Procrastination may seem harmless, but it can have negative impacts on individual and societal levels. Read this blog post to find out why that is and what can be done about it.
“Procrastination” has probably become one of the most often used terms by both teens and adults to describe their struggles with planning and organization. I genuinely believe that if there is a word that could become a generational meme, “procrastination” would be it.
Despite its meme appeal and light-hearted connotations, procrastination is hardly as innocuous as it tends to be portrayed and remembered. A tendency to procrastinate may have serious negative effects on both your professional and private lives.
In this blog post we’ll explore what procrastination is, why people do it, and how you can help yourself get out of that lifestyle.
Procrastination is actually very easy to explain – it’s just the act of unnecessarily delaying or postponing decisions or actions. The key word here is “unnecessarily”. Procrastinate long enough and it becomes an act against your own self interests.
So just as an example – let’s say you have a tendency to procrastinate. Your boss trusts you with a major project such as building a new app or preparing an extensive report. You have plenty of time to get things done. Maybe you even prepare a detailed plan on how you are going to get to the end result.
However, days and weeks pass and work is stalling. You are missing deadlines you have set for yourself while the final deadline for the end product is getting nearer and nearer. What’s wrong?
This is where procrastination comes in. You are not missing those deadlines because of additional workload or anything like that. Mostly the culprit is your own wandering thoughts and desire to seek instant gratification through entertainment, minor menial tasks, or rest instead of working towards a meaningful long-term goal. This is why it was important to stress the word “unnecessarily”. The act of delaying the achievement of an important goal usually comes via doing something of relatively little or no importance.
Most procrastinators actually muster their strengths in the end to finish a task. However, in many cases it comes at the expense of work quality, career advancement, life satisfaction, and, most importantly, your health. With 88% of adults (me among them) procrastinating at least one hour a day, it is safe to say that it is a society-wide problem whose implications are underappreciated.
Some of you might say – but what’s the harm in delaying some tasks if the deadline ends up being met? Double the risk, double the relief later, right? Plus, it makes for a great story. Writing a paper overnight to hand it in minutes before the deadline. Classic!
Here the “positive outcome” is tied to an existing deadline and the consequences if it is not met. But with most things in life there is no externally set end date. You either do something you know is right or you don’t. And this is the real tragedy of procrastination.
We all get around to doing the things we are compelled to do. As for everything else – it is all up to us. While most of those 88% of people who procrastinate at least an hour a day, will eventually get around to working on some long-term goal, there is not an insignificant share of the general population that will continue to struggle.
Whether it is to take a language class, start investing, or buy real estate – if you chronically postpone things that will benefit you in the long term, but that are solely your responsibility, you might wake up one day with an unfulfilled and disappointing life.
It is both an individual tragedy and a societal loss of enormous potential. Imagine what personal, community, national, and global goals could have been achieved if those procrastinated hours were put to good work.
There are some procrastinators who may not mind. But there are others who are tormented by this. After all, it is the achievement of important long-term goals that generates a lasting feeling of well-being that psychologists call “eudaimonic pleasure”.
Watch this Ted talk by Tim Urban for a more humorous and in-depth glance at this.
Psychologists and Tim Urban agree on one key concept – we all have a sort of “monkey mind” built within us. Some are more prone to fall victim to it than others. What it means is that people are tempted to give in to instant gratification instead of focusing on the long-term goal.
Focusing on the here and now may have done wonders to our survival in the prehistoric days when we did not differ much from other animals roaming the savannas. However, in the present day when success is determined by our knowledge, skills, and abilities that instant gratification will not get you far.
The second culprit you’ll often hear about is our, as a species, inability to think about ourselves and the world around us in any future state with much concern, understanding, or empathy.
This is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to tackle systemic and global challenges that take decades to solve. It is just extremely difficult for societies to make a sacrifice now to reap the rewards sometime in the future, especially if some of those rewards are neither visible nor tangible. Climate change is an extreme, but very good example of this. We have to radically overhaul our economies and societies today to (at best) maintain the things the way they are right now. Hardly a good motivator for a monkey brain.
This applies on an individual scale too. While in theory you can imagine yourself in two years, in practice it is impossible to know how you will feel then. However, you definitely know what it feels like to live now. So why not grab a Ben & Jerry’s and rewatch the entire Parks and Recreation in your spare time instead of taking that coding class?
The aforementioned are just two of the overarching reasons for procrastination. In reality there may be a whole bunch of other factors that play into one’s propensity to procrastinate. These could be:
With all of this in mind, is there a way for procrastinators to make the situation better?
Surprisingly, studies show that one of the most effective ways for procrastinators to ward the habit off next time around is to forgive themselves for procrastinating in the past. While it may seem counterintuitive, remember that some of the things that drive procrastination are negative feelings like anxiety, fear, and lack of control. If you give in to reproaching or punishing yourself, things are only likely to get worse not just with the procrastination, but also with your overall mental health.
As the lead researcher noted – you don’t have to be in the mood to do a certain task. Just ignore how you feel and get started. Many of us don’t feel like doing something. So the key is not to wait for the right moment, but to make that feeling appear. Results and achievement give us reassurance and motivation.
While you will still hear that procrastination is a time-management problem, it really isn’t. It’s an emotional problem. You don’t always have to feel 100%. Everyone feels down sometimes. You just have to understand and accept it. Then you’ll be able to move on and get things done.
The second thing to bear in mind is that every major task or goal is a composite of small, incremental steps. If you procrastinate because the goal ahead is too daunting, break it down into consecutive steps and take each of them on separately.
So if you have to write a major report, divide your work into chapters and subchapters. Writing a 20-page detailed analysis seems a lot less intimidating if you deal with it in a one-page-a-day kind of way. Even when it comes to writing that single page, sit down and tackle one paragraph and one thought at a time. Remember – even things as small as turning on your computer or opening the document are steps towards a goal that might end up building momentum.
If, however, you hit a roadblock which you can’t overcome in a few minutes – whether due to lack of skill, guidance, or information – don’t plow ahead, but seek help. Frustration or even failure will only harm your anti-procrastination efforts long-term.
Finally, apps like BePrime are wonderful tools to help structure your goals and tasks in an orderly manner so that even in moments of looming procrastination due to frighteningly immense tasks, you can break down every challenge and be a master of your to-do list.
Author: Lote Steina