We’ve all done it — delayed a task (such as Christmas shopping) for hours or days, even though we knew we’d be better off doing it sooner. Over 80 percent of students procrastinate and about 20 percent of adults report regular procrastination. So what drives procrastination, and can we really blame the TV or internet?
It turns out that humans have been procrastinating for centuries, and even Socrates and Aristotle discussed putting something off in a lack of self-control. Big tasks becomes a symbol of stress and anxiety, causing us to push it off for something more appealing. The good news is that overcoming procrastination is possible with some self-care and goal-setting. When you’re able to separate your want-self from your should-self, it can make a world of difference.
What is Procrastination?
Procrastination is an act of unnecessary delay. In most cases, people who procrastinate know that they will not benefit from this delay or postponement, but they do it anyway. It acts as a barrier to achieving important, meaningful tasks and instead leads us to “waste time” on activities that are trivial or have little value. Chronic procrastinators have high levels of stress and often deal with health issues involving the brain and heart.
The causes of procrastination are based on mood regulation. When a task makes you feel stressed, anxious, bored or fearful, you are much more likely to delay it. This tends to become a vicious cycle that can impact both your mental and physical health.
A 2018 study found that adult employees spend about 90–180 minutes per workday (during work hours) on personal activities. This is said to cause an annual loss per employee of an estimated $8,875. Research published in Frontiers in Psychology notes that procrastinating is often associated with personal, cognitive, emotional and motivational factors. These factors contribute to our desires to find “last-minute,” thrilling experiences, according to researchers. It’s a short-term mood-regulation strategy that has long-term consequences.
5 Ways To Overcome Procrastination
1. Picture Your Future Self
Do you go to sleep with big plans for the next day, but in the morning you don’t feel nearly as motivated? This is a great example of future self vs. present self. It’s easy to plan for the future, but achieving short-term goals can be more difficult. This is why it helps to visualize what you want your future self to look like and make a realistic game plan. If it involves getting that promotion you’ve been waiting for, getting healthier, finally moving to a new place — whatever your long-term goals may be — keep them in the back of your mind daily so they keep you accountable. Picturing your future self also helps highlight your priorities, which should be considered when setting your daily schedule.
2. Keep Tight Deadlines
The more time you have to complete a task, the more you’re able to procrastinate. Research demonstrates that having less time actually makes you more productive, which is exactly why the four-day work week appears to work well in some occupational settings. To avoid putting things off, it may help to keep tight deadlines, fitting even mundane tasks into your calendar so when it’s not accomplished, there are immediate consequences. When you don’t meet personal daily deadlines, you experience feelings of guilt and failure, which isn’t ideal, of course — but you can work on using those negative feelings as a motivation to get things done on time. The positivity you feel afterward is much more rewarding.
3. Take Scheduled Breaks
Research on procrastination shows that we often delay working on stressful, difficult or boring tasks because another activity look more attractive. Taking a scheduled break from unpleasant tasks in order to relieve stress and boost mood can help promote productivity. The key is sticking to the schedule, of course. Include breaks from work and personal time in your daily schedule, and stick to it. Some great ways to spend personal time include outdoor walks, reading an inspirational book and gardening.
4. Set Limits
Are you spending way too much time on social media, surfing the internet or sitting in front of the TV? Try setting limits for yourself. This may look like 10 minutes of web browsing before lunch and 20 minutes after dinner. Again, this only works if you keep yourself accountable and track your activities, but with a little motivation, it can certainly help you achieve tasks and actually enjoy your well-earned free time.
5. Separate the Want-Self from the Should-Self
For procrastinators, there’s a pretty distinct difference between the want-self and should-self. The want-self loves social media, binging Netflix shows and shopping online, while the should-self is constantly anxious about the tasks that must be completed. Although the want-self is often stronger, the should-self is smarter and can grow stronger with consistency. Just being mindful of this distinction can help you notice when you are procrastinating and foresee the emotional consequences that are soon to come.
To overcome procrastination, it helps to keep a schedule, allow for guilt-free personal time, picture your future-self and create goals.