What’s the Meaning of Procrastination
The English Poet Edward Young once wrote, “Procrastination is the thief of time.”
A less poetic definition of procrastination would be simply avoiding doing a task that needs to be accomplished. Or, mathematically, you could look at it like this:
Procrastination = (delay + postponing) x Action
You may choose to do more pleasurable things, like browse the internet or watch television, instead of doing a less pleasurable task like cleaning or doing assigned work. Or, maybe you have a long list of to-dos, and you procrastinate by carrying out the easier, less urgent tasks instead of the most urgent and hardest task.
If you’re reading this, you’re likely guilty of procrastinating from time to time.
For some of us, though, procrastination can be incredibly detrimental.
In fact, one out of five people procrastinates so badly that it can potentially jeopardise jobs, relationships, finances, and health.
In a study of academic procrastination conducted by the University of Vermont, 46% of the participants reported that they “always” or “nearly always” procrastinated while writing papers. In a 2007 study, it was found that 80 to 95% of college students procrastinate. Other studies have found that procrastination rates have more than quadrupled in the last 30 years.
It’s easy to see why rates have gotten so high. With modern technology, procrastination is easier than ever. You feel like you want to give your mind a quick break from the less pleasurable task you are working on, so you open a new tab, and the next thing you know, you’ve been watching cat videos for two hours on YouTube.
There are so many modern distractions that make procrastination easier than ever.
Even though I’m giving you this information about procrastination, and how to beat it, that doesn’t mean I am immune to procrastination in any way.
In fact, if there were a career in procrastination, I would be killing it. I consider myself a master in the art of procrastination. For about 99% of my tasks, I wait until the last minute to get it done. Of course, I tell myself that I like a challenge, and I work best under pressure.
Unfortunately, this cycle of procrastination is to my detriment. If you’re one of the 20% of people who chronically avoid unpleasant tasks and actively look for distractions, you’re probably familiar with the feelings of anxiety, stress, and unnecessary regret that comes along with chronic procrastination.
The good news is, you’ve acknowledged the fact that you are a procrastinator, and that is the first step to making improvements.
Secondly, you need to understand the way you procrastinate. Do you distract yourself with technology? Do you do less important tasks instead of the big task at hand? Or, do you just wait and wait until you have no more time to wait, prompting you to take action?
It’s important to know that all of these ways are related to self-control or lack thereof.
In this post, we’re going to talk about how procrastination affects you, why you procrastinate, who is your “back seat driver” when it comes to procrastination, how you can use procrastination to our advantage, and how you can set up your mind to take action effortlessly.
By the end of this book, you should become more aware of your procrastination triggers, and you’ll be much more adept at handling procrastination in similar situations, and eventually overcome it all together.
At this point, you may be tempted to step away from this post and distract yourself with something else.
Make this your first step towards beating procrastination, and instead, let’s dive right in and tackle procrastination.
Why do we Procrastinate
Let’s look at procrastination from a different perspective.
Imagine that you are driving your car, and you have a passenger in the back seat. It’s not just any passenger, though. It is the dreaded backseat driver. You know the type – this person is along for the ride, but all he seems to do is critique your driving abilities.
He constantly gives directions to you throughout the whole journey, even though you are the driver. As the driver, you have the unique responsibility of being the decision maker, as well.
You are travelling along your route. Let’s say, in this instance, you are on your way to work. You know the best way to get to work, and you drive confidently, happily, and in control. Now, your back seat passenger starts to bark directions at you and tell you that you are going about things in the wrong way.
Even though this back seat driver has no real control over the car, he is so outspoken and appealing that he begins to influence your driving. You slow down a little bit, you take a left when you should have taken a right, and you make a couple of pit stops you didn’t intend to take.
You don’t necessarily want to do these things, but the back seat driver is compelling, and you give in to his demands.
Now, let’s relate this scenario back to procrastination. Your confident and happy driver persona is your rational inner voice. This voice is what you rely on to make your daily decisions, and it sticks with you throughout your life. You’d be doing great if you were able to only listen to your rational voice.
The back seat driver in this story is your lack of self-control and your primal desire for instant gratification. It’s easy to blame procrastination on the enticing distractions that exist, and it’s easy to tell yourself that the tasks you are distracting yourself with are just as important as the one you are avoiding.
However, the only blame for procrastination is your lack of self-control.
Think about a batch of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies (or whatever your Achilles heel of the snack world is). You start by saying you’ll only have one, but that quickly turns into three, then five due to a lack of self-control.
In most instances, you can exercise good self-control. However, when it comes to procrastination (or snacks), there are certain triggers that cause your self-control to become non-existent.
Part of beating procrastination comes with avoiding these triggers.
Trigger 1: The Passing of Time
Let’s go back to the back seat driver analogy. You’ve taken too many detours and made too many pit stops, and now you’re going to be late to work.
You start to think of your boss and how upset she’s going to be when you arrive late.
All this time, the one thing your back seat driver has been trying to do is keep you away from your job, and as the clock ticks down, you realise you can no longer avoid it.
Now, you’ve reached your breaking point, or your “oh crap” moment, and you finally steer your car in the right direction.
