The Happee Times
Invest In Your Happiness
What is Procrastination?
Why do we procrastinate?
How to get rid of Procrastinating?
Are you procrastinating working through your procrastination?
While sitting on her couch, scrolling through Instagram reels, Alia thinks “It’s 4:50 pm right now so I’ll start working on my assignment at 5 pm”. Losing track of time, the next time she glances at the clock, it’s already 5:15 pm, “So, I’ll start at 5:30 pm then”, she thinks.
If you say you don’t relate to this narrative, you might need to think twice. Let’s be honest! We have all experienced this at least once in our lives and we are all too familiar with the phenomenon behind it, ‘Procrastination’.
Procrastination, the act of compulsively thinking to yourself “I’ll do it later”, has become a very well-researched area of study.
As normal and human as it is to procrastinate on certain tasks, it is far from being termed a healthy habit. You will never hear your future self saying “Thank you for procrastinating back then 😊”
Any reader reading this newsletter would be thinking “Ok, I’m familiar with the concept of procrastination. Just give me practical ideas to work my way through it”. I’ll come to that in a moment but before trying to get rid of the unwanted insects in your storage room, you need to know where they are coming from.
Why do we procrastinate? Is it laziness OR lack of motivation?
Intriguingly, researchers have something more to add. We’re not avoiding the task; we’re avoiding the unpleasant emotion that we associate with it. The task you’re delaying might be tough and you might be thinking it’s out of your capability to do it or that you are not equipped with the right knowledge of how to go about it. It isn’t the task, it is the feeling of unfamiliarity, self-doubt, failure or other negative emotions which might be stopping you. No one would prefer to experience these feelings. So, we resort to postponing the tasks that are important and distract ourselves with something or the other. That ‘something’ mostly turns out to be our digital devices. Even though none of us would prefer to have this behavior pattern, we still engage in it and even though it’s okay to procrastinate sometimes, it has the potential to turn into a detrimental habit.
Now for the answer we’re eagerly looking forward to, the question being ‘how to cast aside the habit of procrastination?’.
When we are trying to weed out any habit, an effort is required to be made at two levels: the cognitive (thought) level and behavioral (action) level.
Level 1: Start with Mini Mindset Modifications or Start at the mindset level
“Do I care about short-term gains or long-term ones?”
One of the best ways of breaking off the procrastination cycle is to engage in consequential thinking. A majority of articles and studies on this concept mention ‘present bias’ or ‘time inconsistency’ as the force keeping this cycle going. Our minds are wired to seek instant pleasure and avoid pain, mostly in the present moment. Hence, while answering a question like “Should I start studying for my test?”, we think about short-term gains like getting to scroll on Instagram a little more, watching another YouTube video, having more free time, and choose to ignore the long-term costs like having to skim through the content at the end moment, not having enough time to build a good understanding, feeling anxious one night before the test, sacrificing the quality of work, etc.
In simple words, before making a decision, do consequential thinking i.e., think about the future consequences of your current actions. Think about the unpleasant feelings of regret and guilt you’ll experience in the future as a result of not doing that task. While procrastinating going on your daily walk, think to yourself “I will definitely feel better doing it than not doing it”.
“Let me refrain and reframe”
Another technique, closely related to the approach of Neuro-Linguistic programming, comes from the idea that our language forms our thoughts and thoughts shape our perspectives. Refrain from saying “I have to workout today” and reframe it as “I choose to workout today” or “I get to workout today”. This helps us shift our perspective from the task, like the workout here, being a burden to it being a choice. Additionally, it makes us feel grateful that we have the ability and opportunity to get this task completed.
“I’m not ready for it yet”
Many a time, our inner perfectionist becomes an obstacle and makes us indulge in procrastination. Our inner dialogue makes excuses like “I’m not ready for it yet” or “I’m not equipped with the right information/skills to get started”. These are mechanisms protecting our inner perfectionists because we’d rather not do it than do it imperfectly. This tendency obstructs us from having a variety of experiences because we are scared to mess up. It has been well said that it is better to be a beginner with a learning mindset than to be an expert thinking we know it all. Every experience teaches us something. So, apply for that job, go attend that networking event, pitch in that idea, approaching every opportunity with a learning mindset.
“WHY am I doing this?”
If the purpose behind an activity is clear, procrastination is less likely to occur. Take this example, you have to give a presentation in front of your team in the coming week but the process of making this presentation is going to be tedious. You’re procrastinating getting started. What pushes you to get started and keep it going? You keep reminding yourself of ‘why’ you’re doing this. It could be the fact that whether you’ll be given the next project or not depends on this presentation, or you want to build a good image in front of your boss or you want to feel that sense of accomplishment by proving to yourself that you could do it, it could be any of these reasons. Having a strong and precise ‘why’ can help one stay motivated and stop procrastinating.
Level 2: Behavioral Approach
Make bite-sized goals
Make a list of tasks you need to tackle today. Don’t make a hefty list and set yourself up for disappointment. Make a checklist and mark 3 tasks that require urgent attention. Remember to divide these tasks into bite-sized ones. We procrastinate when the tasks seem too heavy to even start on. Instead of having a goal of writing a full report today, start by aiming to write just the introduction in 1 hour. This way the work seems digestible and also gives us multiple wins to celebrate along the way.
Visual cues work!
This checklist could be in your planner, if that works for you, but an extra step towards accountability could be taken by writing it in large font and having it stuck right in front of you. So, while you’re watching “just 1 more episode”, the list is in your sight and keeps staring you down to remind you of what needs to be done. The satisfaction of checking the tasks off this list is satisfying and has the potential of becoming your ‘why’ of getting work done every day.
“Help me stay accountable”
The thought of accountability always helps in interrupting a procrastinating mind. Coinciding with checklists, accountability can also be maintained by getting another individual’s help. You can let a friend, colleague or loved one know that you’ll be getting a specific portion of your work done today and this keeps you going with the thought that you need to report to them at the end of the day.
You deserve a reward
The infamous and known-since-ancestral-times trick of the reward system always seems to work. Set a reward out of what you’re procrastinating with. Listening to music while you should’ve been writing that article? Set a target of writing for 30 minutes with no distraction and you get to listen to music after that. It is important to keep in mind that being strict with these reward rules is key. You do not get to touch your phone before you clean the dishes and be firm with yourself.
A note to my procrastinating future-self
If words work for you best, try this. The next time you push through a procrastination phase and get some work done, hold onto that pleasant feeling of accomplishment and take the time to write a note to your future procrastinating- self. Write words that you know will push him/her to get started with the task, you know yourself best. It could be as simple as:
Hi, I know you’re procrastinating right now and don’t feel like working but this is to remind you of the fulfilling feeling you will have after checking off all your tasks and getting a relaxed evening to yourself. Pick yourself up. You can do this!
Pairing the likable with the unlikable
If you don’t like folding laundry, play music you love while folding it. If reviewing a paper, according to you, is the worst part of your job, try having a delicious cup of coffee while doing it. Pairing the unlikable with the likable will make the task less aversive and help you to get started sooner.
One might question, “Do I need to bring about all of these mindset changes and perform all the above activities to stop procrastinating?”. The reasonable answer is NO. We chose to present our readers with this comprehensive list being mindful of the fact that as humans we exist on a spectrum of diverse personalities, mindsets, preferences, work ethics, lifestyles, etc. Hence, one could go ahead and pick what they think might work out well for them and if it doesn’t, this bank of options is always available for them.
Don’t procrastinate working on your procrastination!