Whilst talking about her time wasting troubles, my friend Sarah hit the nail on the head: ‘…there was a lecture about procrastination – but I couldn’t be bothered to go’. Procrastination is the cause of a lot of my problems. I have fought a loosing battle against it for years, a war my friends seem to wage on a daily basis too. In an attempt to make a stand against it, I ask: where does it come from? Why do we do it? How can we make it go away?
For most people, some element of work happens on the computer – whether it’s the kind of work that uses spreadsheets or constructing a non-committal reply to an email from your second cousin twice removed. At a glance you might blame procrastination on this super-tech media age, where the distance between work and play is one click. The problem seems simple – who wouldn’t rather buy trainers on Ebay than write a statistics presentation/thank-you-for-your-useless-gift email?
I don’t believe that’s all there is to it, because we don’t consciously choose to procrastinate. Sometimes the worst that comes of it is an unproductive day. Other times: missed deadlines, rushed work, hours wasted. We don’t factor it into our time schedule, nor do we feel satisfied or more alive after doing it. It becomes a behavioural pattern we can’t break.
It begins innocently enough: ‘I’ll just put the kettle on, then sit down and get started’. Then the seemingly urgent task appears: ‘but look at those dishes in the sink! Best give them a rinse whilst I’m here’. Next, the delaying tactic: ‘didn’t feel too horrible doing the dishes, I’ll just give the kitchen a quick clean’. Followed by the suppression of guilt through justifications: ‘doesn’t it look nice all clean? I’m sure it will be easier to concentrate on my assignment now’. And we return full circle to the initial distraction: ‘what was I doing? Making tea!’. I can get caught in this cycle for hours. Procrastination is a sneaky vice that twists our plans and warps our memory.
So why do we do it? Laziness? But how could it be sloth if my procrastinating involved scrubbing the kitchen clean with a toothbrush? Some of the time, I procrastinate for deeper reasons. I fear assignments. I’m afraid that I will do it wrong, someone else could do it better, or someone may not like it when it’s done. Low self-worth ties into that – a subconscious belief that I am not clever enough, not interesting enough, or haven’t got a valid opinion. The only way I’ve found to combat this ingrained negativity is through a super quick four-stage process.
First – a realistic look at the rewards of a task. The promise of freedom once I’ve finished is not a good motivator. It causes me to resent the task even more for making this freedom conditional. Instead, I ask myself – will I be happy and proud of myself that I have worked hard and done my best? I realise this sounds lame, but it works for me. Happiness from money and parties is fleeting, whilst the sense of fulfilment for finishing something difficult stays with me.
Second – comparing these rewards to the short-lived high from procrastination. If I spend an hour on Facebook, will I feel as good as if I had finished this presentation?
Next – evidence that I can do the task; for example: have a survived revising for an exam in the past? In the case of essay writing, I jot down five things I know about the subject.
Lastly – saying an internal affirmation. An ‘I can do this!’ type statement to get me pumped. Though not a scientist or psychologist, I think this gives me a shot of adrenaline that kick starts motivation. Now, without thinking, I can put pen to paper or fingers to keypad and pour out a start to the project.
Written by Hania Agnieszka