For some, procrastination is a contemporary disease fought by millions of people worldwide. For others, it is merely a pseudoscientific attempt at explaining laziness and lack of competence. Procrastination means delaying and postponing our tasks and duties. According psychologists, it is a mental disorder which very much complicates our private and – first and foremost – professional life. Where does it come from and can it be overcome? We look into the matter below.
The addiction of delaying and postponing tasks
If we have a look at statistics and studies, it turns out that most of our contemporary society suffers from this disorder. According to brandongaille.com this is as much as 1/4 of our population. Every fifth respondent declares that postponing tasks had a very negative effect on their family life and professional life. As many as 95% of students suffer from procrastination. No wonder, then, that the disease is sometimes referred to as student syndrome. Many specialists claim that the main cause of this modern epidemics is the development of new technologies which are very efficient at distracting us. According to Procrastination Research Group, 46% of respondents claim that procrastination has a very negative effect on their sense of happiness.
Why do we keep postponing things?
There are a lot of reasons for postponing tasks for another day of even week. First of all, we are afraid of failure or wait for some inspiration. Nevertheless, postponing duties does not happen just like that. Usually when we start to perform our tasks, we are filled with energy and we are willing to complete them, but as time passes by the first signs of procrastination start to show, the feeling that we need to postpone the deadline of our tasks. We do not put them off once: we postpone our tasks multiple times. Each and every deadline postponement results in an even higher sense of failure and builds an untrue belief in us that the task is immensely difficult.
It might be said that we do not have one main reason for procrastinating. We wait till the end with performance of work and it turns out that they are simply of poor quality, performed carelessly and inaccurately. What is the worst in the situation is that we ourselves seek other tasks and distractors that we “must” perform at a given time. Such postponing gives a fleeting sense of relax, but eventually it ends with a spectacular failure.
A good example might be Monday’s morning and a long to-do list. So we start by brewing some coffee, then we enter the social room, where we talk about the weekend, and then we come back to our desk. We sit at the computer and instead of tackling the to-do list, we decide that it urgent that we check our Facebook or read the news on a blog for cat fans.
Scientists claim that a lot of people who struggle with postponing their duties are perfectionists, who want their task to be performed perfectly, and postponing might give some more time for an additional idea to emerge or some force to appear that will allow its perfect completion. To sum up, the three main reasons for procrastination are:
- fear of failure;
- need for additional stimulation;
Bear in mind, though, that what cannot be confused are the following notions: planning and procrastination. In the case of planning, we also postpone the project deadline. The reason for this, however, is merely to gather proper materials, knowledge and resources to complete the project. In the case of procrastination, on the other hand, the final effect of postponing work is the loss of effectiveness and agency.
What fosters procrastination and how to prevent it?
First and foremost, there are two causes that can lead us to our professional failure. The first is the lack of the skill to plan tasks, the other – very much erroneous, negative attitude and thinking.
Let us start by having a closer look at the ill-skilled planning of our own tasks. What is most important is to draft a to-do list. It has to contain all, even the tiniest, tasks which we want to complete. At the same time, we cannot have more duties that we can perform on a given day in our to-do list. Such a situation fosters procrastination as – seeing a long list of tasks – we automatically negate our capacity to complete all its items.
A good solution could be to draft a to-do list with prioritised items, for instance:
- reply to e-mails (important);
- prepare materials for Friday’s presentation (important, but I can start on Wednesday);
- write a text for employees (important);
- prepare the training schedule (important);
- determine all tasks related to the training, complete all organisation matters, meet with the room owner, book catering services (an important task, but to be broken down into several smaller ones or to be performed on one day when we do not have other tasks to do);
- meet the commercial group (not so important);
- settle the business trips (not so important; time limit – 14 days).
Of course, this is a simplified outline, but it shows that we can postpone some tasks due to their deadlines or necessity to invest more time in them. Breaking down larger tasks into smaller ones allows their better completion. How to select the most important ones? Sometimes, a simple question helps: What do we have to do today in order not to go beyond the deadline or what I would work on if I had 2-3 hours? Filtering tasks and prioritising them is very helpful. IC Project is a very handy tool, where you can create checklists or place tasks on Kanban boards and set their deadlines.
A good practice allowing to overcome procrastination is a system of prizes, small treats which we use to motivate ourselves to work. It can be a cup of coffee, several minutes of cycling, buying an e-book. The prizing system works very well in practice. Moreover, it is worth working in intervals. We decide that for the next hour or two we will be working on a task and we do not distract ourselves with Facebook and other distractors to have a 15-30 minutes of break, when we go to the social room, play a game on our smartphone or just sit on a terrace with a cup of coffee.
Before we say goodbye, we have yet another hint for you. In his book Eat that Frog, Brian Tracy encourages us to start the most difficult and toughest duties. Thanks to this, we will “eat our frog,” which will give us the sense of satisfaction and allow us to deal with the remaining tasks more easily and more quickly.
In addition, procrastination feeds on chaos and mess. It is common knowledge that everyone wants to have their own treasury of things on their desk, but it creates unnecessary mess at times. Specialists in fighting procrastination suggest having our computer, that is our work tool, a notebook and a pen to put down information and to create our to-do list, something to drink and snack and headphones. The last item is intended for people who work listening to music or use them to cut off external stimuli. If we work with paper documents, we should sort them out at once not to generate chaos.
We already said that what brings in procrastination is negative thinking. And it is true. If we assume at the start that the task we have to perform will be difficult, tiring and boring, instead of focusing on completing it quickly, we will drag it away into eternity. We can also assume that we do not do the task well or perfectly (in the case of perfectionists). Such negative thinking must be replaced with willingness to act and an attempt to focus on smaller chunks of the whole task. Performance of such smaller chunks will allow us to complete the task well and on time.
If procrastination is a disease, how to treat it?
Let us start by saying that procrastination can be overcome. First of all, it is worth thinking over what brings us into such a state of mind? Maybe we have too much duties or skills to low to fulfil our obligations? Finding the problem is the first step to success. Another thing is, what we have already mentioned, task planning. When we do not have tasks actually assigned to ourselves, we cannot decide on our priorities and it is much easier for us to throw responsibility off onto others. Focus and dropping bad habits are also important. However, if this does not help, it is worth consulting a specialist. Proper therapy will help us find the source of the problem and start the fight with procrastination. This step may be our last resort if we cannot deal with procrastination on our own.