Understanding Procrastination: 3 Tips on How to Prevent It
While there are many definitions of the term, it generally involves putting off responsibilities without a specific or valid reason to do so. Typically, it is one’s lack of willpower or self-control that gets cited as the leading cause for procrastination habits. Let’s try understanding procrastination by firstly looking at why people procrastinate.
Understanding Procrastination: Why Do We Choose to Delay Important Tasks?
While every individual is different in their reasons for putting off tasks, there are several common scenarios.
- As humans, we value immediate rewards more highly than future rewards. This reasoning has its basis in psychology. Our present self is often more prone to seeking out instant gratification and ignoring the benefit of a long-term payoff. For example, your future self wants to be fit and healthy, but your present self wants pizza and doughnuts. Or, your future self wants to have enough money in retirement to live well, while the present self wants a new pair of shoes. Balancing out the present and future self with self-control will help mitigate the struggle between immediate rewards and long-term rewards.
- For many of us, getting started seems to be a daunting task. This line of thinking often stems from self-esteem issues and being perfectionists. We convince ourselves that we are not equipped to carry out the task or that we will not do a good enough job. This thinking instigates shame and guilt which makes it even more difficult for us to get started.
- It is used as a defence mechanism. Our unconscious mind thinks it is helping us by repressing a task that we are dreading. We often minimize how much time we think the task will take, in hopes that the task will disappear completely. This can lead to chronic procrastination that is backed by plausible “excuses”.
- Some lack the self-control to sit themselves down and get a project done without getting distracted. This has to do with the fact that the reward doesn’t feel “great enough”. In this case, we lack the intrinsic motivation needed to avoid procrastinating.
It is important to note that when you delay a task for a good reason, you are not procrastinating. For instance, if you are working on a project and run into a challenge that requires you to do further research before you can continue or a more pressing matter arises that requires your attention.
Now that we have looked at understanding procrastination, here are 3 easy tips to prevent it.
3 Tips on How to Prevent Procrastination That Work for Everyone
- Give Yourself More Immediate Rewards for Action. You can avoid procrastination by bringing the future rewards you want into the present moment. You do this by bundling them together through Temptation Bundling. This is when you choose to bundle a behaviour that is good for you (long run) with a behaviour that feels good in the short term (helps you avoid procrastination). It works like this: do the one thing you love while doing the one thing you always procrastinate on. For some this is listening to audiobooks while exercising, for others, it’s watching your recorded shows while getting household chores done.
- Make Tasks Easier to Begin. In effect, procrastination can be seen as the inability to start. Once you begin working, it’s way less painful to keep working than it is to stop and have to come back to it. With your tasks, what you want to do is break them down into smaller, easier to begin chunks and then pair them with a 2-minute, 5-minute, or even 30-minute rule. Use the minute rule to start and when the time is up, you can stop.
- Create a System of Priority. It is very easy to procrastinate when you do not prioritise your tasks. To prevent this, create a system of priority by writing down a list of the most important things that need to be accomplished. List the items in order of their individual importance. During the next day, concentrate on the first task until completion before moving onto the second. Approach the entire list like this. If you have unfinished items at the end of the day, move them into a new list for the next day. Repeat. This process removes the friction of getting started and it forces you to make tough decisions and really think your tasks through.
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