Imagine that you need to complete a task that has an important deadline which, if not met, may lead to dire consequences. Of course, you know that you’ll need to put in the time and effort to get the task done on time. Instead of doing that, you end up delaying the work until the last minute by putting in extra hours just to cram and submit the tasks by the due date, all the while getting exhausted and stressed out in the process.
That is what procrastination looks like. It is defined as a problematic self-regulation failure that involves the intentional delaying and off-putting of an intended course of action even when the individual is aware of the potential consequences resulting from their voluntary delay. When constantly experienced, procrastination can lead to increased stress, impaired work performance, and deteriorated sleep quality, thus trying to overcome it is an essential practice. If you’ve ever procrastinated and felt bad about it, don’t worry; you are not the only one who’s experienced it.
In fact, several studies point to how many people procrastinate. One study done in 2015 by Piers Steel & Katrin B Klingsieck showed that around 70% of college students procrastinate on their studies. Darius Foroux, an author specializing in productivity, surveyed in 2019 and found that around 88% of the workforce procrastinate at least one hour a day at work.
Levels of procrastination
According to Alexander Rosental et al. in their 2015 study, procrastination can range from mild to severe levels. The level of intensity is determined by the frequency as well as when it occurs instead of a deadline. The more serious the level of procrastination is, the more severe the consequences would be.
Mild procrastinators are people who procrastinate early on before the deadline of a task. Since they procrastinate only from time to time, they only suffer relatively minor consequences. People who are mild procrastinators would occasionally delay getting started on an assignment but would still have some time to finish it before the deadline. An example can be an employee who works on a project a week before it’s due despite having a month prior notice.
Average procrastinators are those who do it regularly. They habitually put tasks off up until a day before the deadline. This can look like a student who usually delays commencing their assignments until right before they are due or studies for a test the night before.
Finally, severe procrastinators are characterized as those who consistently put things off up until the brink of the deadline. Even though they make all efforts to finish a task, they usually miss crucial deadlines and suffer the most consequences. If you have been that student who delays working on a research paper until the last day and unfortunately fails to finish it on time, that is what a severe case would look like.
How to overcome procrastination
Regardless of whether you’re a mild, average, or severe procrastinator, there are ways to dial down procrastination and overcome it. Here are just five of the many possible things you can do to avoid the temptation to procrastinate:
Reaffirm your capabilities
One common reason why there is a tendency to procrastinate is that people have a general uncertainty about themselves, such as their abilities or goals; because of this lack of confidence in themselves, they tend towards the natural default of fleeing or avoiding the task at hand. Therefore, you must gain assurance of your situation to eliminate the feeling of uncertainty as much as possible.
You can do this by answering the question “why are you doing this?” to remind yourself of your end goal. If you are not sure of your goal or your tasks, write them down; you can dissect them into smaller, achievable tasks if they are too big or complex.
Avoid physical and mental exhaustion
Another factor that contributes to a person’s habit of procrastination is their physical and mental state – in particular, their energy levels. It is vital to avoid exhaustion as much as possible because it will not only impact your productivity negatively but also further fuel your desire to procrastinate. To counter that, you should have a good routine for your sleep as it helps in the preservation and promotion of your physical health as well as your brain functions.
Take short, regular breaks during the day and make an effort to ensure you have healthy, sufficient sleep to recharge your energy levels. You can also map out your energy levels during the day by determining when you feel most energized and productive. From there, you can prioritize urgent and important tasks within these timeframes to avoid any possible delays from working while your energy is at its low point.
Limit sources of distractions
Eliminating elements that can potentially distract you from doing your tasks is key to avoiding procrastination. Put your phone or electronic device on silent to avoid the temptation to look at any notifications that might distract you when you’re working or studying.
If possible, you can also put any electronic device that you don’t need at the moment in a separate room. If your colleagues are constantly messaging about non-work-related topics or your friends are actively chatting in a group conversation, you can put your phone in another room or at a distance that’s not as easily reachable to avoid reaching out and using it. If your work area is loud and noisy, find a quiet area or a place with white noise that can help you focus. You can also invest in abilities and practices that promote your focus and help you in removing distractions as much as possible.
Visualize your future goals
When procrastinators are confronted with situations they deem too difficult for them to handle, they tend to lean toward addressing their negative feelings instead of focusing to pursue their goals. This leads to them avoiding situations that trigger unpleasant feelings which further delay the completion of a task. One way you can counter this negative onset of feelings is by visualizing what you want to happen when you reach your goal. This can range from short-term to long-term goals that you want to achieve in the future. Practicing this can increase your motivation to keep moving forward in accomplishing your tasks and thrive productively by resisting the temptation to procrastinate.
Assess your procrastination tendencies
To tackle your procrastination, a very important initial step is to perform a self-study. Instead of beating yourself up for how long you’ve put something off, investigate your brain’s procrastination tendencies. Consider the following questions to better understand the root causes of your procrastination:
- What kind of feelings do you experience when performing a task?
- Why is the task meaningful to you or others?
- Did you clarify and lay out the action plan to complete the task?
- Are there any consequences if you avoid doing the task such as my disappointment or others’ judgment?
In most circumstances, simply asking yourself some honest questions and expressing the sensations you’re having, a technique known as “affective labeling“, will deactivate your brain’s urge to procrastinate. The answers can also assist you in addressing the underlying issues that are contributing to your procrastinating habits.
At the end of the day, one thing to keep in mind is that procrastination is subjective. People procrastinate at different levels and are productive at different levels. Therefore, it is important to work on yourself to mitigate the urge. Instead of flogging yourself with detrimental comparisons between yourself and others, be self-compassionate and prioritize what the best way is for you to overcome procrastination so you can reach your goals.
In addition to procrastination, the Life Management Science Labs’ (LMSL) Personal Productivity Science Labs provides content that is aimed at improving your productivity in life and at work. Based on the research by the Institute for Life Management Science Labs, the content comes in the form of courses, certifications, videos, podcasts, and many others. Visit the Personal Productivity Science Labs today.Photo by DilokaStudio on Freepik