“While everybody may procrastinate, not everyone is a procrastinator,” says APS Fellow Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University.
Most of us do it at some time or another. Some of us are regular procrastinators and never seem to be able to get to grips with the matter in hand, thinking of a thousand reasons why, where or when we should carry out the task, but never seem to start.
True procrastination is a complicated failure of self-regulation: experts define it as the voluntary delay of some important task that we intend to do, despite knowing that we’ll suffer as a result. A poor concept of time may exacerbate the problem, but an inability to manage emotions seems to be its very foundation.
Twenty percent of people identify themselves as chronic procrastinators and it can take over their life. Bills go unpaid, social opportunities are missed, deadlines for returning items to shops within 28 days are ignored or cheques are not banked, file income tax returns late or Christmas shopping doesn’t get done until Christmas eve.
Researchers certainly recognise that procrastination is something more than simply putting something off until tomorrow and time-management has little to do with it. It’s also about focusing on less important tasks as a means of putting off the more important ones. Procrastinators are far from lazy they just focus on the wrong thing at that specific moment.
Procrastinating is definitely emotional. It is isn’t that we are putting off doing something…we are putting off feeling something. Whether that be anxiety, fear, uncomfortableness or even just boredom…acknowledging this and trying to identify what you are trying to avoid can certainly have a beneficial impact..
Here are a few of the things that can impact on procrastination and what you can do to reduce the impact…
- Absence of structure
As humans we are creatures of habit. A lack of structure to your day may contribute to an increase in procrastination. If we haven’t got a plan for what we will do, we are more likely to wonder off doing all sorts of busy tasks….Think Facebook checking instead of concentrating on your work. It’s so easy to get sucked in because many of us are online for multiple hours of the day.
- Unpleasant tasks
The most significant predictor of procrastination is a task that you consider to be unpleasant, boring, or uninteresting (think – laundry, filing or your tax return). Identify the task that you find unpleasant and then divide and conquer. Break your ultimate goal down into bitesize chunks that are easier to meet.
Often the cause of procrastination is the delay between ‘punishment’ and reward, between the task that we don’t want to do and the reward we get for doing it. So maybe think about a reward you can give yourself for doing the tasks.
For those who suffer anxiety, procrastination can sit on your shoulder dictating and whispering all the reasons why you shouldn’t do something, usually because of a fear of failure. You avoid those tasks that are high stress, high challenging and instead complete easier, tasks with quick rewards. Break your larger tasks down into small goals, and reward yourself after completing each one.
Self-confidence is often manifested into ‘imposter syndrome’ where you develop doubts about your ability to complete the task at hand. If you recognise yourself as this type build your confidence by telling yourself that you are achieving and increasing your knowledge by embracing the tasks. Or again by breaking tasks down into smaller chunks.
So next time you find yourself procrastinating, think about what am I avoiding feeling? And then break the task down into smaller chunks and just start!