Everyone procrastinates. Some more than others, but we all do it. Despite what your high school math teacher may have told you, though, you don’t procrastinate because you’re lazy or bad at managing your time. Nope. In fact, psychological research can now tell us exactly why we procrastinate, even though we know we shouldn’t. It turns out, probably unsurprisingly, that you procrastinate because you’re avoiding pain, or at least what your brain perceives to be pain. Your mind registers the fact that you have a task to do and determines that the undertaking of it may be more painful than putting it off. Maybe this is because, subconsciously you’re worried about not doing it perfectly. Whatever the reason is, there’s some good news. With a little retraining and reframing, you can learn some techniques that will help you get started sooner and hopefully, in the long run, stress less.
But first, let’s go over some of the standard excuses people make for procrastinating:
“I perform better under pressure”
Studies have shown that when you ask people who have procrastinated on finishing an assignment and are finally doing it if they are happy about their decision, almost all of them will say no. ( I mean, obviously.) When asked what exactly they regret the most, they’ll answer that they wished they had more time to do better work and, of course, they feel more stressed because of the last minute effort than they would have if they had just started working when they should have. It should also be noted that, when further questioned, they’ll invariably say that once they actually started the work, it wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be.
“I just don’t feel like doing it now”
Of course you don’t want to “do it now”. This may very well be true, but if you ask yourself if you will feel like doing it tomorrow, chances are that the answer will be no. If you are avoiding something today, likely you will avoid it tomorrow, too. If we all waited for the moment we felt like doing something, we likely wouldn’t get anything done. So, it’s probably better to just get it done ASAP.
“I’ll get to it, as soon as I just send this text/check Instagram/etc”
Our devices are always more fun and distracting than the work at hand. It’s so easy to say: let me just, “send a quick snap” or “check out Instagram”. Guaranteed, thirty minutes later you’ve fallen down a YouTube hole and end up watching pet videos/makeup tutorials/music videos/you name it for hours.
So. How do you quit these habits?
Hit the ground running
Starting anything you aren’t in the mood for is the hardest part. Getting yourself to the yoga studio takes way more emotional energy than actually taking the class. Starting your blog post on procrastination is far more difficult than actually writing it (trust me... ) Once you take the first step in starting something, the rest usually follows, and usually without too much difficulty. Even if it is difficult, by starting in the first place, you’ve gotten your mind into the task and it won’t be too long before you finish! And, try not to be impatient to finish the task. Rather than thinking, “I have to complete all my math problems now,” think about the first thing you need to do to get started. In the case of math, it might be to take out your notes, problem set, calculator, paper and pencil and start the first problem. If you can think about taking the first step, the rest will follow.
Another great way to kick yourself into action is to use the Pomodoro Technique. This technique has you break your work efforts into 25 minute bursts rather than long stretches. It’s the perfect amount of time to take that next action (and sometimes a few more) to get you started on something you are not excited to begin.
Check out our blogpost on the Pomodoro Technique to learn more about it.
You won’t feel like it tomorrow so you might as well start today
Be realistic with yourself. If you don’t feel like writing your paper today, then you won’t want to tomorrow. So rather than give yourself reasons to start it later, recognize that your mind won’t be different tomorrow and that you will likely be MUCH happier in the long run if you start it today, rather than put yourself in a stressful situation by starting tomorrow (or the next day… or the next day). Consider both scenarios and honestly evaluate which one will feel better in the future.
Procrastinating versus planning to do it later
Some people think that if they plan to do something later that they are procrastinating. This isn’t necessarily true. If you take the time to plan out your weekly assignments (see Blogpost on How to Master Your Planner in 5 Easy Steps) and you have scheduled time to work on something in the next few days and you do it, then you are not procrastinating. There’s a bit of a misconception that if you have assignments due at any point, you need to be working on them all at once. That’s just not realistic given how busy your schedule is. Rather, students who manage their workloads the best spread them out as evenly as possible over the week and don’t let things pile up on one or two days in a week. One of the benefits of using a planner (check out The Ultimate Student Planner by ClassTracker) is that you can see how much work you have to get done over the course of a few weeks and it becomes clear that you really don’t have time to procrastinate. Seeing things all in one place makes it clear that the “you can do it later” plan really isn’t a feasible option.
Procrastination is about avoiding pain or what you think will be painful. By breaking up that “painful” thing into smaller actions and starting them, most people realize it isn’t as bad as they thought it would be and will often wish they had more time. Also, you are never likely to feel like doing something you don’t want to do, but starting it and getting it done will make you feel good. So break things into smaller chunks, get started even if you don’t want to, and soon you’ll find yourself knee deep in that dreaded assignment.