Why do we procrastinate?
Procrastination is basically avoiding a task that needs to be done. Its usually a task that you don’t like or want to do. How many times have you said to yourself, “I’ll get to that…right after this show goes off”…but you end up watching the marathon and ordered take-out instead? It happens all the time! You will put something off, especially something you’re not familiar with or just plain-ole don’t want to do it, and get side-tracked with something more pleasurable. Well, it’s time to stop wasting time and get things done now. Why do we procrastinate? There are many reasons why you would procrastinate.
- Lack of Relevance -If a task is neither relevant or important to you personally, it could be hard to get motivated to begin.
- Perfectionism- Having unreachable standards can discourage you from completing a task.
- Inability to Handle the Task- You feel that you lack the personal resources to do the job, you may avoid it completely.
- Fear of the Unknown- If you are assigned a new job that you have no way of knowing the outcome may inhibit your desire to begin.
- Ambiguity- If you are uncertain of what is expected of you, it may be difficult to get started.
- Evaluation Anxiety- Since you cannot control others’ response to your completed task, overvaluing these responses can create the kind of anxiety that can interfere with the task getting done.
- Acceptance of Another’s Goals- If a project has been assigned to you and it is not consistent with your own interests, you may be reluctant to spend the necessary time to see it to the end.
When we encounter such tasks our brain engages emotionally rather logically.
Tim Pychyl, author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, stated that putting off work is “a purely visceral, emotional reaction to something we don’t want to do.” The more adverse you find a task, the more likely you are to procrastinate. I agree with this 100%.
Fight or Flight?
Your brain has a section, the amygdala, associated with your automatic emotional reaction to a situation. When you are feeling overwhelmed, anxiety, frustrated…there is a fight (resistance) or flight (ignore) reaction. Your brain is protecting you from possible negative or adverse feelings. Norepinephrine kicks in- increased levels of fear and anxiety.
Our body likes the chemical dopamine- produced by positive and pleasurable experiences. So you are more likely to do tasks that have a long history of producing dopamine and avoid tasks that produce norepinephrine.
It takes about half a second for the amygdala to send out an emotional reaction, which defeats the “reason’ part of your brain…which takes 3 seconds to engage. This is why the amygdala often wins…and this is why you procrastinate.
According to Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation, about 95% of people admit to putting off tasks.
Some people assume they need to wait until they are motivated to do a task. In reality, pushing through to complete a task is the better option because the sensation of completion (even if not perfect) will trigger more positive thinking than leaving it undone. Often, the task can be improved after the first attempt.
How to stop procrastination.
To stop procrastination you must train your brain to see that completing a task is positive and pleasurable…no matter what task. Instead of punishing yourself for not getting the task done, reward yourself when you do complete a task.
Let’s say you need to get you taxes done. Reward yourself to a deluxe spa pedicure AFTER you complete your taxes.
Another way you can say “good-bye” to procrastination is to convert big tasks into small measurable steps. Sometimes a huge task with an unclear outcome can cause the amygdala to engage before your logical brain can. Breaking the task down into smaller measurable, comprehensible parts in a logical order can change how your brain sees the task. It will give your logical brain time to respond.
For example; Monday, your manager gives you an assignment on a brand new project that has to be done by Friday. Rather than get overwhelmed and possibly procrastinate to the last minute, develop a plan to break the assignment into smaller measurable steps. Monitor yourself as you go. Keep away from distractions. Assess problems as they arise so you can handle them quickly. Change things as you go to keep the flow and energy good. I personally find this method to work for me.
Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo’s 11 Ways To Overcome Procrastination, suggests to use a calendar to schedule projects. Set a block of time to complete that project, as if it were an important meeting. Set a timer, when you begin the task so you can be focused that entire block of time.
It’s important for you to acknowledge procrastination, acknowledge the emotion (guilt, fear, feelings of inadequacy) and clearly specify how you procrastinate. Are you a frequent break-taker procrastinator? Do you exaggerate a commitment to a task rather than actually doing it? Do trick yourself into believing that doing a favorable task rather than the unfavorable one is suitable?
Be honest with yourself. The only way to unlearn an unwanted behavior is to first acknowledge it and figure out why, how, when and where. Knowing this will help you stop procrastination and be more productive.
Be reasonable in your expectations of yourself. Striving for perfection or having extremely strict expectations can cause you to rebel or even ruin your progress.