The word "procrastination" is derived from the Latin verb procrastinare, which means "to put off until tomorrow." Procrastination also comes from the Greek word "akrasia", --- doing something against our better judgment.
Procrastination. A word that we’re all too familiar with and it may even make some of us feel uneasy. Unless you are superhuman and have the distinct ability to be highly focused and hyper-attentive while simultaneously being incredibly disciplined, you are likely similar to the rest of us and often procrastinate. Procrastination, also known as stalling, delaying our tasks, deferring or even dallying comes in all different forms. Five commonly known types of procrastinators are; The Dreamer, The Perfectionist, The Avoider, The Optimist, and The Anxious Procrastinator. (Please note each study conducted tends to have its own unique terminology for each one of the procrastinator types)
The Dreamer: This is someone who prefers making the perfect plan more than taking real action. They are highly creative and imaginative but struggle and find difficulty in actually finishing a task.
The Perfectionist: Much like perfectionists in general, this group becomes easily stressed out by the idea of things not going according to plan, and they are highly fixated on each little detail. For the perfectionist, failure equates to not doing the task perfectly, and for this reason, it prevents them from starting a project in the first place.
The Avoider: Also known as the wishful thinker, this group likes to work under pressure and they need to hustle and work quickly to get things done. Avoiders aren’t forward thinkers as they don’t love to plan or design their schedule, and although they can be unpredictable, this group isn’t necessarily unreliable as they may pull off getting everything done in a brief time. Avoiders often choose to prioritize other activities before their projects.
The Optimist: This group does not worry about whether they will get their tasks done or not as they are confident they will succeed regardless of when they perform their duties. They are not intimidated by the size of the project nor the time it will take, they just know that when they put their mind to it, they will not fail.
The Anxiety-Induced Procrastinator: This group is aware that they are poor at time management, and/or they take a long time to complete projects or tasks. Rather than getting started immediately they are typically in the planning stage for longer and are intimidated by the workload.
Having touched on the various types of procrastinators, you might be wondering, how can we be so aware of procrastination, yet continue to do it? Procrastination is often not directly related to ‘laziness’ or inactive behaviour, and it can be difficult to understand the exact reasoning behind it. So, let’s uncover why we procrastinate in the first place. In psychology, it is believed that people who procrastinate have a poor and faulty sense of time, in which they feel like they will have more time to complete a task than they do. A few recent studies have uncovered that procrastination may be the brain's way of protecting and helping you to manage stress. While procrastinators are attempting to avoid stress, the approach of putting things off actually does the reverse and ironically, causes you more stress in the long run. It is not an uncommon belief that procrastinators are more likely to suffer from stress-related issues including poor sleep quality and cardiovascular weaknesses that, unfortunately, only continue to feed your procrastinative habits. Other reasons we procrastinate are to gain the feeling of control. If we can control how and when we tackle an assignment, the less we feel as though it’s controlling us. Another possibility as to why we procrastinate is due to our moods. When we are in a negative state (a bad mood), our mind attempts to search for coping mechanisms to avoid or challenge the feeling of overwhelm, boredom, insecurity, frustration, anxiety, etc. So we procrastinate. Many doctors and research professionals believe that procrastination has less to do with how we manage our time and instead more related to how we act or think about ourselves. “Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem,” said Dr. Tim Pychyl, professor of psychology and member of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa
Due to the constant distraction of….everything around us, many of us are well acquainted with the side effects and repercussions of procrastination. But have you ever considered what happens when we don’t allow procrastination to consume our behavioural patterns? You begin to work smarter, not harder. When you allocate specific times throughout the day towards completing projects, you cross more off your list and can add more to it. You free up your time to do what you actually enjoy doing and can even discover new hobbies or interests that you likely did not realize you were interested in. You feel better about not only yourself for being highly productive, but about the tasks you’ve completed and you even have time to go back and revise or edit the work you’ve done. Finally, when you stop procrastinating you understand how to run your time while no longer allowing time to run you, and you now have the tools to dictate your emotions more maturely and thoughtfully.
Defeating and overcoming procrastination is a lifelong mission (sorry to break it to you). There will be ebbs and flows throughout the majority of our lives that will affect our ability to predict when we will fall into the traps of procrastination, or how we climb out of them and complete our tasks more efficiently and effectively. Some ways in which we can conquer daily procrastination are as follows;
Make a Task List: Each one of our brains works in different ways to remember or understand particular things. For many of us, the act of writing things down helps us to not only visualize what it is we need to accomplish, but this also imprints the information on to us in a more meaningful and effective way from having physically written in. Believe it or not, our brain actually prefers organization to chaos, and procrastination definitely creates more chaos. By writing down your to-do lists for the year, month, week or that day, it will highly increase your chances of completing those tasks versus attempting to keep track of everything in your head, of which you will likely be forgetting important points.
