Have you ever started working on a task, only to find yourself obsessively watching funny cat videos on Youtube or reading articles about Justin Beaber’s latest blunders? Or perhaps you realise that you need to check your e-mails- or maybe clean your room even though you just tidied everything up a day ago and your laminate floor doesn’t even show the traces of a grain of dust.
With all the distractions available around us, it can be hard to focus on the things that need to be done. Countless opportunities for procrastination – in particular on social media – can get in the way of what we want to do.
But how can we stop this?
In this article, you’ll learn to understand why you love to procrastinate, and what you can do stop procrastination from interfering with your goals.
What’s the problem?
Why do we procrastinate?
On our first step to success we need to understand the psychology and the underlying causes of procrastination.
Fear of failure
We like to imagine everything that could go wrong, but:
- Is your dream uni going to reject you because you had a B in 10th grade?
- Will you be fired because you underperformed on a single task?
- Who will remember a year from now that you messed up your English assignment or your college exam?
It’s more helpful to have a positive outlook and deal with problems once they occure (NOT BEFORE).
To put theory into practise: Challenge yourself to fail regularly.
How? Try new things
Register for that free writing class you always wanted to take, but never had the courage to try. Discover martial arts by participating in the open house day of the local karate school or host a party for your friends.
Perfectionism can stem from a deep-rooted fear of failure. If you’re a perfectionist, you may struggle to take action unless you know that you will be totally satisfied once you’re done. You tend to worry whether your work will be good enough.
The difference between fear of failure and perfectionism is people with a fear of failure think that they cannot achieve anything at all, while perfectionists are afraid that they can’t meet their high standards.
Cure: Aim to be proud of completing work, not solely of achieving something
Or more specifically, reward yourself for doing something (the process/action) and not for the end result.
Low Energy Levels
Imagine that you’ve just gotten out of bed, and you have a 1,000 word essay due tomorrow. You can’t think straight, because you’ve slept only 6 hours last night, and you didn’t eat breakfast, because you thought you’d need the time to write your essay.
You sit down at your computer, open word and start typing. In an ideal world, you type until your essay is done. But what actually happens?
Your mind starts drifting and you think to yourself I’m so tired, I wanna sleep. You force yourself to focus, for 5 minutes for 10 minutes, but you don’t have the energy to go any further. You pretend you need to research something, you open google, and half an hour later, you haven’t put another word to paper, but read about Simon Cowell’s latest success, the future of the Internet and whatnot.
How can you avoid a scenario like this?
Cure: To be alert, and focussed, work on developing a healthier lifestyle. Try to excercise regularly, eat healthily and sleep well.
Lack of Focus
Maybe you don’t know what you want to do in life. Perhaps you’re just drifting day by day, and 2 years later, you’re still in the same position. Nothing has changed. You didn’t get round to creating your dream lifestyle, whether that means studying smart so you can go to Oxford, or perfecting your tennis skills.
A lack of focus is often a lack of goals.
Cure: Figure out what you want to and set specific and actionable goals to achieve your dreams.
You may not always be to blame for procrastination (particularly if you struggle only on doing specific assignments). In fact, you may want to blame your teacher.
Yes, you heard that right. It could be your teachers fault!
Researchers Ackerman and Gross (2005) have discovered the Top 5 Task-Related Factors that Encourage Procrastination.
Top 5 Reasons Why You Procrastinate on Assignments
- Lack of Clarity Do you know what your teacher wants you to do? Do you understand the question you’re being asked? Feeling unsure about what you need to do is the biggest contributor to procrastination. So make sure your project is a 100% clear on the day it’s assigned.
- Too difficult If you don’t know how to do something, you may feel the urge to avoid it. But if you find help within 48 hours of encountering the problem, you’ll learn to avoid leaving uncertainties to the last minute, and you’ll be less stressed before a test.
- Time consuming
You (and any other student) would usually do better on a 500 word essay than a 1000 word essay. A note to college professors: if you desperately want to help your students when writing a lenghty paper, you can break down the assignment into multiple stages, each stage with its own deadline.
- Large variety of skills required to complete task If you need to think critically, and apply your knowledge from a variety of areas, you may feel overwhelmed. (This can be avoided by taking regular breaks and working in short concentrated bursts.)
- Lack of Interest When you are bored or disengaged, the short-term rewards of quitting work appear even greater than usual, whereas the long-term benefits can be too far away to motivate you.
Source: Ackerman, D. S., & Gross, B. L. (2005). My Instructor Made Me Do It: Task Characteristics of Procrastination. Journal of Marketing Education
How to Stop Procrastinating: 3 Easy Tips
[Partially adapted from iwillteachyoutoberich.com]
Ditch the excuses and stop lying
It’s convenient to use excuses so we don’t have to take action. How many times have you said something like this:
- I’m sorry. I don’t have time right know.
- I’m to busy right know, but I’ll start when…
- I’ll try to make it next time
You’ve probably noticed that the 3 sentences all blame inaction on a lack of time.
But the truth is that we all have the same amount of time. So why can’t you write the book you’ve always wanted to write, and do things you wanted to do, while people like Bill Gates, Ramit Sethi and many more are highly successful? What do they do differently than the rest of us?
They secret shared by all experts is to let go of the things you don’t care about and focus on what really matters. And be honest about it. If you don’t want to do something, say it (but in a nice way):
- That sounds like a really fun thing to do, but I’m currently working XYZ, and I’d like to get that done first.
- I’d love join you, but for this month I’ve made my first priority to focus on ABC.
Build a stack of mini-habits
Part of the reason why we procrastinate is that we don’t know where to start, or that a task seems like so much work that we don’t want to do it.
Would you like to write a 10,000 word essay, or would you prefer to just come up with a good topic? If you’re like most people, you’ll go for the second option. It’s easier. And faster.
What can we learn from this? When you have big projects, try to focus on the small steps you can take to move closer to your goals.
Think of the tiny habits you can build today:
- Do 1 pushup a day
- Learn 5 new flashcards a day
- Read 10 minutes each night before bedtime
And you can expand from there…
Action Step: Decide on a small habit you want to build into your daily routine. Make it as simple as possible to follow through. Do this habit for 2 weeks and then ramp up slowly. For more effect, add new habits to already existing habits e.g. After you brush your teeth, you do 5 squats.
E-mail your work to your friends or practise a presentation over Skype a week before it is due. You can exchange ideas, give feedback and most importantly you make sure that both of you are keeping up.
Use this script today to ask your friends to help you out:
I’m struggling with [xyz]. I [describe problem], but I’d like to change that, so [describe benefit of overcoming the problem].
I think it would help me if you could keep me accountable and in return I would check on you. We could [suggested action], and send each other reminders to stay on track.
Please let me know if you’re interested, so we can talk about the details.
For chronic procrastinators
I’ll finish this post up with a great video on procrastination. After you’ve watched the short clip, please comment below. I’d love to hear your feedback.