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Procrastination, why, when and how

pro•cras•ti•nate  [proh-kras-tuh-neyt]

verb (used without object), pro•cras•ti•nat•ed, pro•cras•ti•nat•ing.

1. to defer action; delay: to procrastinate until an opportunity is lost.

verb (used with object), pro•cras•ti•nat•ed, pro•cras•ti•nat•ing.

2. to put off till another day or time; defer; delay

Procrastination is something that affects all of us at some point, even the most organised person has found themselves watching the television when they should be doing household chores, or online shopping instead of finishing that report that is due in at the end of the day. And not only that, but justifying to yourself why you aren’t tackling the job at hand and instead occupying your time with something frivolous instead.

That moment when you have so much stuff to do, that you decide to take a nap instead

(Picture credit, somecards)

The cause of procrastination

But why do we procrastinate? It could be one or several of the below listed, and it is far more common than you think.

The volume of work can cause procrastination

When you are at the start of a project, an essay, or article it can seem daunting. There is often a lot of research involved, as well as structuring and organising the task ahead. If organisation doesn’t come naturally to you this can seem like an uphill battle. However there are techniques to help you, which we will come to later.

Trying to be a perfectionist

If you are the type of person who has to get top marks with everything you do, anything less seems like a failure to you. This self-imposed pressure can become very extreme and this can cause you to procrastinate and shy away from the work which you are more than capable of doing.

Resentment and rebellion

This tends to happen when you are not happy with something, either where you work, how your workplace deals with things, or even just a work colleague/your boss. This causes resentment to the work that you are given either in the work place or by that particular colleague or boss. As a result you end up putting it off and procrastinating, I’ve seen this dubbed as ‘sophisticated sulking’ and it sums it up beautifully.

Bad habits

This depends on if you are used to delaying things in your life in general; taking the rubbish out, sending off that application form, paying bills etc. If you are used to getting extensions and getting by that way it is incredibly hard to get out of this habit.

Fear of failure or success

I’ve put these two together as the outcome is the same. On one side of the coin you have the fear of failure, the idea of doing your absolute best and it still not being good enough. This is what causes people to put off studying for an exam or test because they can then say to themselves if they’d had more time to study they would have gotten a better grade. On the flip side of the coin is fear of success; afraid of the expectation of others to do well the next time or possibly better can make people put off work, especially if they do not like to be in the spotlight, procrastination is the only way to control the situation.

How to spot when you are procrastinating

Now we know what causes us to procrastinate, but how do know when we are doing it? A few signs of being a procrastinator are:

  • Regularly late for appointments
  • Easily distracted by emails or text messages
  • Usually surrounded by clutter and disorganisation both at work and at home
  • Difficulty with getting started on new projects
  • Feeling like you are disappointing other people and yourself
  • Feel bad saying ‘no’ to other peoples requests
  • Overestimating how much time you have left to finish a task
  • Overestimating how motivated you will be in the future to complete the task
  • Underestimating how long it takes to do a task

If any of these sounds familiar then I am afraid you are guilty of procrastinating, however there are some easy and simple steps you can introduce at work, school, college and even to household tasks which can make a difference.

Some tips on how to overcome procrastination

Dealing with the volume of work

If you have bigger tasks or projects to complete then try breaking these into smaller bites or jobs to do. It will seem less daunting that way and you will get through the main task(s) quicker.

Creating lists for your tasks to tick off as you go is also highly beneficial, it helps to organise and structure your work and once it has been completed you get to cross it out. Is there anything more satisfying?

Resentment and rebellion

For this one you are going to have to work out who your resentment is aimed at, and then deal with those emotions. Even if turning work in late or not being on time seems like a good way to annoy the person your resentment is directed at, in the long run the only person you are going to harm is yourself. Bad work or continually being tardy isn’t going to bode well for your career prospects.

Breaking out of your bad habits

A great technique you can employ here is the Pomodoro Technique. This is a very clever time management method developed in the 1980’s. It breaks down work time into manageable intervals, traditionally 25 minutes.

There are 5 steps to this technique:

  1. Decide on the task/job to be done
  2. Set the Pomodoro timer (traditionally 25 minutes)
  3. Work on the task til the timer rings
  4. Take a short break/have a reward (3-5 minutes)
  5. Every 4 Pomodori take a longer break (15-30 minutes)

If you are distracted during a Pomodori then the activity must either be recorded or the Pomodori abandoned and started again.

The main aim is to give the task your direct attention for the set amount of time without being exhausting, and therefore more productive and motivated.

Failure and success

If you are worried at being a failure, there are some organisation steps you can employ to help you tackle tasks better.

  1. If you do the jobs that you don’t want to do first then all the other jobs will be easy in comparison, giving yourself a sense of achievement.
  2. After lunch re-evaluate the work you have already done in the morning, go over your priorities for the day again and focus your mind and attention on tasks that need to be completed the soonest. It’s no good waiting until 5pm to do this, if you discover that you are behind then it will just cause yourself added stress.
  3. If you have a friend or work colleague who is equally bad at procrastinating then it might be worth getting them in on the act too. By telling them your goals/targets and when they need to be achieved by, get them to regularly ask you how you are getting on with the tasks (and vice versa) this will spur you on to get the jobs done, and if you are working on the same or similar projects you can share problem solving techniques.

If your problem is with the idea of success then there may be some questions you need to ask about how you measure your self-worth. If your self-worth is tied to what you achieve then you will always be wondering what more you have to do to be ‘good enough’ and this is true if you are a perfectionist too.

And one final tip, when you have finished your task, do one more job or start another project before you finish for the day or take a break, when you come back to it you will be ahead of schedule.


Photograph of Laura Holland

Author Bio -

Social Media and Web Content Coordinator, Jan 2014 - May 2015