Sleep: Sleep is at the core of having a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Procrastination feeds off of lazy behaviour and the feeling of energy depletion or being uninspired, which is typically developed through sleep deprivation. A good night's sleep is each person’s secret weapon as it can allow you to recognize why you’re getting in your own way and interrupting your tasks. A solid amount of rest will help you to avoid deferring your task schedule as opposed to falling into the traps of old procrastinative habits.
A Strict Schedule: Making a schedule to follow sounds easy enough, but the hard part is finding a rhythm and a program that truly works and one that you will actually follow. This is called effective scheduling. Although we now understand that procrastination is more about emotional behavior than it is about time management, it has been revealed that we all still require some type of plan to keep us organized and on track. Testing and trying out different schedules will assist you in finding one that’s right for you and that will aid you in getting things done. However, this does not mean becoming a slave to your calendar, it just encourages your brain to get-- and stay organized and to optimize your time.
Create Goals: Without goals it’s easy to become directionless and forget where we’re going or why we’re doing it. When we procrastinate for long enough, we can completely forget the purpose of our project or task, and we begin to delay our productivity even further. But when we have firm goals in place, we always know what we’re working towards and are fully aware of our ‘why’. When we set goals our brain looks at this as a puzzle and will try to create ways of reaching and completing these goals, therefore decreasing the chances of our brain looking for distractions or finding new ways to procrastinate.
Mindset: Much like anything else in our life, procrastination is often defeated by a healthy and happy mindset. Procrastination is part of our unconscious mind which is associated with child-like behaviour. It’s the part of our brain where we do things without really thinking about what we’re doing. When you hear people discuss ‘mindfulness’, this is being aware and alert of when your brain shifts into the unconscious mind mode and the act of catching these thoughts or feelings as they’re occurring in real-time. Ways in which you can shift your mindset from procrastination to action are starting your day off by completing your most dreaded tasks first to get them out of the way. Focus on 2-3 tasks a day so you aren’t overwhelmed or anxious. Reward yourself for a job well done. Embrace the challenges and difficulties you may face while working towards your goals as you know it’s never easy. Both visualize and speak the promising outcomes you will experience by acting now and how this will positively impact your life.
Take Breaks: It is a fact that our minds can’t focus for hours upon hours each day. We need breaks to restore, relax and rejuvenate our minds. Upon completing each task, take a walk, get fresh air, talk to a friend, exercise, etc. Remember, there is a big difference between taking a well-deserved break and procrastinating.
Record and Acknowledge How You Feel: After a few days or weeks of practicing these anti-procrastination habits and including these lifestyle changes into your routine, take some time to reflect on how you feel and how your tasks or work have been impacted. It is important to reflect so you see the changes happening in real-time, as well as give yourself a confidence boost on all the ways you have overcome procrastination.
As previously mentioned, getting to the root of procrastination is not an easy task. We must realize that at its core, procrastination is more about your emotions and state of mind than it is about being productive. There is no one size fits all solution, unfortunately, nor is there a time management journal or meditation app that will help you rid yourself of procrastination completely. Every 7-12 years (give or take) our brain will gradually experience a ‘rewiring’ of sorts in which we experience a change in our brain patterns according to our new habits. If we have a habit loop around procrastination, start being proactive around defeating old habits and introducing new positive ones to see a slow but steady change in the way your brain interprets these new outcomes. This also means we need to be able to forgive and show ourselves some compassion when we are procrastinating and work backward to understand the cause to find the remedy or solution for this particular incident. Rather than feeling the pain or being upset with yourself about your procrastinative habits, give your brain a bigger better offer (BBO) as positive reinforcement. Remember, if you’re blaming others for your setbacks as opposed to accepting the role you play in your own anxiety, this will in fact set you back even further. Start by taking responsibility for your actions, then begin to knock the most important things off your list one at a time. Speaking out loud about the things you’re working on or worried about can have hugely beneficial outcomes and can allow you to start problem-solving in a clearer light.
To dive deeper into introducing and building productive habits in your day to day life, read our blog "Developing Habits That Increase Your Productivity"