We all experience procrastination from time to time, or maybe even most of the time. It negatively affects our productivity, time management and progress in life. This is because we are constantly putting off tasks and giving ourselves less time to complete them or benefit from them. I want to discuss the most common reasons why we procrastinate tasks before delving into how to decrease procrastination in another post. This is so we can recognise the problem at its source and identify which reasons apply to which tasks you do (there can be many variations and combinations).
Prefer Getting Short Highs Over Long Highs:
I was inspired by the concept of short and long highs by the ‘The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*ck‘ (I highly recommend reading it!). Short highs are enjoyable tasks that make you feel good quickly, but only for a short period of time. Conversely, long highs are unenjoyable tasks that delay making you feel good, but this feeling lasts longer and is usually greater. These lead to procrastination as you succumb to the instant boost of positive emotions instead of long term happiness. This is despite the instant happiness from the short high being hindered from having the long high task in the back of your mind!
A good example is tossing up between watching an episode of your favourite TV show or doing your university assignment. The TV episode is the short high because it provides happiness quickly, but only for the length of the episode. Working on the university assignment is the long high because it feels unenjoyable now, but it contributes towards the happiness and fulfillment of completing your university degree. We procrastinate because we crave instant happiness, even if it doesn’t lead to positive emotions in the long term.
Task is Too Difficult or Vague:
A lot of the time we procrastinate because of the difficulty or vagueness of the task we want to do. If we don’t know how to approach the task, then we can’t plan it out or feel comfortable doing it. It is easier to put off unstructured tasks before or during completing them, as they cause no motivation or create distraction.
For example, the task you have written on your to-do list is ‘work on english assignment’. To begin with, this task is too vague about how much of the assignment you want to complete. This makes the task appear bigger and less appealing, so you are more likely to procrastinate it. Let’s also say that the english assignment is about creative writing, which is your worst area of english. Clearly you won’t be motivated to do a task that will make you feel bad about your abilities and unclear of how to start it. Even if you get the motivation to start working on it, you could get distracted from the difficulty or vagueness and procrastinate doing any more work on it.
Claim you Work Better Under Pressure:
So many people leave things to the last minute because they intend to use stress as a motivator. This thought process is highly flawed as you may actually complete the task within the set deadline, but the quality will always be less than what you are capable of. Alongside this, it is easier to push back tasks when you know you have time to complete them. However, things can come up later that prevent you from doing the task and you wish that you didn’t waste the previous time you had!
An example of this is cleaning the house before guests arrive at night. You don’t complete it during the day because you know there is plenty of time and you’ll get the motivation closer to the guests arriving. Maybe you forget someone’s dietary requirements and need to go to the shops last minute, which prevents you from cleaning the house. Or maybe nothing comes up, but you leave yourself half an hour for what turns out to be an hour’s work. You may still clean the house before the guests arrive, but there is no way that it will be done as well as if you did it earlier.
Fear of Failure:
Fear of failure can cause procrastination from the mindset that not doing the task is better than doing it badly. The task’s difficulty, as discussed above, might add to this fear because the chances of you doing it badly are higher. Having a fear of failure makes it seem like starting the task is an indicator that you will be held accountable for how well it goes. Once you complete the task, it feels like it demonstrates your abilities and it is open for judgement and negative feedback. The logic is that if you don’t do the task, then there is nothing for people to critique (even though you not doing the task could initiate criticism).
For example, you need to complete an exam for school. You procrastinate studying for it because that indicates that you intend to try your best and be accountable for the mark you get (which you fear will be bad). You put off doing the actual exam by handing in a medical certificate and giving other excuses until you finally don’t do it. Even though you receive a zero, which people will view poorly anyway, people don’t know your actual abilities; hypothetically you could’ve gotten a really good mark.
Similar to not wanting to do a task badly, you might only want to do a task perfectly. For perfectionists, it is hard to get the motivation to start a task if it can’t be done perfectly. Similarly, it is a struggle to get the willpower to deem a task as completed if it has to reach a (possibly unattainable) standard of quality.
An example of this might be wanting to decide on and pitch a business idea. You could think that it is impossible to come up with the perfect idea for a business and procrastinate deciding on one. You finally decide on one, but work on the pitch for a while to ensure it is perfect and end up procrastinating giving the pitch to a potential investor.
Surrounded by Distractions:
Being surrounded by distractions gives you the temptation to procrastinate the task at hand. You may get distracted before even starting the task by looking for an excuse not to start it. You could also get distracted whilst doing the task and then struggle to regain the momentum you had for the task, so you procrastinate it.
For example, you are writing a novel and your phone buzzes next to you. You feel tempted to check what the notification was, so you stop writing. It is an Instagram DM that you feel the need to reply to straight away. You reply to that one DM and then realise that you should reply to the rest of your DMs. You are just about to leave the app when you see your friend’s post on your feed that you have to like and comment. Before you know it, you are consumed by the Instagram world. When you finally return back to your novel, you have lost the momentum of writing and need to take the extra time to remind yourself where you are up to in the plot. Therefore, it is harder to get the motivation back to keep writing, so you are more inclined to procrastinate it.
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