As you get closer to work, your back seat driver finally decides to bail. Without the demands and critiques from the back seat driver, a strange silence fills the car, accompanied by a sense of dread and anxiety as you realise the mess you are in.
Trigger 2: Instant Gratification
The back seat driver story is a broad illustration of the general process of procrastination, but it raises an important question.
Why do we have the urge for instant gratification?
Thanks to our primitive brains, we value immediate rewards much more than future rewards.
You may be thinking, “But, I make all sorts of plans for the future, and I can see the long-term benefits of my decisions.” That is true.
Your brain does enjoy planning for your future self. It’s easy to sit, think, and plan, and it’s gratifying to imagine how those decisions play out for your long-term benefit.
The struggle happens when it comes time to act on those plans. In that moment, your brain discards the future self and sees only the present self as it is closer to the here and now.
Your present self loves instant gratification and to get pleasure right on the spot.
This is how you end up in the “dark playground” of procrastination. You know the place well. It is full of leisure activities that you participate in when you shouldn’t be.
The reason the playground is dark, though, is because it is supposed to be fun, but it is filled with feelings of guilt and anxiety.
Sometimes, the rational part of you can overcome, and you can stop with the leisure activities.
However, the instant gratification part still plays a big role, and you end up doing unimportant tasks that give you a sense of being productive while still avoiding the important task at hand.
When you don’t keep your primitive brain in check, it will always choose the present pleasure over the future, regardless of how many long-term benefits are at play.
In order to beat procrastination and have more success in life, you need to train your brain to delay gratification.
Find Your Tipping Point
When you are finding yourself giving in to the instant gratification of procrastination, pay attention to what got you to that point.
You’ll start to notice a theme in your decision making, and you’ll find that there is a specific time when the war is won or lost, and you procrastinate.
This is your tipping point that you need to look out for.
Once you know your tipping point, you will be much more equipped at overcoming it with one of the techniques we’ll discuss later, combined with persistence and a strong belief that it is possible.
When you can defeat your tipping point, you’ll build up an immunity to it, and it’ll get easier to be productive with less effort.
While your brain is working hard to avoid the unpleasant tasks, remember that procrastination itself is unpleasant.
It wastes time, leaving you with no sense of accomplishment.
What’s worse is you often feel regret, guilt, and self-hatred over not reaching your potential.
Sir Isaac Newton famously determined that objects in motion stay in motion. The most important thing to do is start, and once you get the ball rolling on beating procrastination, it’ll become easier.
Remember that “someday” is not on the calendar.
Procrastination Mind Games: It’s not all bad!
Is Procrastination a Good Thing?
In some instances, it is possible that procrastination can be a good thing.
However, it’s vital that you don’t subscribe to that belief every day.
Here are some of the way procrastination can potentially be a good thing.
– You have a long to-do list. You avoid the most important item by completing easier or smaller tasks on the list. These tasks are still a part of your bigger goal, and it follows the same law of inertia, that once you get in motion, you’ll stay in motion.
– You have to make a big decision, and you’ve been putting it off. You have a deadline, and you’re waiting for the last possible minute to make your decision. In this instance, procrastinating your decision could help you evaluate your choices before acting, helping you make the best possible choice.
– You link a necessary task to a leisurely activity you procrastinate with. For example, instead of avoiding exercise with a book, you listen to an audiobook while you exercise. Or, you watch television while you fold laundry rather than avoid the laundry altogether.
The one thing that links all of these “good procrastination” examples is that you are still productive overall. You are still moving forward rather than standing still, which is key to staying in motion.
Mind Games: Change the Way You Think
The “good procrastination” examples above are ways in which you trick your brain into thinking it’s getting instant gratification while still being productive.
Here are a few more ways to influence the way your brain works and the way you think.
– Internalise the fact that everything is a choice, and you have the power to choose the way you spend your time.
– A persistent process will yield the wanted results. If you give into procrastination one time, try and try again to not give in the next time until it becomes natural.
– Always step back and look at the situation. STOP — THINK — DECIDE
– Ask yourself, “What does my procrastination cost me?” You may discover that you are losing more time, money, effort, freedom, and peace of mind than you realised.
– Differentiate between urgent and important.
– Remember that procrastination never disappears. It just becomes dormant, waiting for its next opportunity. Be prepared for it to strike again.
– The primitive brain wants to take the short and fast route with the least resistance. It wants to move to pleasure and away from pain. It always chooses the current you over the future you. Your rational brain needs to become stronger than your primitive brain when it comes to procrastination.
A solid game plan: 17 ways to overcome Procrastination
Your Procrastination-Beating Game Plan
Overcoming procrastination is akin to determining your personality. The methods below will supply you with a list of options to experiment with until you find what best suits your style of procrastination.
You may find that a combination of methods works for you. Have fun with this process of discovering what works for you, and cultivate it into your own system of overcoming the back seat driver of instant gratification.
Most of these techniques main ingredient is to reduce the decision-making process. Whenever you have to decide, you give yourself a choice to procrastinate.
