Have you ever sat down to complete an important task and then suddenly felt the urge of emptying the dishwasher or reading the Wikipedia article on Chernobyl? If that's the case, maybe you are suffering from procrastination. In this article, you will learn what exactly is meant by this and how to take action against it actively!
This is how you will know whether you are suffering from procrastination or not
You have to accomplish this one task urgently and at all costs, but then you suddenly realise that the dog needs to be fed and that your ceiling lamp could be dusted off again. Next, you realise that the day is almost over and you haven't done any important work, then you are definitely suffering from procrastination (from Latin procrastinare "postpone"), a widespread work disorder in the population. Many people perceive procrastination as a strong force that keeps them from completing their most important tasks. Often, it even leads to the point where people fail in school, performance at work is not delivered and in doing so, people make their lives more difficult, mortgaging their own future. A study at the University of Münster showed that students who suffer from "procrastination" had more stress at the end of the semester, were ill more often, and had lower grades.¹ Obviously, postponing leads to a drop in performance and even worsens your own well-being. The reasons why many people still procrastinate are not that obvious. In social research, work disorder is often equated with other failure phenomena that affect self-regulation, such as gambling addiction, eating disorders, etc. This consciously distinguishes them from those whose disorder can be brought in connection with laziness or bad time management. On the contrary, modern research believes that procrastination can be the result of a neurological defect that is related to the perception of one's self and of time.
Take-Home-Message #1: Procrastination is understood to be a serious work disorder that is often accompanied by extreme performance problems and fear of failure.
The real origins of procrastination
Most psychologists see procrastination as a coping mechanism gone wrong, in which people give up sooner rather than persevering to feel good. That is according to Timothy Pychyl, a researcher at the Carleton University in Ottawa. ² It usually happens when people are afraid of important tasks. To get rid of this negative feeling, people procrastinate. Instead, they play a video game or distract themselves otherwise. That makes them feel better for a short while, but unfortunately, reality always takes over again. Mostly in the form of a time limit which must be observed. Again, this time limit only intensifies the postponement, combined with extreme feelings of shame and guilt. A vicious circle of which many do not know how to break out. Tim Urban, the author of the blog "Wait, but why” has dealt with this topic in an interesting and entertaining way during a TED talk:
Urban, who calls himself a master of procrastination describes what happens in the brain with postponing important tasks. First, he describes the brain of a non-procrastinator where rational decision-makers have full control over their own decisions. The brain of a procrastinator looks similar, except that there is still the "monkey wanting the immediate reward". The monkey looks as if it would bring fun with it. It takes over the wheel, and thus stops any meaningful activity. In reality, this means a lot of trouble. The monkey takes control up to the point where everything seems lost. The prospect of being at the end of one's career, for example. Then something starts what Urban calls the "panic monster", and that finally motivates you to act. In addition, there are various types of procrastination. Some waste time by doing useless things, like looking at funny cat videos. Others actually get things done. They clean their apartment, go shopping, but never do what is really important. The ideas of Urban genuinely comply with psychological research on the subject. In research, there is agreement that postponement is linked to direct reward. The reward generates an immediate good feeling and suppresses the bad conscience of actually having to do something important now. They much rather focus on immediate, hedonistic pleasure than work towards long-term, ambitious goals. Remedy procures a few simple tricks which you can read about in the next paragraph.
Take-Home-Message #2: If you suffer from procrastination, it becomes very hard for you to meet deadlines. Instead of working towards these goals, you distract yourself with entertaining pleasure.
This is how you become productive again
What can you do against procrastination? It is not that simple, since the people who suffer from this, find it hard to control it. Nevertheless, there are a few things that can help you start important tasks. Interestingly, research has ascertained that the most effective way to productivity is to forgive oneself for procrastinating. In a study, students were asked about the issue. One found out that those who forgave their own postponement and really enjoyed their free time with no regrets, procrastinated much less with their next major aim. This works because postponement comes in hand with negative feelings. Forgiving yourself can reduce the feeling of guilt that you feel at the same time. In doing so, you break the vicious circle, because your own guilt is often an amplifier for postponement and just makes you more unable to act. The second important tip: You do not have to be in "the right mood" for being productive. You do not have to be rested and focused to begin a task. You will never be in the mood for some tasks, but they still have to be done. Instead of focusing on the feeling, it helps to think of the next step. The smaller the tasks that lie ahead of you, the more you can imagine coping well with them. Even if it is an extremely small activity, a small step forward will typically make you feel better regarding the task, and your self-esteem will increase. This, in turn, reduces the feeling of having to procrastinate to make yourself feel better.
Take-Home-Message #3: Converting negative emotions, in particular, helps against procrastination. Plan small stages, so you can celebrate regular successes and thus feel good about yourself. Then you will no longer need short-term fun from procrastination, and you will reach your goals successfully!