What is Procrastination?
Procrastination can be defined as “The action of delaying or postponing something.” So the first step is to stop procrastinating. How ironic.
But not really. The website Wait But Why explains more on the procrastination phenomenon.
No, “avoid procrastination” is only good advice for fake procrastinators—those people that are like, “I totally go on Facebook a few times every day at work—I’m such a procrastinator!” The same people that will say to a real procrastinator something like, “Just don’t procrastinate and you’ll be fine.”
The thing that neither the dictionary nor fake procrastinators understand is that for a real procrastinator, procrastination isn’t optional—it’s something they don’t know how to not do.
Why Is Procrastination Bad?
It’s Unpleasant: Too much of the procrastinator’s time is spent doing less important things, time that could have been spent accomplishing his or her tasks and then enjoying some well-earned leisure activities had they been done on a good schedule. Panic is not good for anyone involved.
The Procrastinator sells himself or herself short: He or she underachieves and doesn’t reach his or her potential, eating away over time, filling with regret and self-loathing.
The Have-To-Dos might happen, but not the Want-To-Dos: While the procrastinator might have the type of work where the “Panic Monster” is very clear and present, other aspects of his life – working out, learning new things, going back to school, family life – don’t happen because the “Panic Monster” is otherwise not involved.
These sort of things enhance our life experiences, make us better and happier. For most procrastinators, they get left behind.
This is why procrastination is not at all healthy.
Why Do People Procrastinate?
To get a better idea of why people procrastinate, it’s good to gain a perspective from author and photographer James Clear.
The best way to understand this is by imagining that you have two selves: your Present Self and your Future Self. When you set goals for yourself — like losing weight or writing a book or learning a language — you are actually making plans for your Future Self. You are envisioning what you want your life to be like in the future. Researchers have found that when you think about your Future Self, it is quite easy for your brain to see the value in taking actions with long-term benefits. The Future Self values long-term rewards.
However, while the Future Self can set goals, only the Present Self can take action. When the time comes to make a decision, you are no longer making a choice for your Future Self. Now you are in the present moment, and your brain is thinking about the Present Self. Researchers have discovered that the Present Self really likes instant gratification, not long-term payoff.
Characteristics of A Procrastinator
Here’s a few characteristics of a procrastinator from California Polytechnic State University:
Low Self-Confidence- The procrastinator may struggle with feelings of low self-confidence and low self-esteem. He may insist upon a high level of performance even though he may feel inadequate or incapable of actually achieving that level.
I’m Too Busy- Procrastination may be used to call attention to how busy he is. “Obviously I cannot do such and such because my affairs are so complicated and so demanding. That is why I am late, etc.” The procrastinator may even spend considerable time justifying his reasons, time that could be spent doing the work.
Stubbornness- Procrastination may be used as an expression of stubbornness or pride: “Don’t think you can push me around. I will do it when I’m good and ready.”
Manipulation- Procrastination may be used to control or manipulate the behavior of others. “They cannot start if I am not there.” Let’s face it: deliberate delay drives others crazy.
Coping with Pressures- Procrastination is often truly difficult to eradicate since the delay behavior has become a method of coping with day-to-day pressures and experiences. Obviously if one is cured, others will put new demands and expectations upon you. It’s easier to have an excuse, to delay, to put off.
A Frustrated Victim- The procrastinator often feels like a victim: he cannot understand his behavior or why he cannot get work done like others. The whole thing is a frustrating mystery. The reasons for his behavior are hidden from him.
From Procrastination to Precrastination: How To Kick The Habit
Clear lays out four ways that will help you kick procrastination to the point where you’re asking yourself: “Wait but why procrastination?”
- Make the rewards of action more immediate
- Make the consequences of procrastination more immediate
- Design your future actions
- Make the task more achievable
Make The Rewards Of Action More Immediate
As Clear notes, one of the best ways to bring future rewards to the present is implement a strategy known as temptation bundling.
