Procrastination seems to be one of the buzzwords of the 21st Century; it has been the topic of countless self-help articles, blog posts, YouTube videos (and less helpful, but funny memes). The irony is that the internet is a great place to procrastinate, in fact, you reading this article right now may be putting off some important work. The solution remains elusive and one thing is clear, procrastination can be rather hard to understand and is therefore more difficult to overcome.
Quite simply speaking, procrastination is self-sabotage. By consistently putting off important tasks, we are essentially becoming the obstacle to our own success (however one chooses to define this). This begs the question: Why? Why would us humans, us clever human beings with our highly developed brains, slow down our own progress?
Some believe that procrastination could simply be a ‘basic human impulse’ that has existed as long as we have. The anxiety surrounding it however, is a relatively new phenomenon. The extensive scientific enquiry surrounding Procrastination has not produced any unanimous answers regarding causes or solutions, further mystifying us.
So, how do we get this proverbial monkey off our backs? Well, as mentioned earlier, there is no exact science when it comes to dealing with procrastination, but here are a couple of things for you to consider:
Splitting large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks– this is always good practice and the benefits of this are twofold. Firstly, smaller tasks are less daunting and can save you from feeling overwhelmed. Secondly, completing each individual task provides its own satisfaction of completion, thus triggering dopamine neurotransmitters in your brain, which in turn propel you to complete more tasks. There are few better motivators than progress itself. When you actually do decide to break down your bigger tasks, be as detailed and clear as possible. Try and map out as many individual, small steps as you can, as this will help guide you all the way and (as mentioned previously) save you from feeling overwhelmed.
Avoid the quest for perfection when it comes to more creative endeavours – if you try and make everything perfect, chances are you won’t end up making anything at all. Prioritise action over perfection; 500 words of written, half-baked ideas is better than nothing at all. Once you begin, once you take action and gain significant headway, then you have a platform to scrutinise, edit and improve your work; you have something to build upon and refine if necessary. As obvious as it sounds, it bears reminding that we cannot edit nothing, we cannot improve nothing and we most certainly cannot complete nothing! As difficult as it may be, try and shed yourself of the perfection burden and make a start with your imperfect ideas. As mentioned earlier, actually doing something will help your psyche a lot more than overthinking or just flat out procrastinating.
But what if I can’t be bothered to even do that? Splitting my work up sounds great but I don’t care enough about the task to do anything.
Here comes the real game-changer: the way we think about procrastination can lead us to some substantial, long-term change. In order to do this, we must frame procrastination as an issue of emotional regulation, rather than a simple problem with time management. We avoid tasks because they are undesirable to us, they do not bring us joy or satisfaction, and in many cases they make us unhappy. The only time we feel any level of pleasure is once the task is completed, and we can reward ourselves with things that we actually enjoy (like binge-watching TV shows, playing video games or scrolling mindlessly on Instagram for hours). So, the value that we ascribe to the task is only found in its completion. In order to stay motivated and avoid procrastination in the long-term, it is crucial that we change our attitude towards the work that we do. If we can find some intrinsic value within the task itself, some usefulness or benefit to the work that we do, then we are more likely to feel better about the entire process and avoid putting it off.
This is easier said than done, so like any positive change in our lives, it will require time and perseverance to slowly but surely establish the habit of getting important things done when they need to be done. The change begins in your thinking; make an effort to think positively about the task at hand and extend that to all your other tasks, no matter how mundane, long-winded or difficult they may be. Along with this, implement practical steps such as splitting up the work into manageable loads and hopefully some steady progress will be made.
With the second semester of university in full swing, it’s the perfect time to start building better habits of productivity and quite simply getting things done.