Everyone wants to beat procrastination – it’s the reason there’s so many productivity gurus, books and blogs. But do we really understand the root cause of our procrastination or even recognise the symptoms for it? Luckily, academics have been studying this topic for years and a lecture by Dr Tim Pychyl uncovers the latest research findings on the origin of procrastination and delay.
I was struggling to focus on work. It felt like there were 100 moving parts, all falling over in each in their desire to be ‘urgently addressed’. All I wanted to do was bury my head in the sand and ignore them. I was in procrastination mode and I needed to break away and get stuff done.
So, I went on a procrastination binge to find out how procrastination works in the hope that this would return me to my motivated self.
Dr Tim Pychyl explains
‘Teaching Talk: Helping students who procrastinate’ is led in traditional lecture style, with Dr Tim Pychyl at the front of the class.
Despite the focus on a student audience I was drawn into the theory of procrastination and the difference between our perceptions and the reality of this ailment we all experience.
What did I learn about procrastination?
1 What procrastination actually is
According to Dr Pychyl, procrastination is the gap between intention and action.
So, if you mark an hour in your diary to complete a task at work – it’s the time between the 11.00 start you had planned and 13.30 when you actually began the task.
“According to Dr Pychyl, procrastination is the gap between intention and action.”
Often, we set too big a goal to try and complete, and give in all too easily to procrastination, as we believe that avoiding the goal makes us feel better than working on it (remember your dissertation at university?).
Setting smaller, more specific and measurable goals helps make a task appear much more manageable. Prolifiko works in exactly this way, using small steps system to increase your writing productivity.
2 Don’t beat yourself up when you’re delaying
Delaying a task to be done at the most opportune time is not the same as not starting something when you mean to. As pointed out in the lecture “all procrastination is delay, but not all delay is procrastination”.
This is a big lesson for me – all too often I find myself worrying about the things I need to do next week, which cannot happen any sooner. Like that research interview I need to prepare for – just not now.
Delay is a rational response to the situation you are in, and we must work to understand when delay happens, and not chastise ourselves for it.
“All procrastination is delay, but not all delay is procrastination.”
3 Understand your emotional state – and how to control it
Emotional intelligence is fundamental to the reasons we procrastinate.
I have procrastinated writing this blog post because I don’t know what response I will get from my readers (Will you like it? Hate it? Believe it?). This is a sign of socially-oriented procrastination.
Dr Pychyl talks about how being aware of your own emotions is a huge step to managing your levels of procrastination. By setting a small task to achieve, understanding that it doesn’t matter how you feel about doing the task, you’re going to do it anyway.
Ergo, blog written and published.
Giving in to procrastination and delay
Giving in to procrastination is so easy to do. I could be reading Ian McEwan’s Atonement right at this moment, but instead I’m here sharing what I hope will be some useful insights into how procrastination can derail achievement.
Knowing what procrastination is and is not, and having a heightened awareness of how your emotional state can affect your levels of procrastination, will help train your to procrastinate less. That’s my personal goal anyway!
Begin your procrastination avoidance training now
Start with awareness. When you feel yourself avoiding something, take 5 minutes to explore your mind and figure out why you are delaying a task. Ask yourself:
- Does it have to be delayed?
- What will be the outcome if I don’t do it now?
- What’s the first step I can take to get myself closer to my goal?
Then, make a decision. Do it, or don’t do it. And live with the success of procrastinating less!