Overcoming the evil of procrastination is very helpful for dealing with our everyday life’s choices. Regardless of what they say, most people believe that procrastination is NOT synonymous with laziness. In fact, when we procrastinate, we frequently work for long periods of time just before our deadlines. Working long and hard is the polar opposite of being lazy, so that can’t be why we do it. So, what causes us to procrastinate and, more importantly, what can we do about it?
As previously stated, some people procrastinate because they are lazy. Others claim they “work best” under pressure and “do better” when they procrastinate. I encourage you to evaluate these explanations critically and reflectively. Almost everyone who says this is a habitual procrastinator who has not completed an important academic task in a long time.
Before their deadline, they had implemented it, had time to review it, and so on. As a result, they are unable to make a comparison of the conditions under which they work best. If you almost always procrastinate and never approach your tasks systematically, you can’t say with certainty that you “do better” under pressure. Others, on the other hand, say they enjoy the “rush” of leaving things to the last minute and meeting a deadline. However, they typically say this when they are NOT working under that deadline. They claim this works before or after cramming when they have forgotten the negative consequences of procrastinating, such as feelings of anxiety and stress, fatigue, and disappointment from falling short of their own expectations and having to put their life on hold for extended periods of time. Not to mention, leaving things until the last minute increases the likelihood that something will go wrong – such as getting sick or having a computer problem – and you will not be able to achieve the desired grade. So, while procrastination can be difficult and even increase our chances of failure, we continue to do it. Why is this so?
Procrastination is not solely due to a lack of time management skills, but rather to underlying and more complex psychological reasons. These dynamics are frequently exacerbated by schools where students are constantly evaluated, particularly in college where the pressure for grades is high and a lot can be riding on students’ performance. In reality, procrastination is frequently used by students as a form of self-protection. For example, if you procrastinate, you always have the excuse of “not having enough” time if you fail, so your self-esteem is never jeopardized. When there is so much pressure to get a good grade on a paper, for example, it’s no surprise that students want to avoid it and thus put off their work. Most of our reasons for postponing and avoiding are rooted in fear and anxiety—fear of doing poorly, fear of doing too well, fear of losing control, fear of appearing stupid, fear of having one’s sense of self or self-concept challenged. We avoid doing work in order to avoid having our abilities judged. And if we succeed, we’ll feel that much “smarter.” So, what can we do to overcome our tendencies to procrastinate?
The First Step Is Awareness
To begin overcoming procrastination, you must first understand the REASONS WHY you procrastinate as well as the function procrastination serves in your life. You can’t come up with an effective solution if you don’t understand the underlying cause of the problem. As with most problems, the keys to figuring out how to stop procrastinating are awareness and self-awareness. For many people, understanding how procrastination protects them from feeling inadequate, and keeping it in mind when they are tempted to fall into familiar, unproductive procrastinating habits, goes a long way toward solving the problem. For example, two psychologists, Jane Burka and Lenora Yuen, who have helped many people overcome procrastination, report in their article, “Mind Games Procrastinators Play” (Psychology Today, January 1982), that “understanding the hidden roots of procrastination often appears to weaken them” (p.33). It is much easier to stop procrastinating when we understand why we do it.
Techniques for Time Management: A Piece of the Puzzle
Time management techniques and tools are essential for overcoming procrastination, but they are insufficient on their own. Furthermore, not all-time management techniques are equally effective in dealing with procrastination. Some time management techniques are well suited to overcoming procrastination, while others can exacerbate it. Those that reduce anxiety and fear while emphasizing the satisfaction and rewards of completing tasks are the most effective. Those who are rigid, emphasize the magnitude of the task, and increase anxiety can actually increase procrastination and thus be counter-productive. Making a long list of “things to do” or scheduling every minute of your day, for example, may increase your stress and thus procrastination. Instead, set reasonable goals (e.g., a manageable to-do list), break large tasks down, and give yourself flexibility and time to do things you enjoy as rewards for work completed.
Finding Productive Reasons to Participate in Tasks
It’s critical to stay motivated for PRODUCTIVE REASONS if you want to overcome procrastination. By productive reasons, I mean motivations for learning and achievement that result in positive, productive, and satisfying feelings and actions. These reasons are in contrast to doing something because you are afraid of failing, or because you don’t want to make your parents angry, or because you don’t want to look stupid, or because you want to “show off.” While these are all valid reasons for doing something, they are not productive because they elicit mal-adaptive, often negative feelings and actions. For example, if you are concerned about appearing stupid, you may avoid asking questions, delving into new areas, experimenting with new methods, or taking the risks required to learn new things and reach new heights. Setting goals is a great way to get positive motivation going.Identify and write down your own personal reasons for enrolling in a course, and use a goal-setting chart to track your progress toward your goals. Remember to keep your reasons and goals in mind. Other people’s goals for you are obligations, not goals.
Keeping Motivated: Be Active in Order to Be Engaged
Another important aspect of overcoming procrastination is to remain actively engaged in your classes. If you are passive in class, it is likely that you are not “getting into” the course and its topics, which reduces your motivation. Furthermore, if you are passive, you are most likely not getting as much out of the course and course materials as you could. Nonsense and confusion are not entertaining; they are, in fact, boring and frustrating.
We don’t like doing things that are boring or frustrating. Prevent this by aiming to truly understand course material rather than simply memorize or “get through it.” Instead, try (1) identifying what is interesting and relevant to you in the course materials, (2) establishing your own purpose for each reading and class session, and (3) asking yourself (and others) questions about what you are learning.