There's so much being said online about procrastination: it's related to laziness, it's going through an intense period of last-minute hard work that results in burnout for what comes next, or it helps some to do better under the pretext of pressure. This list goes on and on. Today, we're reviewing what we've found on procrastination in hopes of understanding it better.
CAN YOU REALLY WORK MORE EFFECTIVELY IN THE CONTEXT OF PROCRASTINATION?
Let's analyze this question step by step to make sense of it. Consider the following example: procrastination helps to do better in a pressured environment. If you get satisfactory results, you never really accomplished your tasks with a game plan. It is also very likely that you have not completed the said task before its deadline. Therefore, it becomes inaccurate to say that the only context that allows you to excel is the one in which you procrastinate. Most of the time, procrastination is not the best way to move forward.
WHAT DOES PROCRASTINATION DO TO YOUR MENTAL HEALTH?
We need to get rid of the stereotype that procrastination is tied to laziness. A study by Tim Pychyl from Carleton University in Canada and his collaborator Fuschia Sirois from the University of Sheffield in the UK shows that procrastination can have a lot to do with our emotional health. Procrastination can cause feelings of anxiety, stress, fatigue, and self-deception. It can be mentally difficult to face not only the emotional consequences it entails but also because it increases our chances of failing. So why procrastinate, knowing that it will lead to failure? It comes down to a question of psychology. It is possible that some only struggle with time management, but for many, it is also about underlying psychological reasons. In an article from Princeton University, this is explained by taking the example of students in an academic setting.
[…] students are constantly assessed, especially in college where the pressure for grades is high and a lot can depend on academic performance. Procrastination is often a self-protection strategy for students. For example, in procrastination, you always have the excuse of “not having enough” time if you fail. In this way, your sense of your ability is never threatened. When there is so much pressure to get a good grade, it's no wonder students want to avoid it and thus delay their work. For the most part, the reasons for this are rooted in fear and anxiety of doing wrong, doing too well, losing control, or having one's sense of self or self-concept challenged. We avoid working to avoid having our abilities judged. And, if we happen to succeed, we feel even more “intelligent”.
IS THERE ANOTHER REASON WHY I PROCRASTINATE?
Honestly, the reasons vary from individual to individual. Concretely, most of them are related to your emotions. It may be trying to make yourself feel better because the task at hand is not what you really want to do. And no, it's not about washing the dishes that are stacked! For example, you may be a student in a program that does not capture your attention or interest enough. Doing most of the tasks that are part of this program can be boring for you and to deviate from the fear and panic that sets in you, you do something else. It is also possible that you are a student who wants to succeed in the program you are in, even if it is not always exciting or takes a long time to learn and understand. But the will is there. In this situation, perhaps the emotions are hooked up to another stressor in your life. This is not to scare you even more. Pychyl explains that any change of self is not a simple thing, and it's supposed to take time because nothing worthwhile is linear.
On the other hand, Sirois, too, sheds additional light.
She explains that procrastination leads to its harmful consequences in two ways: first, it can be stressful to keep putting off important tasks and not achieve your goals. Second, procrastination often involves delaying important health needs, such as exercising or seeing a doctor.
So, the underlying causes are exclusive to everyone.
HOW TO OVERCOME PROCRASTINATION?
Princeton University describes a formula that offers to help better manage this trend. Here are some of their tips. Begin by understanding why you procrastinate and targeting the habits and thoughts that cause you to do so.
The second step is to find yourself time management techniques and tools. However, do not see this as the ultimate solution and instead implement it knowing that it is just one piece of the puzzle. You need to set reasonable goals. It doesn't reflect badly on your abilities. If such thoughts start to invade your mind, remember that breaking down those big tasks into smaller ones gives you the flexibility to work more efficiently. Plus, you get the time to get more out of life knowing you've accomplished what you set out to achieve.
Time management techniques and tools that reduce anxiety, and fear, and emphasize the satisfaction and rewards of completing tasks work best. Those that are inflexible, emphasize the magnitude of tasks, and increase anxiety can increase procrastination and are therefore counterproductive.
Motivation follows. There should be no shame in starting slowly. It allows you to distract from feelings that may be overwhelming and use your energy for easily achievable actions. As Tim Pychyl mentions, “Our research shows very clearly that once we start, we are usually able to keep going.” Getting started is the most meaningful step.
[…] the reasons for learning and succeeding that lead to positive, productive, satisfying feelings and actions contrast with engaging in a task for fear of failing, or not angering your parents. Although these are all reasons - often very powerful - to do something, they are not productive because they evoke often negative feelings. A good way to set positive motivations in motion is to set and focus on goals chosen by you and not by others.
Another fundamental tip is self-talk. Pay attention to how you think and what you think of yourself. Replace the ifs with "I will". Often, your perception of yourself can also have a lot to do with the environment you find yourself in.
This now brings us to a piece of advice for those on the opposite side. You need to be careful about your communication with the one that struggles with procrastination. Telling them that they're lazy or always looking for the easy way out isn't a healthy way to approach the conversation. Kindness, patience, and listening are invaluable to someone trying to overcome procrastination.
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Procrastination can be a gruelling challenge for some people. The good news is that there are solutions that can help overcome it. The key is to remember that procrastination does not define you or your abilities. It can be undeniably confusing, which is why it's important that you seek support by expressing yourself in a healthy environment. Who knows, sometimes it's the challenge that gets us where we're meant to be, really.