- Mental Health
What is procrastination and how to stop it
Call it a habit, call it a disease, call it a state of mind or call it a behavioral deficiency. Call it what you want, but you cannot deny the damaging effect of procrastination in your life. Here's a look at what is this deadly word all about, its causes and how you can help yourself and bring this habit to a complete stop.
What is procrastination?
Procrastination is the act of putting off tasks that don't seem important, for a later time or date. Psychologists, and psychology in general, often associate procrastination with anxiety or the inability to start the task on hand. It is linked with a variety of behavioral and mental elements that seem to cause and trigger procrastination in daily lives. On the other hand, realists and self proclaimed management gurus, simply term procrastination as the act of being lazy or having a lack of ambition in life. In plain English, procrastination simply means the act of ignoring a task or a decision back to a later time or date.
Causes of procrastination
The causes of procrastination can be mental and physical. In other words, psychological or physiological. There is no direct answer when it comes to digging out the root cause because procrastination itself, is a very individualistic behavior that is governed by individual circumstances.
Mental/Psychological causes of procrastination
1) Laziness / Boredom
One of the most common psychological factors that causes procrastination is the state of feeling lazy and bored. "Oh I don't feel like doing it right now. I'll do it tomorrow" or "I don't feel like studying today. I'll start tomorrow" are lines that many of us may have heard, or even used, at some point in our lives. This is nothing but the act of procrastinating a task for a later date, or in other word, being lazy.
2) Lack of self confidence
The lack of self confidence is a major cause for procrastination because it inhibits people from being confident enough to start a task. The simple feeling and thought of "I don't think I will be able to do this" can lead to procrastination.
When an impending task or a decision makes people uneasy, worried or fearful, procrastination is often the result. In other words, it is general human tendency to avoid doing a task if the very thought of it results in anxiety. It is a natural mental reflex to ignore the task until it is absolutely urgent.
4) Lack of ambition
Procrastination is often the result of the lack or urge in a person's mental psyche. Consider a simple example when there is a task of building a piece of machinery. An individual may have the best of tools, the best of resources and the best of teams. But if that individual lacks the ambition and the urge to do it, the entire project may hit a dead end.
5) Lack of motivation
Unlike lack of ambition, there may be cases where people in fact, have the urge and wish to do a task. However they may low on the important psychological aspects of motivation and inspiration. Let's consider the same example used in the above point. Here, the person does have the urge and wish to do the project. But what is missing is the little push and mental boost in the form of motivation or inspiration that is required to get the ball rolling.
Physical/Physiological causes of procrastination
1) Physical tiredness
Physical tiredness, whether it is because of over exertion, lack of sleep or simply too much running around, can often be a major physiological cause of procrastination. An individual may have won the mental battle against, procrastination, but their body may be unable to respond to the needs of the situation due to tiredness.
Distractions like watching TV, surfing the internet, phone calls, emails, hallway chit chats, gossiping, wandering and many more such distractions can often be some of the key causes of procrastination.
Addictions, whether it is to illegal or legal substances can cause procrastination. Too many smoking breaks, too many coffees, too much eating and other such addictions can chop away on vital time in a work or home environment. Illicit addictions such as drugs are also a cause of procrastination because the addiction gets priority over tasks at hand.
4) Physical stress
There may be cases when an individual is overburdened with too many tasks in his/her daily life which is causing physical stress. Also known as burn out, this can happen to the best of us. Procrastination can be one of the results of such a situation.
5) Physical incapacity
Probably one of the most understandable causes of procrastination, there may be cases where a person lacks the physical ability to do a task or take a decision. No, this does not mean physical disability. It simply means that the person lacks the required physical strength and stamina required to finish the task at hand. For example, a swimmer may procrastinate practicing multiple laps of an Olympics sized swimming pool because he/she may yet have to develop the stamina required to lap the pool over and over.
