Breaking down procrastination

Procrastination is often linked with laziness and apathy, but there is much more to it. For example, a procrastinator might not be lazy and, in fact, can be a perfectionist by virtue. Sounds weird, right?

Procrastination is the act of delaying the work at hand. Though counterintuitive, it is not the same as laziness, which is just the unwillingness to work and lack of energy. While laziness is a physical aspect, procrastination is a psychological phenomenon.

Our mind does not process time well. We have a very vague sense of how the future would look like. So you wouldn’t feel the same level of fear a month before a deadline or an exam as you would a few days before it. This is what holds us back from carrying out the task which our conscious mind knows is of considerable significance.

Procrastination is also linked to value judgement and makes us prone to a vicious cycle which continually increases the inertia to get back on track. Further, procrastination itself is causal in nature. So if you’ve been putting something off for 6 days, you’re likely to do it for the 7th day as well.

In addition, procrastination is associated with difficulty in emotional regulation. Suppose we learn to deal with our emotions rather than avoid them. In that case, the same behaviour may also be reflected when we choose to either deal with a task or avoid it for the time being.

We all procrastinate on some or the other occasion, with some of us procrastinating more often than others. Many of us may be unknowingly procrastinating, making it essential to first understand and acknowledge that we are doing so.

To understand this, there are a few questions you can ask yourself:

  • What do you commonly tend to do when you delay working on that pending assignment? Is it nothing, or is it something less critical, or is it something more substantial? If it is something more important, you can consider it good procrastination, but if not, ask yourself some more questions.
  • With an approaching deadline, do you begin to overestimate your abilities to do something in less time than what you initially thought?
  • Do you try to ignore the task, hoping that you will escape the consequences if you don’t think about it?
  • Do you feel afraid or worried that you might mess up the work, and hence it is better to look lazy rather than incompetent?
  • Do you spend too much time planning and deciding what to do and end up accomplishing none of the significant tasks?

If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then identify those forms of procrastination and take the first step of acknowledging it the next time you do so.

Now that you have identified that procrastination impacts your life and the probable reasons, the next step would be to do things that will help you stop procrastinating and use your time effectively- both for work and relaxation.

One has to be pragmatic while setting goals and realise their limitations. Progress can be observed if incremental steps are taken towards them. Having SMART goals is a good start — Short-term, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

Short term goals are more effective since an immediate dopamine rush is received as soon as we accomplish them. This can act as a motivator to complete more of your checklist.

Measurable goals can help get a sense of accomplishment and progress. For instance, being healthier is a ubiquitous goal, but how does one do that and check progress? An alternative could be to go on a run four times a week and have only one dessert per week. This way, you have something to check off every week, leading to a healthier life.

Most important of all, the goal must be time-bound. Finishing it sometime soon is not motivating. Finishing it by this week is better since you have a deadline and can plan to break the goal into smaller chunks for achieving it. This also helps to make your subconscious mind actively involved in finishing the goal.

Procrastination feeds on distraction. So it is crucial to identify what helps you work and what is a distraction you can go without. These tricks may help you hack your reward system to improve your motivation levels and reach a state where work is not drudgery.