Procrastination: Identify and Resolve
Are you a serial procrastinator? Do you ever promise yourself or others that you’ll do something but leave it to the very last minute? Do you put off doing things you know should have done much earlier? “Does the phrase “A stitch in time, saves 9” pass completely over your head?
If this sounds like you, then please read on. This week’s blog will be discussing procrastination and its real meaning. The pros and cons and science behind procrastination, the reasons we do it, along with solutions to resolving it.
Postponement, adjournment, delay, stall or defer are all terms associated with procrastination. The Collins English Dictionary defines procrastination as “To put off or defer (an action) until a later time; delay”. We can delay, postpone and stall on an action because there may be some very good reasons for not taking action at that particular moment in time. CEO of a global company Lolly Daskal’s (2016) writes an article 7 reasons why we need to embrace procrastination. In it she explains that procrastination can bring wisdom, greater insight, can give time to calm situations and rationalise. That it helps to resist peer pressure, nurtures creativity, lends opportunity for clarification.
We could also suppose that this term presumes that we will use this postponement time to action something in between, whether that be through thought or deed, in order to progress from the current situation. So procrastination when viewed in these terms would actually be considered wise, beneficial and appropriate, and not something to be avoided.
However, this is not the term I refer to when I write about procrastination. No, the term procrastination I refer to is more derogatory, a none-favourable attribute. This term is best described in the Oxford English Dictionary, and that is “often with the sense of deferring though indecision, when early action would have been preferable," or as "deferring an action, especially without good reason." The American Heritage Dictionary offers the term as “To keep delaying something that must be done, often because it is unpleasant or boring. Other dictionaries mention, laziness, slowness, etc. When procrastination is mirrored in these terms it can become a source of anxiety and distress in your life but also detrimental to your effectiveness and reputation.
The science behind procrastination has identified that this trait is a uniquely human characteristic and something we all do from time to time. According to Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Carleton University, in Ottawa, procrastination is a battle between the hugely influential Limbic System, which is where our internal warning system, emotions, instincts and memories are formed, and the pre-frontal cortex. This is the weaker, but more action driven area of the brain, which allows you to make decisions. According to Pychyl, when our brains are not consciously engaged, the Limbic System takes over and gives in to whatever makes us feel good, or something we’d prefer to do in its place.
4 Reasons why we Procrastinate
1/ Too many tasks and too little time – feeling overwhelmed
When too many other things take priority, it can feel overwhelming, but it’s often due to lack of structure, and organisation. We say yes when really we should be saying no sometimes. Be realistic on what you can and can’t do, but in order to do this you need to know what you’re already committed to doing.
The resolution: Get organised!
· Use calendars – on your phone or pc calendar pre-set alerts and share them with the appropriate people.
· A daily list of to do’s, with dates and times for focusing on the task. Detail the time you have to spend on it. Prioritise, then stick to it!
· Avoid over-exaggerating what you can do. Only list what you definitely can achieve, not what you’d like to achieve. This will allow for greater flexibility, and helps to avoid the disappointment of failure to complete tasks. The purpose is to build your confidence.
· Be assertive - say no to others requests when your schedule is getting full.
2/ Unpleasant / boring tasks
Many jobs have unpleasant or boring aspects to them; responding to emails, housework, essay writing etc. The trick is getting it over and done with as soon as possible or distracting yourself while doing the task.
· Consciously put time by and just do it! One hit! A bit like ripping off a plaster
· If a task is particularly unpleasant to you then break it down into bitesize segments that are more palatable to you.
· If a friend has the time to help, and it’s appropriate, pull them in too. Being around friends can make any task more fun and agreeable.
· Think about the end result and what you’ve achieved by doing it.
· Use the time productively, think of other things while you’re doing mundane tasks
· Housework - turn on your music and have a dance and sing along.
· Reward yourself in some small way for completing the task.
3/ Stepping out of our comfort zone and fear of failure
Fear is an emotional response to a particular situation. Break it down! Ask yourself what exactly is the fear you’re feeling? Is it rational? Have you any evidence of anything similar going wrong before? If you have, what have you learnt from that situation that could bring more positive outcomes? Our minds like to play tricks on us, and things are rarely as bad as we imagine they’ll be. Remember fear is an illusion when life is not under threat. Fear limits you from discovering your potential.
· Identify what the actual fear is and then look for ways of combatting it
· If you’re not sure how to do something, find out who have done this before and ask them for tips and advice. This is also a great way of making new contacts and friends.
· Watch instructional videos and find techniques that help you.
4/ Thrill seeking
The thrill of completing a task so close to a deadline is a bit of an adrenaline rush for some, and the reward is delivering the goods at the critical time. If you arrive just on time to a train station when you’re with a group, you may not see the point of arriving earlier. However, you may want to consider how other individuals, who are not thrill seekers, react and feel when they are waiting on you to deliver or arrive. This can often be a source of great stress and anxiety for them.
· Take others emotions into consideration. Agree a time and date that you’ll deliver the goods
· Turn up 10 minutes earlier than you would normally do. This will give others more confidence in you and help to relax those around you. This will probably increase your reputation with your peers as being a trustworthy and reliable individual.
Now that you know what the term procrastination truly means, why we do it and what we can do to resolve it, you can now make decisions to decide even if the task actually requires doing at all.
Decide early on whether you will do it, or ditch the task or idea completely. Be honest with people. This will save your reputation and give clarity to those around you as to what your intentions are, and more importantly what you’re not prepared to do.
If you have the time I would love to hear your feedback from this week’s journal article. Or follow me on Twitter: @asterialifeC
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