The Nature & Causes of Procrastination

Procrastination - Stop it today

It’s Friday afternoon and the clock is ticking. You’re working furiously to complete a task before the five o’clock deadline, while silently cursing yourself for not starting it sooner. How did this happen? 

Well, there were the hours that you spent re-reading emails and checking social media, the excessive “preparation,” the coffee breaks, and the time spent on other tasks that you could have safely left for next week.

Procrastination is not a “one size fits all” problem.  We procrastinate for a variety of different reasons. The first step in tackling procrastination is to do some detective work to figure out, without judgment, why it might be that you procrastinate.

1. Self-Capabilities: When we don’t have much confidence in our ability to complete a task (or to complete it well), our likelihood of procrastinating goes way up. This shows up most commonly when we’re uncertain about how to start a task.

Strategy to follow: Commit to the task! Focus on doing, not avoiding. Write down the tasks that you need to complete, go step by step, and specify a time for doing them. You need to act fast if you’re unsure of yourself completing that task. Procrastination is not the answer. This will help you to proactively tackle your work.

2. Quality of Work: If the work that you’ll do is enjoyable or painfully boring also impacts your willingness and tendency to procrastinate. If it’s enjoyable, of course you’ll tend to procrastinate less. If the work is painfully boring, then thoughts come to your mind automatically to postpone it until it gets too late. 

Strategy to follow: Promise yourself a reward! If you complete a difficult task on time, reward yourself with a treat, such as a slice of cake or a coffee from your favorite coffee shop. The key thing here is to be honest to yourselves. This will motivate you to take a step further to complete the tasks. And make sure you notice how good it feels to finish things to continue doing it in the future. 

3. Dealing with Distractions: If we’re vulnerable to lots of distractions, or work in a highly distracting environment, and have a hard time resisting those distractions, we’re much more likely to procrastinate. Things like social media push notifications, game notifications or your friends trying to make unnecessary conversations make it tough to simply sit and work hard on one task for a sustained period of time.

Strategy to follow: Turn off your email and social media, and avoid sitting anywhere near a television while you work! Tackle tasks as soon as they arise, rather than letting them build up over another day.

4. Deadline Time Frame:  How much time there is in between the decision to take on a task and the point when it must be completed. Basically, the longer you have to finish a task, the longer you’ll wait to get started on it. Psychologically, this is true. One will tend to procrastinate more and wait until it’s too late to get the work done. 

Strategy to follow: Write down the tasks that you need to complete, and specify a time for doing them. Get those tasks that you find least pleasant out of the way early. This will give you enough time to do things that are fairly less important or can be done when you’re having some free time. 

Procrastination can restrict your potential and undermine your career. It can also disrupt teamwork, reduce morale, and even lead to depression and job loss. So, it’s crucial to take proactive steps to prevent it.

The key to overcoming procrastination is to understand how we are uniquely vulnerable to procrastination given both our own personality and our ever-changing environment, and then to tailor our strategies to those unique vulnerabilities.

Written by

Cheryl Toh

Last updated on

January 6th 2020, 3:57 pm

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