…but it all came down to the “p” word:
Delaying or putting something off. Think of waiting until the night before a test to study or leaving housecleaning until the day company is arriving. It pretty much boils down to avoiding something that needs to be done in the future in favour of something else we’d rather do in the present. We choose what we will get now instead of what we will get in the future.
For example, we have an assignment due in a week for a class we’re taking. While we know that starting it now will give us more time to complete it, we put it off. Watching a movie instead will be fun right now – an instant reward – while we won’t have the satisfaction of completing the assignment for a week – a delayed reward. So, we pick the instant reward over the delayed reward and watch a movie, maybe for a series of days.
By this point, we’re getting more anxious about the assignment with only a few days left to go until the due date. So, the reward of getting it done becomes more immediate – a few days in the future is closer than a week – and we may finally tackle the job.
Other than choosing an instant reward over a delayed one, what else can lead to procrastination?
- Fear of failure. If we’re not sure of how well we’ll do on the task, we may avoid it rather than face the fear.
- Dislike of the task. Face it…studying for a test or cleaning the house doesn’t float everyone’s boat and the relief of having it done may not be enough motivation to actually do it.
- Overwhelm. When we have lots going on and limited time, it’s likely we’ll put off what we think we can and even what we know we can’t.
- Sending a message. Say we have a co-worker who we don’t really like and this co-worker asks us to do something for him. Procrastinating on it may be a subconscious way of communicating our dislike and reluctance to help or support him.
Often, the procrastination or dread of a task is actually worse than doing the task itself. Think about how we feel and what we may say to ourselves while procrastinating: “I shouldn’t be doing this,” “Why am I so lazy?”, “How am I going to get this done on time?” All that takes a toll on our stress and anxiety levels.
So, what can we do to address procrastination? Here are a few tips:
- Just start. Even if we don’t finish the whole task, even just a small start can motivate us to keep going. We don’t have to be perfect from the start…we just need to start.
- Break up the task into smaller steps. Writing our whole assignment in one sitting can feel overwhelming, but can we get our outline done today, our first point written tomorrow, and so on until we have it done? We’re less likely to procrastinate on a task that seems manageable.
- Ask for help. Could someone else’s encouragement or guidance help address why we’re procrastinating?
- Set up rewards. Could playing our favourite music while doing the task help us start and keep going? How about treating ourselves to a favourite cup of tea when we accomplish part of a task? This can create those more instant rewards and reduce the chance that we’ll procrastinate.
Now to get to that housecleaning…