Procrastination: The art and science of delaying work

The Procrastination cycle

I have been meaning to sit down and start writing since March of 2020 when I was bounded by the walls of my home due to lockdown. And here I am, almost in the March of 2021. What could be a better example of the topic I am going to cover today — Procrastination.

According to the literal meaning of this word, procrastination is the act of deferred tasks, putting things you must have done today for tomorrow, or delaying tasks.

I am extremely guilty of this. Trust me, I have procrastinated while sitting in front of a laptop, in the middle of a task. Due to one reason or another (which we will discuss below), I would switch off my working mind, stare at the laptop screen, and be jetting off to Europe once I start my imaginary business, all in my head. But I have never been able to come close to even forming a business idea.

A common mistake I made and that most people make is labeling themselves as lazy. This is one of the most common misconceptions. Procrastination is not equivalent to procrastination. Laziness does put you off from doing work as well but the catch here is that lazy people don’t want to do any work. They are happy with as things are, satisfied in their lives. Procrastinators, on the other hand, delay work that they want to do but can’t bring themselves to do it. They know the task is important and has to be completed but they delay it the longest they can until there is no option but to do it. And the resultant work is disappointing.

Procrastination is not relaxation either. When you lay down to chill and relax, your physical and mental energy is actually recharged and you feel more motivated to go back to the tasks at hand. Procrastination renders you paralyzed, unable to do any task. So we push the task further ahead, knowing full well that it must be done.

This is why procrastination makes us feel bad about ourselves. We know we are doing something to set us back but we do it anyway. This is problematic and must be dealt with urgently. Or else, we will soon be standing at the end of life and wondering where all that wasted time went. “It’s self-harm,” said Dr. Piers Steel, the author of “The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done.

“Every single second you waste is gone forever.”

— Petr Ludwig

Why do we procrastinate?

This is the key to getting out of procrastination — knowing what causes you to procrastinate. So, why do we?

The ‘Bad Mood’

Procrastination could be a result of bad moods. There could be certain tasks that automatically pump up negative emotions in us — a pet peeve if you will. For example, I see mathematical equations and formulas and my skin crawls like it would on seeing Dolores Umbridge. Some tasks make us feel frustrated, insecure, bored, anxious, etc. So we procrastinate, not due to laziness or lack of time management but more to avoid the bad mood and retain a better mood — even if for a short while.

“People engage in this irrational cycle of chronic procrastination because of an inability to manage negative moods around a task,” said Dr. Fuschia Sirois, professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield.

I am not good enough

Procrastination could be due to low self-esteem issues where you perpetually find yourself buried under 50 feet of crap. You don’t feel like you could complete the task and find yourself incapacitated. A constant monologue is going through your head telling you that you don’t have the skills and knowledge required for the task thereby establishing you as the ultimate doofus in your head.

Comfort over Effort

Procrastination could also erupt from the fact that the task at hand is challenging and would require your utmost focus and effort. This makes you keep on delaying work until the last minute to avoid putting in hard work because it’s hard to get out of your comfort zone. To feel the itch, the discomfort, and still accomplish the task. That’s the law of motion. We tend to retain whatever position or motion we are in. Once in stagnation, our system will fight to keep us placid.

Short term over the Long term

Securing the short-term pleasure or the present is more important to the mind than taking care of long-term happiness. Automatically we will move toward things that give us short-term pleasure and joy. Even if it comes at the cost of our future goals. This means more Netflix and less studying.

Lack of clarity

Most people will find it difficult to start when they don’t know where to start. This could because that you kept on piling up important to-dos and now in the mess of tasks you don’t know how to prioritize. It could also be due to an unorganized workspace. An unorganized life fosters a lack of clarity. Lack of clarity ties the mind into a complicated knot and it will take time to unravel that knot.

The Perfectionist

Perfections tend to procrastinate a lot. Everything needs to be perfect for them. The stress and anxiety start when they feel what they have done is not perfect. There is always some minute detail missing. Hence, the dreaded delay. They will put off completing a task because they need it to be perfect without a single mistake.

Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety is an evil witch. It can cripple your entire being into inactivity. Procrastination could be a consequence of pre-existing anxiety or any other mental health issue. Depression could lead to anxiety which in turn paralyzes you from taking action and thus, the procrastination syndrome. Procrastination, then, further thrusts you into guilt and anxiety for not doing what needed to be done. It’s a vicious cycle.

Deliberate Procrastination

Not all procrastination is evil. It could also be that you thrive under pressure and stressful situations. Some people can produce diamonds when are put under immense temperature to burn like coal. Hence, it is possible that such people deliberately create stressful situations by procrastinating till the last moment to produce the best results.

It is incumbent that we put out a solution for procrastination and then not procrastinate on applying the solution. And most important, we must not procrastinate on finding the solution in the first place. So, here’s a plan on beating procrastination to the curb.

How to stop procrastination?

Our brain is hardwired to follow the reward. It has been researched and studied that our brain is more likely to carry out actions that offer a better reward for ourselves — some sort of pleasure. For example, delicious food sets off the secretion of dopamine giving a sense of pleasure while ignoring the harmful consequences.

So, simply offer a good enough reward to yourself at the end of a hard task. A trap for the brain to work more. After every task, you accomplish with honest effort, do something that will give your brain the instant dopamine rush. Maybe a big chocolate brownie at the end of a hectic week. Or find relief and comfort in some other action or internally.

If the procrastination is due to a lack of clarity and focus, make a priority list and get organizing. Organize tasks according to their level of urgency and importance. Try to get the most difficult tasks done first so the mind could be relaxed on completing the challenging tasks. You could also allocate tasks to different times of the day, doing the most challenging ones at the time you are most productive during the day.

There’s a sub on Reddit where you can find accountability partners for various goals so you are accountable to a person who keeps you on your toes and motivates you to finish doing the important work. You can match up with an accountability buddy in real life too. Someone who would push you to work with your best foot forward.

Working in short bursts of time is very effective too. If long, arduous tasks put you in a low mood and move you toward procrastination, consider working in short brackets of time. Work for a focused 15 to 25 minutes and get focused relaxation for a good 10 to 15 minutes. Maybe a watch a YouTube video. Focused work for little time is more effective than long hours with daydreaming.

If you feel that your procrastination has to do with an underlying mental illness then consider medical assistance. It can help a lot. Someone professionally looking after all your mental demons and sorting them out can help soothe anxiety and consequently, procrastination.

Procrastination can be a curse. However, it is not a permanent one. I still have issues with the snooze button. Daydreaming is my favorite hobby and it comes without a deadline. But I am making myself more aware of the consequences of useless procrastination because I don’t produce diamonds under pressure. I need proper time to complete a task and maybe more than a normal person. I am slow. I am selfish too. I need a happy and fulfilling life, not one that passes by but an actually lived one.

You can have that too. A meaningful life, full of satisfaction and happiness and no procrastination. And to get that you need to live effectively and efficiently. Start dealing and working to get to that goal and achieve that milestone.

“While we waste our time hesitating and postponing, life is slipping away.”

— Seneca

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