Why We Procrastinate and What to Do About It

Why We Procrastinate and What to Do About It

September 21, 2021

Procrastination is intentionally delaying a task that needs to be done, even if you know it will come at a cost. The truth is a lot of us procrastinate. Even if we manage to get our projects/assignments in on time, we may have waited until the 11th hour to begin and feel frantic and rushed to get it completed. So, why do we continually do this to ourselves and what can we do about it? Let’s take a look…

The Why

According to an article on procrastination in The Washington Post, we procrastinate on projects we find “difficult, unpleasant, aversive or just plain boring or stressful.” Often, it’s the feeling we are trying to avoid. The article goes on to say that some procrastinate because of low self-esteem; we worry about getting the task wrong or disappointing our boss. These types of procrastinators are referred to as “avoiders”. Another type of procrastinator are people that wait until the last minute because they like the thrill and rush of working under pressure. And finally, there are procrastinators that do so because they are indecisive, spending their time ruminating over the possible options and outcomes, and can’t move forward.

The Problem

Unfortunately, procrastinators, in general, have higher levels of stress, don’t sleep as well at night, and can suffer from anxiety and depression. People with that constant stress might not exercise and eat well and their health can deteriorate. The article states that procrastinators are “more likely to experience headaches, insomnia and digestive issues, and they’re more susceptible to the flu and colds.”

How to Fix It

It may sound strange but one of the first things you want to do to change is to be kind to yourself and forgive yourself for procrastinating. By relieving that guilt, you can begin to take actionable steps towards changing that behavior. Remind yourself that it is part of the human condition that everyone does on occasion. Acknowledge and accept responsibility for the behavior but don’t feel bad or guilty.

On the podcast, "WorkLife with Adam Grant" Adam suggests a trick for dealing with procrastination is to identify your “want self” from your “should self”. Your “want self” runs on emotions and wants to seek pleasure in the short run. An example of this would be scrolling social media or watching YouTube clips vs. working on an important task. Whereas the “should self” is more concerned with doing the right thing in the long run. In the moment, it can feel hard to focus on the important tasks but one way to do this is by removing distractions. Schedule tasks on your calendar and block off time to work. Be disciplined and don’t turn towards those temptations even for a minute, because as we all know, that minute quickly turns to 10 and you get sucked in. Save those “want self” items as a reward for completing your “should self” items. It might also be helpful to create a “to-don’t” list. Things you know will be a distraction and wouldn't serve you in the long run. Follow both your to-do and to-don’t lists accordingly.

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