Simply put, procrastination is the act of delaying a task that needs to be completed. It is something we all do to greater and lesser degrees. For most people, a little minor procrastination is not a cause for great concern. Because we all procrastinate from time to time, we usually do not give it much thought, let alone think about its causes or effects. Ironically, many of the psychological reasons for why we avoid a given task also keep us from using critical thinking to understand why procrastination can be extremely detrimental, and in some cases difficult to overcome.
To succeed at time management, you must understand some of the hurdles that may stand in your way. Procrastination is often one of the biggest. What follows is an overview of procrastination with a few suggestions on how to avoid it.
The Reasons Behind Procrastination
There are several reasons we procrastinate, and a few of them may be surprising. On the surface we often tell ourselves it is because the task is something we do not want to do, or we make excuses that there are other things more important to do first. In some cases this may be true, but there can be other contributors to procrastination that have their roots in our physical well-being or our own psychological motivations.
Lack of Energy
Sometimes we just do not feel up to a certain task. It might be due to discomfort, an illness, or just a lack of energy. If this is the case, it is important to identify the cause and remedy the situation. It could be something as simple as a lack of sleep or improper diet. Regardless, if a lack of energy is continually causing you to procrastinate to the point where you are beginning to feel stress over not getting things done, you should definitely assess the situation and address it.
Lack of Focus
Much like having low physical energy, a lack of mental focus can be a cause of procrastination. This can be due to mental fatigue, being disorganized, or allowing yourself to be distracted by other things. Again, like low physical energy, this is something that may have further-reaching effects in your life that go beyond the act of simply avoiding a task. If it is something that is recurring, you should properly assess the situation.
Fear of Failure
This cause of procrastination is not one that many people are aware of, especially if they are the person avoiding tasks because of it. To put it simply, it is a bit of trickery we play on ourselves by avoiding a situation that makes us psychologically uncomfortable. Even though they may not be consciously aware of it, the person facing the task is afraid that they cannot do it or will not be able to do it well. If they fail at the task, it will make them appear incompetent to others or even to themselves. Where the self-trickery comes in is by avoiding the task. In the person’s mind, they can rationalize that the reason they failed at the task was because they ran out of time to complete it, not that they were incapable of doing it in the first place.
It is important to note that a fear of failure may not have anything to do with the actual ability of the person suffering from it. They could be quite capable of doing the task and performing well, but it is the fear that holds them back.
The Effects of Procrastination
In addition to the causes of procrastination, you must also consider what effects it can have. Again, many of these effects are obvious and commonly understood, but some may not be so obvious and may cause other issues.
Loss of Time
The loss of time as an effect of procrastination is the easiest to identify since the act of avoiding a task comes down to not using time wisely. Procrastination can be thought of as using the time you have to complete a task in ways that do not accomplish what needs to be done.
Procrastination causes stress and anxiety, which may seem odd since the act of procrastination is often about avoiding a task we think will be stressful in itself! Anyone who has noticed that nagging feeling when they know there is something else they should be doing is familiar with this. On the other hand, some students see that kind of stress as a boost of mental urgency. They put off a task until they feel that surge of motivation. While this may have worked in the past, they quickly learn that procrastinating when it comes to college work almost always includes an underestimation of the tasks to be completed — sometimes with disastrous results.
We know that time management is an essential skill for college students and professionals. One of the biggest barriers to effective time management is procrastination: delaying or postponing doing something, like a reading for school or a project that needs completing.
In order to overcome procrastination, it’s useful to understand why and when we put things off.
Can you think of a time that you procrastinated? Why did you? What were you avoiding doing? How did it feel to procrastinate? What was the end result?
If you could go back and approach the task differently, what would you do? How do you imagine it would feel? Would the end result be different?
It could be helpful to write your reflection down.
Strategies for Managing Procrastination
Now that you understand a few of the major problems procrastination can produce, let’s look at methods to manage procrastination and get you on to completing the tasks, no matter how unpleasant you think they might be.
Much of this chapter is dedicated to defining and explaining the nature of time management. The most effective way to combat procrastination is to use time- and project-management strategies such as scheduling, goal-setting, and other techniques to get tasks accomplished in a timely manner.
Put Aside Distractions
Several of the methods discussed in this chapter deal specifically with distractions. Distractions are time killers and are the primary way people procrastinate. It is too easy to play a video game just a little while longer, check social media, or finish watching a movie when we are avoiding a task. Putting aside distractions is one of the primary functions of setting priorities.
Rewarding yourself for the completion of tasks or meeting goals is a good way to avoid procrastination. An example of this would be rewarding yourself with the time to watch a movie you would enjoy after you have finished the things you need to do, rather than using the movie to keep yourself from getting things done.
A strong motivational tool is to hold ourselves accountable by telling someone else we are going to do something and when we are going to do it. This may not seem like it would be very effective, but on a psychological level we feel more compelled to do something if we tell someone else. It may be related to our need for approval from others, or it might just serve to set a level of commitment. Either way, it can help us stay on task and avoid procrastination — especially if we take our accountability to another person seriously enough to warrant contacting that person and apologizing for not doing what we said we were going to do.