Environmental causes of procrastination
1) Lack of resources
A genuine environmental cause of procrastination may be the lack of resources to engage into a particular task. This applies especially to a work environment where a manager may be unable to take a decision simply because he/she is understaffed.
2) Other tasks receiving higher priorities
Ask any working mother why she keeps procrastinating some of the tasks at hand and she will reply "I have other priorities in life". Why working mothers, all of us including bosses, managers and employees have priorities to deal with that may lead to procrastination.
3) Being refrained from doing a task
This is an extreme situation wherein environmental, personal or professional pressure may be put upon a person and that individual may be forced to procrastinate a certain task.
How to stop procrastinating
Now for the bit we have all been waiting for. Let's find answer to the question, how to stop procrastinating.
1) Make a to-do list
A to-do list in the form of sticky notes, diaries, reminders, computer backgrounds or calendars is your best friend when it comes to learning how to stop procrastinating. Update that list regularly and make sure you place it strategically at a place where you are likely to see throughout the day. The mere purpose of this list is to act as a constant reminder of the tasks at hand.
2) Identify and eliminate your distractions
We talked about distractions as one of the major physiological causes of procrastination. What is your distraction? Find it, and work towards eliminating that distraction from the time when you want to focus on work, or simply getting things done. This is one of the most effective way to stop procrastinating and finding more time on a daily basis to achieve what you've woken up to achieve.
3) Now is the best time
If "I wonder what the best time to do this is" is the first thought that comes to your mind when you've given a task, it's time you trained your mind to reply to this thought by saying "Now". The very thought of allocating a suitable time to even the most minuscule of tasks or decisions gives birth the act of procrastination. So remember, the best time to do anything, is now.
4) Cut out the vices or addictions
Do you have vices or addictions like smoking, coffee, drinking, drugs that take up a lot of your time and also weaken your mental stance against procrastination? If you do, you really don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand that you need to stop indulging into these vices to stop procrastinating, do you?
5) Set reasonable goals
Unless you consider yourself to be superman or superwoman, setting reasonable goals is a great way to start your fight against procrastination. Goals that seem unachievable may give rise to the thought of "Oh this seems too tough or too hard to accomplish", resulting in the deadly sin we are trying to cure.
6) Ask for help
If you think that procrastination is taking over your life, you can ask a friend, relative or family member to help you out. Ask them to give you a wakeup call every time they see you wandering into procrastination land. A constant reminder from other people can serve as a useful tool and help you stop procrastinating.
7) Punish yourself for procrastinating
Punishing yourself can be as simple as "I'm not going to watch my favorite show because I deliberately procrastinated a task that should have been completed today". The human psyche works wonders when there is the thought of being punished or penalized for a shortcoming. You can stop procrastinating by imposing such penalties on yourself.
8) Perfectionism vs. Procrastination: Don't cross the line
The thought of doing something with perfection, as good as it sounds, may hinder your ability to actually doing it, leading to procrastination. It's because your attitude towards being a perfectionist may render the task at hand more difficult than it should really be. If you are a perfectionist, and want to learn to stop procrastinating, it's better to first learn to let go of the perfectionist attitude where it really doesn't matter.
9) Set your priorities straight and focus
Life is all about setting your priorities right. Mastering the act of allocating a certain level of importance to each task that you are faced with, is not easy. However, with practice and after a few falls, you will soon realize how important this is a tool against inadvertently procrastinating something important. To top this ability off, make sure you focus all your energies to the task on hand rather than worrying about what you've just categorized as a lower priority.
10) Live healthy
We talked about physical stress, tiredness and weakness as causes of procrastination. To beat this, live a healthy lifestyle. Although this sounds too generic, it goes a long way in helping you to stop procrastinating. Start by getting ample rest, which means 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Then move on to figuring out a healthy diet for yourself and for your family. No, this is not about being a health freak or having a toned body. Don't start counting the calories to the last kj and don't sweat it out if you've had a big night out and an early next morning, once in a while. Just live and feel healthy.