Everyone procrastinates. There’s no disputing it. When deadlines are fast approaching who hasn’t switched on the TV or opened Facebook and scrolled for hours to put off completing the task at hand? There is a difference, however, between procrastinating occasionally and procrastinating chronically.
There has been a great deal of research into the psychology behind procrastination. Results of empirical studies have shown that personality traits, mood and cognition are behind procrastinating. For instance, psychologist Piers Steel claims that people who do not procrastinate tend to be more conscientious. This personality trait is associated with the ability to exhibit self-discipline, persistence in the face of adversity and personal responsibility. Furthermore, people who do not procrastinate tend to have a stronger sense of personal identity and do not care as much about what other people think of them. Procrastinators, on the other hand, tend to be more impulsive and lack self-discipline. They prefer to live in the immediate present without thinking of the consequences of the future.
In addition, the ability to self-regulate is crucial to eliminating procrastination. Fuschia Sirois of Bishop’s University, in Canada claims that emotional regulation is key to preventing procrastination. He believes that people who procrastinate emphasize feeling good in the present without considering the future repercussions of their choices. Their goal is to feel at ease in the present; however, the very act of procrastinating elevates levels of guilt. This leads to feeling stressed and not feeling particularly good in the present or in the future. This lowers one’s sense of well-being. People may procrastinate due to an innate fear of failure. They therefore handicap themselves in order to feel that the impending failure would be due to lack of effort rather than lacking in the ability and skills to complete a task. Furthermore, many people who procrastinate tend to believe that they should wait to be in the right frame of mood to complete a task. They need to feel some sort of motivation and inspiration. As compelling as this may seem, this surge in inspiration may never come or may not be captivating enough to get the task done.
Moreover, there are many cognitive distortions that fuel procrastination. Ferrari, Johnson, and McCown identified several: overestimating the amount of time left to complete a task, overestimating future motivation to complete a task and underestimating the length of time the task will take. Fortunately, there are some interventions and techniques to help counteract procrastination. These include:
- Writing to-do lists with a time frame
- Breaking projects down into manageable chunks
- Recognising when you start procrastinating and try to resist it- once you realise that getting started is the hardest part, the task may appear less daunting
- Making realistic goals for yourself
- Eliminating distractions as much as possible- switch off your phone for a certain amount of time, work in a room without a TV, use your computer only for things related to the task etc.
- Counselling- talking to a professional may help one realise the debilitating effects procrastination can have in one’s life. Also a professional may help one overcome the anxieties and insecurities one may have regarding completing tasks
- Try and make the tasks meaningful in some way
- Make sure to have a reward for yourself waiting once the task is done!!
Finally an interesting tip would be to break down timeframes. Rather than say that you have one month to finish a project, tell yourself that you have 30 days. Recent research shows that breaking down time into smaller units motivates people to get things done. It helps people think about the future more urgently and convinces people that deadlines are more immediate than they actually are.
In conclusion, chronic procrastination is not something to be taken lightly and time is not something to be treated carelessly. Time is not refillable or replaceable. Once gone, it is gone forever. Sometimes we do not realise how precious it is or how fast it goes. In Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Alice asks the rabbit, “How long is forever?” to which he responds, “Sometimes, just one second.” It is time to value each and every one of those seconds and make the most of them.
American Psychological Association. (April 5, 2010). Psychology of Procrastination: Why People Put Off Important Tasks Until the Last Minute [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2010/04/procrastination.aspx
Cherry, K. (n.d.). The Psychology of Procrastination. About Education. Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/od/the-psychology-of/a/psychology-of-procrastination.htm
Cherry, K. (n.d.). Tips for Overcoming Procrastination. About Education. Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/od/psychologystudytips/tp/tips-for-overcoming-procrastination.htm
Hammond, C. (Writer). (May 12, 2015). Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Social Media and PTSD, Preventing Procrastination [Radio series episode]. All in the Mind. UK: BBC Radio 4.
Jaffe, E. (April, 2013). Why Wait? The Science Behind Procrastination. Observer, 26 (4). Retrieved from http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2013/april-13/why-wait-the-science-behind-procrastination.html
Image Credit: Culture Decanted. (April 11, 2015). Have we become the white rabbit? The experience of time in the postmodern era. Culture Decanted. Retrieved from http://culturedecanted.com/2015/04/11/have-we-become-the-white-rabbit-the-experience-of-time-in-the-postmodern-era/