Tame the procrastination monster
Welcome to the weekend! No doubt your Saturday chore and errand list is a mile long. The car needs to be washed, lawn mowed, weeds pulled.
It feels a little overwhelming — reading the newspaper might not be on that list. Yet here we are …
Did you know that a survey conducted by H&R Block found that due to late fees, procrastinators overpaid $5.1 billion in taxes? Procrastination can lead to late fees, missed opportunities, and missing out on feeling at peace with our work.
I don’t want to get in the way of your weekend “plans,” but I do want to share some research on procrastination that might help that list actually get done this weekend. Procrastination is something we can all relate to. Whether it’s getting lost in a YouTube whirlpool, or organizing your closet by color, it’s something we all do to an extent.
But procrastination isn’t always a bad thing; it really depends on how we do it.
Let’s start at the beginning. What exactly is procrastination?
Procrastination is the action of delaying or postponing something. Frank Partony, author of ”Wait: The Art & Science of Delay,” tells us that procrastination is inevitable because every moment of our lives we have to prioritize where we spend our time. By choosing to do one thing we are inherently delaying doing another thing.
That’s right, you’re procrastinating right now — in fact you’re procrastinating every moment of your life! The question is not whether or not we procrastinate, but whether or not we procrastinate effectively.
To better grasp this idea of effective or ineffective procrastination, researchers define procrastination in two separate categories: passive and active procrastination.
Passive procrastination is the procrastination we all think of when we hear the word. Joining Butch Cassidy on the list of “Most Successful Robbers,” procrastination steals success from folks everywhere. Passive procrastination is putting off the tasks on your to-do list for something with less value. It’s the typical binge-watching Netflix or mindlessly scrolling through social media as deadlines creep up.
Passive procrastinators may or may not be intentional in their procrastination, but the difference is in the type of activity that is substituted for the activity being avoided. Instead of completing the activity with “value,” we spend time on activities that have less value. Passive procrastination is associated with guilt, depression and anxiety.
Active procrastination is when we substitute a more “valuable” activity — such as finally doing the dishes — for the activity being avoided. This sort of procrastination is intentional because of the deliberate substitution.
Active procrastinators tend to be more satisfied and successful when compared with passive procrastinators. Some researchers even argue that active procrastination can be beneficial. Active procrastination is making the to-do list, and sometimes doing even more.
So why do we procrastinate?
Dr. Fuschia Sirios of the University of Sheffield says, “It doesn’t make sense to do something you know is going to have negative consequences.” And Dr. Tim Pychyl of Carleton University theorizes that (passive) procrastination is not a time management issue, but an emotional one.
Instead of poor capabilities hiding the consequences of procrastination, the driving force of procrastinators everywhere is the short-term payoff. The professors described procrastination as “the primacy of short-term mood repair . . . over the longer-term pursuit of intended actions.” Or simply the need to deal with negative emotions now being put ahead of deadlines that seem further off.
Now that we know what procrastination is, there’s one last question: What do we do about it? Procrastination is a complex real-world problem. However, there are ways to handle procrastination better.
First, try to identify, as much as possible, what emotions the task is invoking for you. Pychyl identified seven emotions that are triggers for procrastination. If you think of something you’re putting off right now, it’s likely that the task has some of these emotions:
• Not intrinsically rewarding (you don’t find the process fun)
• Lacking in personal meaning
Once you identify the emotions standing in your way, you can think of a way to overcome those emotional barriers.
Make a game out of it. For instance, how much can you accomplish in a set time period? How many weeds can you pull in 10 minutes?
Then build a reward for completing the task, such as an opportunity for a break that’s not too far distant. After that pile of weeds gets high enough, it might be time for some lemonade and shade! Setting a time gets you started on the task, which is key.
Also, it’s important to learn to handle these negative emotions in a healthier way. Forgive yourself for past mistakes and move forward. Negative emotions — such as shame, insecurity, fear or sadness — need to be acknowledged and worked through. It can help to write in a journal, talk to someone or meditate. But there is great value in recognizing the negative emotion that you are feeling and working through it. This approach is also backed by studies done by Pychyl and Sioris that found self-forgiveness and self-compassion decrease procrastination.
If you struggle with feeling frustrated, maybe you need more information or guidance to complete the project. I know when I don’t know how to do something I tend to put it off.
Also, break the project into smaller pieces; if you take it one piece at a time, it’s less overwhelming.
When possible, disconnect from your devices. There are apps like Freedom or Self Control that you can set up to block distracting sites.
Well, it sure was nice to have some time with you. Now, instead of procrastinating it, you should probably get back to that to-do list!
Dallin Christensen is a junior at Leadership Academy of Utah. Email him firstname.lastname@example.org.