How to Postpone Procrastination
For years I have jokingly told my friends, “I am writing a book on The Positive Use of Procrastination; but for some reason I keep putting it off.”
I guess one of my friends got tired of the joke and told me that I really should write something about dealing with procrastination and I am taking up his challenge.
As I began to examine the problem of procrastination, I learned two important things: (1) everyone procrastinates sometimes, but it is a much larger problem for some people than for others, and (2) people have been procrastinating for centuries. The problem is so old that ancient Greek philosophers Socrates and Aristotle even wrote about it.
With that information in my mind and my fingers already on the keyboard I began to think, “Maybe I shouldn’t write this article after all. Maybe I should put it off until I have done more research on the topic.”
While my mind was telling me to procrastinate, I decided that I was not going to procrastinate while attempting to write an article on procrastination.
What is Procrastination?
As I was contemplating how to begin a column on procrastination, the words of one of my former college professors kept echoing in my ears – “operationally define your terms;” “operationally define your terms.”
In order to quiet the voice of my former professor, I decided to begin with defining exactly what procrastination is. Dic-tionary.com defines procrastination as “to put off until another day or time; to defer; to delay.”
As used in this month’s column, 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 to the point that it becomes counterproductive.
Effects of Procrastination
Letting ourselves put things off can have greater implications than may be obvious to us. Procrastination not only causes personal stress and the guilt that comes with it but may include other consequences such as gaining a bad reputation with coworkers, family and friends. It can also cause individuals to lose their ambition to succeed and keep them from accomplishing their dreams. Procrastination can even be health threatening if we know we should see a doctor but keep putting it off.
Reasons for Procrastination
If procrastination is counterproductive, has all the negative impacts just described, and keeps a person from accomplishing the tasks he or she should do or wants to do, why do people procrastinate?
If you were to read the numerous articles written on the subject, each with its own list of the reasons people procrastinate, two things would quickly become obvious: (1) there is no single reason for procrastinating, and (2) some people are habitual procrastinators while other people’s procrastination is based upon the tasks itself.
Some of the most common reasons identified for procrastination are:
- Lack of motivation,
- Lack of skill,
- Fear of failure,
- Fear of Success,
- Lack of Interest,
- Sense of rebellion.
Regardless of what reasons drive us to procrastinate, if we are going to continue postponing things anyway, why not postpone procrastination. That raises the question, “How do you postpone procrastination?”
Steps to postponing Procrastination
- Begin the task – The first step to stop procrastination is to start the task. While we may not be motivated to accomplish the task, we should start anyway. Making the first move is an evidence-backed strategy for beating procrastination.
Tim Pychyl, a psychologist and director of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, says that his group tested this approach in a small study and “found that once students got started, they appraised a task as less difficult and less stressful, even more enjoyable than they had thought.” He explains in an email, “They said things like ‘I don’t know why I put it off, because it’s not so bad’ and ‘I could have done a better job if I got started earlier.”
We often stop ourselves from starting because we think we are not ready yet. We do not know enough yet, still have to do all kinds of things first, etc.; but is that really true? What stops us is really our own attitude about the task. When we think too much about something, it tends to become an incredible obstacle as all kinds of rationales for postponing the task pop into our heads. We need to just quit thinking of reasons not to do whatever it is we are postponing and make the first move. Often the next steps flow automatically from just doing.
It’s easier to keep going with a task after you’ve overcome the initial hesitancy of starting it in the first place. That’s because the tasks that induce procrastination are rarely as bad as we think. Getting started on something forces a subconscious reappraisal of that work and we find that the actual task is not as difficult or as boring or as threatening or whatever other reason we have for not doing it.
That is what happened when I started this month’s column. Once I started writing and wrote a few paragraphs, I began to get motivated to complete the task.
- Set goals with deadlines – When you have a task to do, set a goal for its completion. As Tony Woodall stated, “A goal without a deadline is just a wish.” It is easy to keep putting a task off if there is no deadline for its completion.
After waiting for some time to write this column, I decided one night that I would complete it before the end of the workday the following day. I got up that day determined to do that and did it.
- Remember the feeling of accomplishment – Think about how good you felt the last time you completed a task that you had been putting off for quite some time. Seize the opportunity to feel that way frequently by completing the tasks that you have been putting off. When you start the task use the feeling of completing a long-postponed task as the motivation for doing it again.
I feel really good about completing a column on the topic of procrastination. It has been long overdue and it feels so good to have finally written it. I am going to remember that feeling the next time I feel myself procrastinating on a task.
I have already decided that the next thing I am going to postpone is procrastinating on a task.