by | Apr 24, 2024

Procrastination – Why do it today when you can put it off until tomorrow?

What is procrastination?

Procrastination, the act of unnecessarily postponing decisions or actions, is the bane of productivity. Studies show that around 20% of adults procrastinate chronically, and around 80 – 95% of college students are prone to it.

Why do we procrastinate?

So, what’s going on when we just can’t get on with it?

One key player is the brain’s reward system, governed primarily by the neurotransmitter, Dopamine. When we complete goals, we release dopamine, resulting in a feeling of pleasure. But tasks we see as unpleasant or daunting lead to a deficit of dopamine, leaving us feeling uncomfortable or anxious, so we look for a pleasant distraction to achieve that reward.

We also tend to prioritise immediate rewards over delayed gratification (called temporal discounting). Our brain devalues tasks with a delayed reward, favouring those providing more immediate pleasure. This can cause us to put off tasks that provide long-term benefits but require immediate effort.

In addition, fear of failure, performance anxiety, or perfectionism can lead to stress or overwhelm, in which case procrastination can serve as a coping mechanism to alleviate discomfort.

What can we do to help overcome procrastination?

  • Set specific, realistic goals and deadlines. Aim for SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound.
  • Write down your goals and tasks to consider them more clearly – a list, timetable, or spreadsheet can help.
  • Break tasks down into manageable steps – we can feel overwhelmed when considering one big task, but identifying smaller steps can make it more manageable. Completing each step provides a feeling of accomplishment, encouraging the next step.
  • Start with the tiniest step – just one word, or a heading to get the ball rolling.
  • Choose the easiest or the hardest task to start – whichever suits you. You can ease into it gently or get the worst thing out of the way first.
  • Break your work periods down into sections and reward yourself with breaks.
  • Give yourself permission to make mistakes – just get something down, then go back to correct any mistakes.
  • Minimise distractions – turn off notifications on your ‘phone, use a website blocker to limit time on websites, put your ‘phone in another room.
  • Improve your environment to make it more conducive to focus and work – find a quiet, comfortable workspace, prepare a drink to have by your side, make sure the lighting suits you, limit disturbances from other people.
  • Be kind to yourself and develop self-compassion – procrastination can lead to feelings of guilt and self-criticism, which perpetuates the cycle. Remember, everyone procrastinates from time to time. Focus instead on moving forward and implementing strategies to improve. Instead of dwelling on the past.

Overcoming procrastination is a gradual process, requiring persistence and patience. Experiment with different techniques to find what works best for you, and don’t be discouraged by setbacks. Consistent effort and awareness are key to overcoming procrastination in the long term.