Temptation bundling was a concept contrived by Katy Milkman from The University of Pennsylvania. This strategy suggests you put together a behavior that’s good for you in the short-term with a behavior that’s good for you in the long term. Clear puts forth some examples:
- Only listen to audiobooks or podcasts you love while exercising.
- Get a pedicure only while processing overdue work emails.
- Only watch your favorite show while ironing or doing household chores.
- Only eat at your favorite restaurant when conducting your monthly meeting with a difficult colleague.
Make the Consequences of Procrastination More Immediate
If you miss a workout on your own, it won’t impact your life that much and your health won’t really be affected. One workout missed won’t change that much. The cost of procrastinating only gets worse after weeks and months after acting lazily.
However, if you schedule a workout with a friend and miss it, you end up looking like a jerk. A good strategy is to use a service like Stickk to place a bet. If you don’t follow up on your schedule, the money goes to a charity you don’t like. The idea is to put your money where your mouth is.
Design Your Future Actions
Psychologists love using what’s called a “commitment device” to overcome procrastination. This can help by scheduling your actions ahead of time. Here’s some examples:
- Purchase your food in small packages instead of bulk size
- Stop wasting time on smartphone by deleting games/social media apps
- Hide your TV and only take it out for key shows or gameday
- Automatic transfer of funds to savings account
Make The Task More Achievable
Clear notes that once you begin it’s less painful to continue, as once you start, as if your habits are small and easy to do then you will be less likely to procrastinate. He continues:
One of my favorite ways to make habits easier is to use The 2-Minute Rule, which states, “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”
The idea is to make it as easy as possible to get started and then trust that momentum will carry you further into the task after you begin. Once you start doing something, it’s easier to continue doing it. The 2–Minute Rule overcomes procrastination and laziness by making it so easy to start taking action that you can’t say no.
It’s important to make your tasks achievable for two main reasons:
- Small measures of progress help us maintain momentum over time, meaning you’re likely to finish big tasks.
- The faster you complete a task, the quicker your day develops an attitude of productivity.
How to Defeat Procrastination
As Clear clearly notes, people slip into procrastination so easily not so much because they don’t care about their tasks, but they don’t have a system in which to accomplish them.
This is the Ivy Lee Method, which has the following steps:
- At the end of each work day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
- Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
- Concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
- Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
- Repeat this process every working day.
Why Does The Ivy Lee Method Work So Well For Procrastination?
Here are just a few reasons:
- This method is simple enough to work
- It forces you to make tough decisions
- It removes the friction of starting
- This method requires you to single-task
This Method is Simple Enough to Work
One critique of the Ivy Lee Method and other comparable methods is that they are too basic. What about an emergency? What about using technology to our advantage? Clear argues that complexity is a disadvantage because it makes us harder to get back on track.
There is no doubt that the unexpected will arise. Deal with them as needed and ignore when possible. Use simple rules to deal with otherwise complex behavior.
It Forces You to Make Tough Decisions
There isn’t anything firm about six tasks. You can have four or five tasks, but there is something to be said about imposing limits on yourself.
Clear asserts the best thing to do when you have too many ideas or tasks is take account what must be done. Then after that, trim away the things that aren’t absolutely necessary.
Lee’s method is comparable to Warren Buffet’s 25-5 Rule, which makes you focus on your five most important tasks and ignore everything else. Essentially, if you commit to nothing, you’ll be distracted by everything.
It Removes the Friction of Starting
The biggest challenge to finishing a task is beginning one. Lee’s method forces you to prioritize which one to do first the night before. This can be useful for you. You wake up and get right to your list without even thinking about it.
It Requires You to Single-Task
Today’s society really loves multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is a myth synonymous with producing better work, but the exact opposite is true. Fewer priorities will lead to better work.
The best experts in all the world all have one characteristic in common: focus. It’s impossible to be great at one task if your time is being divided in multiple ways.