We all have – irrespective of how punctual we are – felt the desire to put something off for a later time. The reasons could be various – perhaps Netflix is beckoning you to the latest episodes it just released, or you don’t feel in the mood to perform the task, or you think the task is not urgent so your time would be better spent elsewhere. Deferring tasks is a normal part of life as we reshuffle our priorities constantly during the day.
When this propensity to defer tasks goes haywire and the to-do list starts to spill over, the reason is often that we are procrastinating. Suddenly, the most menial chores – cleaning up the room, organizing the desk, doing the dishes – take on the appeal of the most intriguing tasks; and we deftly evade the truly important work that we know we should be doing. However, even if we manage to masterfully circumvent the important stuff, all it takes is one look at the list of those pending tasks for the floodgates of guilt and disappointment to open.
Why Do We Procrastinate?
Logically, it makes no sense to delay a task that we know perfectly well needs to be done now. We may even be aware of the consequences that come with putting off something important. And yet, we continue to procrastinate. The reason is that our brains are programmed to procrastinate.
An inner struggle arises when we take on tasks that are beneficial to our future but require us to put in the effort in the present. We can feel the inconvenience of the task immediately while the future benefits appear uncertain and abstract. What makes this conflict worse is that our brains perceive the value of immediate rewards to be higher than that of future rewards.
We might aspire to be fit and healthy when we’re 60, but when presented with a chocolate donut, most of us will not be able to resist the temptation. This explains why we might go to bed inspired to make a drastic change for a better future, but upon waking up we instantly fall back into old habits and patterns. Luckily, we have the capacity to reprogram our brains and put an end to postponing the important tasks.
How to Stop Procrastinating
We can employ a plethora of strategies to rid ourselves of the habit of procrastination and achieve our full potential:
Reward yourself in the present
When you make the rewards of performing a task more immediate, the temptation of the reward at the end can provide you the impetus to do the task right away. If you are working on a paper or a presentation that feels tedious, you can create a reward for each milestone you achieve. For instance, once you complete two sections of the paper, you can reward yourself with a 15-minute Instagram scroll; if you’re craving to watch an episode of your favorite TV series, schedule it for when you complete half of your presentation. Attaching activities you enjoy with tasks you are likely to put off creates motivation in the present and allows you to power through the task.
Create consequences that are immediate
When the cost of skipping a task is in the future, it becomes easy to procrastinate because the relief of skipping it is immediate. If you decide to work out in the morning but don’t feel like it when you wake up, skipping is easy because your health will not have any immediate negative impact. However, if you promise to accompany your friend to the gym in the morning, skipping the workout has an immediate social cost – it makes you look unreliable. The immediate cost makes it much harder to evade what you planned to do.
Break your work into smaller tasks
Work that spans a long time can often appear daunting. If the challenge seems insurmountable, the resistance you feel can prevent you from even starting. The smart approach is to break down the big task into small, measurable tasks. Writing a 15-page thesis can intimidate the best of us. But if we break it down into smaller units – such as writing the outline, then the abstract, then the introduction, and so on – and focus on one unit at a time, the work seems much simpler. This also helps because the completion of every sub-task provides us the momentum to continue, and visible progress gives us the satisfaction of being productive.
Create a detailed timeline
Dividing the work into smaller chunks makes everything seem doable, but it can also give the impression that there is ample time to get it done, thus allowing us the opportunity to push things back. To tackle this, assign an overall timeline to the work and set specific deadlines for each task. Doing this will lend urgency to each task since delaying one task means delaying everything. Even if you fall behind on the work, the timeline will provide an accurate picture to help you reorganize and get back on track.
Reduce the number of decisions
Every decision you make in a day takes a toll on your willpower. If you leave the decisions to the last moment – what to wear, what to eat, whether to go to the gym or meet a friend – you will feel fatigued, and every decision will seem more confounding. Procrastination is then the easy way out. To prevent this, it would be best to plan out your day ahead of time. A daily schedule eliminates the need to decide what to do when, planning meals helps you stick to a healthy diet, and putting important tasks on the schedule ensures things get done.
It is difficult to get any meaningful work done if you are constantly distracted. The lure of Facebook and Instagram notifications, emails, etc. makes it easy to procrastinate and put off work. A good strategy is to allocate a specific time of day that is free of all distractions. When there is nothing in sight but the task itself, we feel little resistance and can give our full attention to the task at hand.
Change your environment
Different environments impel us to do different things. Having a bed nearby is an invitation to catch a “quick nap” and fall behind on work. If your current environment is not conducive to productivity, try to find a different place to work. You may find that you work best in the bustling office space and feel energized by all the movement, or you may discover that a quiet space enhances your productivity and focus. The right environment can provide us with the nudge to get to work.
If you lapse and find yourself procrastinating, be gentle with yourself. Negative self-talk and self-incrimination only add to the guilt and frustration. The key is to forgive yourself for the times that you have procrastinated in the past so you can move on with a positive headspace ready to get all the important work done.
When to Seek Help
The strategies above can be tremendously effective in beating procrastination. However, procrastination can also be a sign of deeper issues. Deep-rooted anxiety about performance, negative self-image, low self-esteem, perfectionistic tendencies, and depression can all masquerade as procrastination. If you have tried the above strategies and still struggle with procrastination, a therapist can assist you in finding the root of this habit and help untangle all the associated issues that might be stifling your success and productivity.
New Dimensions Can Help!
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms or problems, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.
Our affiliate, MHThrive, provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit www.mhthrive.com to learn more.