Beating Procrastination

“I’ll do it later” seems to be one of the most common phrases we say and it seems to be the most common phrase when it shouldn't be. Procrastination is one of those habits that the majority of us just can’t seem to beat. It hits everyone at some point, but can be much more difficult to shake for some people. Except, even our most productive students or colleagues face the same feelings of procrastination; however, they know how to beat it. Recent research regarding procrastination has shown that it is much more complex than a simple “I don't feel like it” attitude. A new perspective on procrastination sees it as a result of negative emotions, rather than just laziness. Recent research suggests that we should start understanding why we procrastinate and then apply strategies to address the underlying causes. 

People don't just put things off because they are disorganized, lazy or unambitious, but because they aren’t in the right mood to get things done. Once “you’ve decided that you aren’t in the right mood to work, you distract yourself with other tasks” (Bradberry, 2016), and once you finally realize you need to work, you feel guilty for wasting all that time. Joseph Farrari at DePaul University introduced a procrastination doom loop where you find yourself repeating the habits of procrastination, but it stems from our mood.

cycle of procrastination

Beating that procrastination seems impossible, but it is simply a matter of taking control of your mood (Bradberry, 2016). Understanding when and why you procrastinate will allow you to experiment with strategies that should put you in a more productive mood.

Figure out why you are procrastinating, whether you’re hungry, stressed, overwhelmed or just need some rest. When you think about why you are procrastinating, think about the things that may distract you or stop you from your work. Are you thinking about incoming emails or social media notifications? Turn off your phone or put it on silent while you do your work. One of the most important steps is to just jump in and start. Don't think about how hard it will be to start, just do it. Once you start working you will find that it gets easier and you will probably just continue working; not to mention, your mood will improve dramatically knowing the hardest part is over. Another strategy that research suggests is to cut your project into more manageable pieces. Setting sub-deadlines for different parts of your projects, cutting the hours dedicated to your work into intervals, or simply focusing on one deliverable at a time may make the entire project seem less daunting. 

As you check off each part of your project or deliverable, be proud. Enjoy the small victory in being able to say you’ve completed something. Feeling accomplished builds new androgen receptors where your brain regulates rewards and motivation and this increase can influence testosterone levels, which will increase your confidence and your eagerness (Bradberry, 2016). Working in the right environment is a huge factor in how productive you will be. Keeping yourself away from spaces you know will distract you (television, friends, noise, outside) will go a long way in getting you to focus and be productive. Another effective strategy is to engage in positive self-talk. In theory, telling yourself “I will not procrastinate” will only make you procrastinate because it will be the one thing you keep thinking about. Shift the procrastination thoughts towards what you plan to do and how you’ll feel when you’ve finished it, rather than something you’re trying to avoid. Lastly, forgive yourself. When you procrastinate, beating yourself up for wasting time just wastes more time. Once you understand the emotions rooted in procrastination and the underlying causes, it will seem easier to beat it. Using the strategies above can also help you escape that procrastination cycle and put yourself in a more productive mood.

Now get started on that project!

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Bradberry, D. (2016). 11 Ways to Beat Procrastination. Talentsmart. Retrieved from http://www.talentsmart.com/articles/11-Ways-To-Beat-Procrastination-2147446639-p-1.html

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