self-regulation of emotions, Dr. Psychyl said you should redirect your focus and ask the right question.
“Make your focus as simple as ‘What’s the next action – a simple next step – I would take on this task if I were to get started on it now?’”
For example, when you think you should go for an exercise, and there is a voice saying you are tired and should perhaps take a nap instead, you need to think what the next immediate small steps are for me to go on an exercise. Then, go get changed, get your trainers and tie the shoelaces.
This approach diverts your attention from the negative emotions about the task to an easily achievable action.
2. Set better rewards
As procrastination is caused by our minds looking for rewards better than performing the task, we can set better rewards to beat it.
In this way, your mind will shift from the negative emotions to the rewarding action.
The reward must be short-term and instant. This is because when we are delaying something, we are conscious that the delayed task is good (rewarding) for us in the long term. So, we must set a more reachable reward for ourselves. This reward must be better than the reward from procrastination.
For example, if you like stracciatella gelato, why don’t you treat yourself stracciatella gelato on the condition that you finish the task by a certain time? Note that the task here must be reasonably reachable. If it is the original task is too big, you should break it up into smaller tasks. In this case you will be treating yourself stracciatella gelato after finishing a subdivided task.