Have you encountered days where procrastination has been your best companion? Encouraging you to put off all your tasks away, only to leave you in a tight spot when those deadlines are hounding you and you are scrambling to get the work done.
We have all fallen into the trap of procrastination more often than we would like to admit – and most of the time, moderate procrastination is okay and even encouraged as research says that people who are given a task and then procrastinate while having the task in the back of their minds can approach it with divergent ideas and hence perform the task with greater creativity, history is riddled with such moderate procrastinators who put off work only to have hit a goldmine in the end.
However, there is a fine line between moderate procrastination and good old fashioned procrastination, while the former is a boon in terms of fostering creativity, the latter is a bane to productivity, where you start putting off essential tasks for hours regularly, which leads to stress, anxiety and soon enough it becomes a vicious cycle of procrastination.
Let’s take a deep dive and understand what procrastination is, how to recognize procrastination and finally, how to use the power of our minds to overcome it.
What is procrastination?
To procrastinate is, by definition, to “delay or postpone action; put off doing something either intentionally or habitually”. It is commonly mistaken for laziness. The main difference between procrastination and laziness is that laziness implies an unwillingness to complete a certain task, while procrastination usually implies a desire to complete a certain task but lacking the motivation to start or putting it off for easier, more doable activities.
What most people don’t know is that our brains are wired to procrastinate. It’s a struggle of power between our limbic system and the prefrontal cortex. Our limbic system automatically tells us to avoid unpleasant situations – and our prefrontal cortex, which aids us in complex decision-making and normally counters bad decisions is the newer, and slightly weaker part of our brain that develops later in our lives.
The other part of our brain that we need to understand to tackle procrastination, is our neurons. When we start an activity we weren’t looking forward to, our neurons fire as though we’re in physical pain, blowing the negative aspects of the task out of proportion. However, this feeling only lasts about five minutes, after which we can focus well on our tasks. Curiously, studies show that people are aware of this fact and yet become victims of procrastination – those agonising five minutes have bested more than a few.
How do we recognise procrastination?
There are a few simple ways to recognise if procrastination is a regular occurrence for yourself.
- You find yourself constantly diverting your attention to tasks that aren’t high on your priority list
- Your to-do list is growing by the day and is yet to behind crossing things off.
- You often put off work to wait for the “right time” and the “right mood” or end up waiting for some motivation to kick in.
- You are always in a hurry, rushing to get things done, big or small
- You find yourself aimlessly scrolling through your social media feed while work looms in the background
- You work better under pressure
If these are some of the many things you find yourself doing regularly then you are a procrastinator – but that’s okay because research has shown that taking small but effective steps towards dealing with this has shown positive results in being able to turn around this habitual behaviour.
How do we tackle procrastination?
Understanding how to deal with procrastination can be a very helpful tool to eventually go back to being your productive self and utilising your time well. The first step to doing this is to recognise and address the problem and being mindful of it.
STEP 1 – When you begin your day, the list of things you have to do is painting a very grim picture and you immediately get the motivation to move onto a task that needs your least bit of attention, STOP. Take a step back and acknowledge how you feel about this list and why, once you do that you can recognise the reasons and perhaps break them down to give you a better understanding of why you choosing to procrastinate.
STEP 2 – Break down the list based on a timeline, prioritise the tasks and spread them through the week. Create a game plan for the list you have today and assign time slots to take on each task accompanied by a reminder and an alarm for each of the tasks to be completed for today, try the Pomodoro Technique to help you break down the tasks further. The most important part of this process is to commit to it, especially in the beginning. Find out what time of the day you are most productive to help you plan your day better!
STEP 3 – While you are working on the task at hand, be sure to listen to music but be mindful of the kind of music you listen to because if it is a repetitive task that you are working on then Neuroscience research show that listening to familiar music helps with focus and executing the task with fewer errors but if it is a cognitive task then studies suggest that classical music is better as it would help you approach it with concentration and creativity.
STEP 4 – Another important step to beating procrastination is to set aside time to relax as well, research has shown that taking a short 10 – 15 minute break is key to boosting your productivity. Take a walk outside or even lounge on your balcony as fresh air and sunlight will instantly lift your mood or listen to your favourite playlist as studies show that upbeat music can boost energy or get yourself a healthy snack.
Step 5 – Reward yourself to small things after you tick off each task, reward yourself to a 10 – 15 minute scroll through Instagram or a bite of your favourite chocolate bar, or read a chapter of that book you’ve been reading.
STEP 6 – For longer tasks, make sure to plan your breaks well in advance – so that when something starts distracting you, you know you have the time to explore it without it affecting your work.
Pro Tip: Keeping your task in mind, choose a time of day and duration to tackle it, and then add ten minutes extra in the beginning – your dedicated procrastination time. The first five of these minutes go into performing menial tasks that aid your final tasks – five minutes of cleaning your desk or grabbing cuppa caffeine – this is the time to truly revel in those low-priority tasks which would normally take up your whole day. Find out what time of the day you are most productive to help you plan your day better!
Pro Tip: The remaining five minutes are for you to sit down and work – but not work. At this time, it is best to think about the task in front of you and gear up for performing it most efficiently. This is the hardest part, where the need for distractions will be the strongest and your mind will fill up with fog. Hang in there! Once your five minutes start, you’ll find that you can work well and finish your task easily – and the need to give in to distractions will be easier to push away.
Repeat the above-stated steps, till you’ve gained a good schedule for yourself and are confident that you are making the best use of your time. Overcoming procrastination is all about being mindful of your choices and working actively towards changing that with small steps that work for you.