Why we procrastinate and how to stopFeb 16, 2022
“It’s not due till Friday, I’ll do it later,” “I can put off laundry for another day, I’ve still got some clothes,” “I’ve already eaten a cookie today, I’ll start my diet tomorrow.”
Do any of these sound familiar? We’ve all procrastinated at some point - it’s a part of life. Whether it’s cleaning the house, getting that report done, booking a dentist appointment or going to that exercise class - it’s easy to delay a task for a more instantly gratifying task such as spending 2 hours alphabetising your bookshelf or browsing social media.
Although procrastination can feel good in the moment, it almost always has a negative long term impact, often leaving you feeling more guilty later on.
You may feel frustrated if you’re consistently procrastinating and struggle to stop. But no one reason causes procrastination. If you can dig down to the cause of it, you may find that it’s easier to put some tools in place to prevent it from happening.
So why do we procrastinate?
Clinical psychologist and researcher in procrastination, Dr Alexander Rozental, says procrastination typically falls into four categories:
- Expectancy: a lack of self-belief that you will achieve the task. Or you assume you need to be in the ‘right frame of mind’ to complete the job.
- Value: a lack of intrinsic motivation. Understanding why the goal is important to you or simply not caring enough to do it.
- Time: the endpoint is too far away. You struggle viewing a project as a priority or rewarding if it’s too far into the future.
- Impulsivity: you like the rush of last-minute deadlines. You believe you work better ‘under pressure.’
We rarely procrastinate on things we enjoy or find fun. Instead, we procrastinate on things we find difficult, unpleasant, stressful or just plain boring. If a task feels overwhelming or promotes a feeling of anxiety, it’s easier to avoid it.
This often has to do with emotional self-regulation, especially the inability to manage negative feelings.
Another reason people procrastinate is because of low self-esteem. For example, you might think: “I’m never going to do this right,” or, “What will my boss think if I screw up?”
Experts suggest those who procrastinate are also more susceptible to headaches, insomnia and digestive issues. This is likely caused by stress, but you may often delay preventative treatment such as a doctor’s appointment if you’re a chronic procrastinator.
The most common task to procrastinate on
We surveyed the EQ Minds community and found that work/study (40%) and exercise (35%) were the most common things people tend to procrastinate.
Lack of motivation (60%), followed by fear of failure (23%), were the two most common reasons why they procrastinate and 56% of the people polled said browsing social media was their procrastination activity of choice.
Another growing phenomenon is the concept of “revenge bedtime procrastination”, which the Sleep Foundation defines as ‘the decision to sacrifice sleep for leisure time that is driven by a daily schedule lacking in free time.’ For example, people who lead high stress or time-consuming jobs may spend their night browsing social media in bed instead of sleeping as a way to gain a sense of control of their day.
How to take control
So, how do you identify your habits? Is there a particular thing you are constantly procrastinating on?
Journal down the following
What do you tend to procrastinate on? Get specific and write it down.
What are the thought patterns around this? Do you understand why you are procrastinating on this task? What is stopping you? Is it a lack of urgency, desire, or confidence, or do you want that last-minute rush?
How to stop procrastinating
1. Get an accountability partner. By committing to someone or making a social commitment, you are more likely to feel social pressure to meet the objective. Oxford University neuroscientist Molly Crockett claims that pre-commitment works better than willpower alone. When choosing an accountability partner, it’s key to make sure you find someone supportive and hold you accountable and believe in the same values or cause.
2. Get a good why. If you don’t know or believe in the purpose of the task, it will be challenging to stop procrastinating. However, that doesn’t mean that every task has to have a deep and meaningful purpose. For example, doing your taxes might need to have the simple why attached to it. E.g. ‘If I don’t do this, I will get fined.’
3. Break it down. Break it down into smaller parts if the task or project seems too big or overwhelming to start. It’s often much easier when you realise that it’s just a series of small steps rather than a giant leap. Write down the big goal, then all the little steps and start ticking them off, so you are rewarded for your progress.
4. Reward yourself. If there is a task that you can’t get up the energy or motivation to do, link it to a reward. E.g. ‘after I complete this task, I will get a coffee.’ Or, 'after I finish the first step on this task, I will go for a swim'. Our brains love dopamine, the pursuit chemical, so use it to your advantage.
5. Remove distractions. That means turning off all your notifications on the phone, putting on your noise-cancelling headphones to just get started.
6. Practice self-compassion. If you find yourself putting off a task and feeling guilty about it, don’t forget that you are only human. Treat yourself with kindness and understanding. Understand that you aren’t the first person to procrastinate, and you won’t be the last.
Where to go next?
We want to help you on your journey to beating procrastination and living a productive life. So if you struggle with procrastination, multitasking, time management, or wish to become more productive, our new five day productivity course is for you.
This course is here to maximise your energy and motivation to work better.
Based on science, learn how to work with your body’s natural energy rhythm to focus on your most important tasks when your mind is at its peak.
Learn practical techniques to plan and manage your day to perform better. Our five-day course will only take 15 minutes each day to create new lifelong skills.
Jay Pottenger is a Speaker, Accredited Mindfulness & Meditation coach and General Manager at EQ Minds. He works with high profile clients like IAG, Estee Lauder, BOQ and Class Limited to guide productivity and performance through mindfulness.