As I mentioned earlier, it is a choice to procrastinate or take action. Decisions drain willpower, which results in decision fatigue, which leads to bad decisions.
Reducing the occurrence of decision making increases your chances of overcoming procrastination.
For example, if you struggle to decide what to cook if you aim to eat healthy, plan your menu for the week, and take out the think process of what to prepare.
Accountability and Support
Publicly sharing what you want to achieve allows you to feel the pushing power of shame that will help hold you accountable for your actions and push you to be productive.
Accountability a Step Further
Put your money where your mouth is. Upping the stakes with some cash is a great motivation, especially if you are competing for it with friends.
Awaken a sense of competition, and give yourself some real consequences if you don’t achieve your goals.
If you don’t have competitors, choose a charity or organisation that you’d rather not support, and pay them a certain amount if you do not achieve your goal.
Create a path of least resistance for yourself by creating a space around you, so you are prone to take action. An example is to put your running shoes next to your bed. Or to set the alarm to remind you to phone a friend on his birthday.
Design future actions to reduce the effort required to achieve your goal. On the flip side, increase the obstacles or cost of bad behaviours to make them easier to avoid.
Positive Restrictions or Constraints
Set the next deadline for your project two days earlier than it needs to be, and stick to completing it in that time.
Constraining any of your resources available will spark creativity and urgency to get the job done. Green Eggs and Ham is a best-selling children’s book by Dr. Seuss that was written using only 50 different words. What can you accomplish with limited resources?
Aim for Progress Instead of Big-as-Possible Returns
Momentum is a strong force. Instead of aiming to run 50km by a certain time, aim to run 30 minutes each day.
5 Minute Try-Out: Start Small
You need to write a report due in three weeks. No motivation exists, and your will power is low. Tell yourself that if you do five minutes of writing, you are done.
You’ll typically find that you end up spending more time writing than just the five minutes you promised yourself. If you only do the five minutes, that’s still ok, as that is what you set out to achieve.
Chain Letter Strategy
Remember those chain letters that used to do the rounds? I disliked those but here is a positive spin on the idea.
See how long of a chain you can build of successfully taking action every day. Mark it out in your planner and challenge yourself to see how long you can go before breaking the chain.
This process-based technique will get you in the habit of doing, and before you know it, it’ll become automatic.
It’s a Date
Booking a specific time and place for your activity in the future is a great way of reducing your decision making in that moment, and it creates a responsibility to comply with your set request.
Thinking of the consequences in the future of not doing a certain task or activity can bring a lot of emotions of pain.
We are more prone to avoid pain, so visualise the task not being done, and all of the pain you will incur from that decision.
A big daunting task like eating an elephant can be intimidating if you tackle it all at once. Aim for short time-based sprints.
For example, spend 30 minutes focused on what needs to get done.
Complete a number of 30-minute sessions, and you will be astonished at how little of the elephant is left.
In cricket, your aim as a bowler is to get the wicket of your opponent by breaking one of his three wickets. As a bowler, you decide at which of the three wickets you will aim. You run in to bowl and hit the wicket.
Every night or early morning, sit down and write the three most important tasks you would like to get done.
When you start in the morning, focus on the most important one and get it done.
Continue this for the other two, and repeat the process the next day. In a short time, you will end up as an acclaimed wicket taker by reducing the friction of the start and decision making and increasing focus.
Stack the activity to something you are already doing. Want to drink more water?
Put a glass of water next to the coffee machine you visit routinely every morning. Not brushing enough? Put the toothbrush in the shower with you.
It will engrain that you need to brush either before or after your shower and will instil it as a habit.
Low on Motivation and Willpower
Get moving! You can change your state immediately by getting into motion by dancing, shouting, or shaking your arms.
A brisk walk can do wonders if you do not feel like doing much. Afterwards, you will feel energised and ready to go again.
Are you getting enough sleep? Tiredness affects decision making, and as you know by now, it will influence your ability to take action. Make sure you get the right amount of sleep needed.
Get Organised with Planning and To Do Lists
Planning your day and listing your tasks is a great remedy against procrastination by reducing decision making and friction of excuses.
Getting yourself and things organised can also help with fewer excuses and reducing feelings of overwhelm.
There is a saying that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
Spending time with successful and smarter people than you is like rocket fuel, and it will boost you into taking action.
Mentors can also be a great outside source or if you mimic someone who has done what you want t to achieve.
Self-talk is a silent assassin that gets by unnoticed, yet it influences us in a major way.
Make sure your inner voice is on your side and speaks the same positive language.
I hope that this was helpful and that you can implement some of the techniques. I found that the skill of taking action helps in all areas of your life, and it is a great skill to have in your arsenal.
Summary: 5 Easy Steps to stop procrastinating
So what do you do now?
Here is a summary of the actionable steps you can start to take TODAY!
I suggest writing it down and put the paper up where you can see it every day until you succeed!
1. Understand how procrastination works.
2. Make the decision to take responsibility.
3. Become aware why you’re procrastinating and what is your tipping point.
4. Get your mindset right and change the way you think about procrastination.
5. Have fun and try out the different techniques and find the one that works for you!