Take a trip into the mind of a procrastinator to understand what makes us put off preparing that presentation - at least until tomorrow.
We’ve all done it at some point in our lives: allowed that deadline to sneak up on us and pulled an all-nighter to meet it.
The big question is, why do we torture ourselves like this? Every responsible adult knows it’s a lot less stressful to gradually devour a task in manageable, bite-sized chunks. We all know that leaving things to the last minute is a recipe for disaster, and yet somehow - amidst our busy schedules - we find ourselves falling into the trap of instant gratification, taking a trip down the cat video hole, instead of preparing for the presentation that’s due next week.
According to Psychology Today magazine, “procrastinators are made, not born”. In their article Why We Procrastinate, author Hara Estroff Marano delves into the psychology of why people choose self-sabotage over self-regulation.
Hara writes, “procrastination is not a problem of time management or of planning”. So then, if procrastination isn’t about lack of time management and good planning, what is it? Hara interviewed Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D. an expert on procrastination, who explained that there are three common reasons why people become procrastinators. Namely:
- People who enjoy the euphoric rush of meeting a deadline at the last possible minute. These people are thrill-seekers and use procrastination as a means to achieve that rush.
- People who fear failure (or even fear success). These people are very concerned with others’ opinions and would rather claim “lack of effort than ability”.
- People who are naturally indecisive. These procrastinators believe that “not making a decision absolves procrastinators of the responsibility for the outcome of events”.
Tim Urban, writer and co-founder of Wait But Why (a blog covering science and social studies), gave a great TED Talk called Inside the mind of a master procrastinator where he unpacks the rationalisation process of a procrastinator. Tim uses a humorous analogy where he explains how the “Rational Decision Maker” is sabotaged by the “Instant Gratification Monkey” who only wants to do things that are fun and easy.
Between these two factors, people put off tasks perceived to be boring, difficult or time consuming in favour of doing menial and nonessential tasks like checking emails and catching up on the latest cute cat videos on YouTube.
Luckily, as a deadline gets ready to pounce on us, the “Panic Monster” takes over and sends us into a state of hyper-concentration, allowing us to avert disaster and meet that pesky deadline at the last possible moment.
In his TED Talk, Tim explains that although this analogy highlights the humorous side of procrastination, procrastination can also have profoundly negative effects on our lives. The problem lies in the areas of our lives that don’t have deadlines to wake the Panic Monster. We procrastinate things like going to gym, ending unhealthy relationships and pursuing our dreams, causing us to feel unhappy and unfulfilled as we become “a spectator, at times,” in our own lives.
Tim urges people to look at their life as a calendar with “one box for every week of a 90 year life”. He explains that “we need to stay aware of the Instant Gratification Monkey” and keep in mind that “there’s not that many boxes on there” so we need to begin pursuing our dreams, setting deadlines for ourselves and avoid living with regrets later in life.
Lifehack, a user-generated blog helping people to simplify their lives, published a great article from life coach, Celestine Chua, on 11 Practical Ways To Stop Procrastination. Celestine writes “don’t let procrastination take over your life. Here, I will share my personal steps which I use to overcome procrastination with great success”.
The 11 steps to help you avoid procrastination are:
- Break your work down into steps.
- Create a detailed timeline with specific, mini-deadlines.
- Change your environment. If you usually work at your desk, why not take your laptop to your favourite coffee shop and work over a hot cappuccino. A change in environment often brings on a fresh wave of inspiration.
- Eliminate your “procrastination pit stops”. Put your smartphone on flight mode while you work, stay off social media and avoid checking emails.
- Socialise with people who inspire you. When you’re feeling inspired, you’re more likely to take action - make time to hang out with the right people more regularly.
- Find a friend or colleague to be your “procrastination buddy” you can help each other stay on track, by holding each other accountable for your goals and plans.
- Tell your friends and family about your goals. In doing so, they’re likely to ask you about your progress toward these goals when they see you - this will help remind you what you’re working towards.
- Find a mentor. Seek out someone who’s “already achieved the outcome”, this will show you “living proof that your goals are very well achievable”.
- Reflect on your goals regularly to make sure your actions are aligned with your anticipated outcome.
- Stop fixating on the word “perfect”. “Perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons for procrastination”. Waiting for the “perfect time” or trying to achieve perfect results will only make your life more complicated and trigger further procrastination.
- Take action. “Get a grip and just do it”. No one procrastinates their way to success so take that first step, as hard as it may be, and keep building your momentum.
Take charge of chasing your dreams, and stop waiting for the right time to show up - the right time is always today. If you’d like to find out more about why we procrastinate and how we can avoid the Instant Gratification Monkey, you can read Hara’s full post Why We Procrastinate, and Celestine’s post on 11 Practical Ways To Stop Procrastination.