This article is based on the #1 New York Times Bestseller Book “Atomic Habit” by James Clear. This guide helps you understand Procrastination, the science behind Procrastination, and proven methods to overcome it.
What is Procrastination?
For centuries, the human race has been procrastinating. It is often mistaken for laziness -the act of unwillingness to do. Whereas, procrastination is the habit of delaying an important task, usually by focusing on less urgent, more pleasurable, and easy activities.
In simple words, procrastination means you do one thing, even though you know you have to do some other.
- The term procrastination is derived from the Latin word procrastinare– to put off until the next day.
- The ancient Greek Philosophers like Socrates and Aristotle named it Akrasia- the state of acting against your better judgment.
- According to researcher Piers Steel, procrastination is self-harm.
Are you Procrastinating?
Over 95 % of the population procrastinate to some extent. It might be comforting to know we are not alone, but it has its disadvantages to dwell.
How can you tell if you are a procrastinator?
Assume your new year’s resolution was to get in shape. You go to bed feeling motivated to make a change in your life starting tomorrow.
On the next day, when the time you fixed for your exercise arrives(high priority), you wind yourself focusing on less important tasks like checking your status, unloading your dishes, or simply opening and closing your fridge for no reason. If your behavior is similar to the above, then YES! You are procrastinating.
Remember, “Procrastination is not associated with time management but emotional regulation,” says Dr. Tim Pychyl, professor of Psychology and member of the Procrastination Research Group at the Carleton University of Ottawa.
A classic example would be students completing their assignments at the last minute while procrastinating at the given time.
Science Behind Procrastination
In scientific terms, the limbic system is a set of brain structures containing the pleasure center, while the prefrontal cortex controls planning and decision-making. The prefrontal cortex is less developed and so often the limbic system wins out, which leads to procrastination.
Let’s consider there are two phases of YOU.
The ‘present you’ and the ‘future you’.
Now you are planning and working on things so that the ‘future you’ will be happy. Your brain loves planning for the ‘future you’ as it would only add value.
(*Now you know, why all you made was only plans but never implemented *)
Whereas the action part is left with the ‘present you’, which cherishes instant pleasures like binging Netflix. Thus when the time comes to make a decision, you being in the present moment, your brain is no longer making decisions for your future.
The present and the future self are at the other end. The future self wants to look fit and healthy but the ‘present you’ want a pizza. Researchers have discovered that the present self likes instant gratification, not long-term pay-off.
Proven ways to overcome Procrastination
Procrastination can lead to missed opportunities and increased stress. Here are the top proven ways to beat procrastination, according to James Clear.
Create a Template Bundle and Reward Yourself
Create your temptation bundle by linking the tasks you NEED to do with the task you WANT to do.
The format James Clear suggests is:
Only do [Things you LOVE] while doing [The things you PROCRASTINATE]
For example, You want to get a pedicure today, but you have to declutter your email inbox.
Solution: Only get a pedicure while decluttering your inbox
Even if you don’t want to process your work email, it will be a force to reckon if it gets you to do something you desire.
Every time you complete the task you have been putting off, go and reward yourself. For example, get yourself an ice cream once you completed your long-due assignment. Not only this is motivational, but you will realize how good it feels when you finish things!
The Ivy Lee Method
The Ivy Lee Strategy made Charles M. Schwab one of the Richest men in the world (1918). This framework consists of uncomplicated game-changing simple steps.
- At the end of the day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
- Prioritize these six items in order of their true importance.
- When you arrive tomorrow, work only on the first task
- Jump to the second task only when the first task is completed.
- Approach the rest of the list in the same pattern. At the end of the next day, if any tasks are unfinished push them to your next day’s list of six tasks.
- Repeat this process every single day.
This action plan may look humble, yet highly effective and easy to implement.
Make the tasks more Achievable
Motivation often comes after starting, not before. If you want to stop procrastinating, then make the tasks as easy as possible for the present self to get started.
Making your task achievable is for two ultimate reasons:
- Small wins help you to achieve a sense of satisfaction which will motivate you to work further
- The faster you complete the task, the more productive and effective you feel.
Procrastination is usually centered around the starting behavior. Once you begin, It is often less painful to keep working. For example,
- “Read before bed each night” becomes “Read one page.”
- “Fold the laundry” becomes “Fold one pair of socks.”
- “Do 30-minute yoga becomes” becomes “Take out my yoga mat”
- “Run 3 miles” becomes “Tie my running shoes.”
- “Study for class becomes” becomes “open my notes,”
- Similarly, find the gateway tasks to your goals and make its grade commencing from ‘very hard to ‘very easy.
The idea is to make your habits as easy as possible to start. Motivation and momentum build after we begin.
Making decisions over and over again will drain your willpower, simply known as decision fatigue. This applies even to the tiniest of decisions which includes
- What was the notification about?
- Should I check my mail right now?
- What should I comment on her post?
Reduce the number of decisions you have to make throughout the day. Remove things that amplify your procrastination.
For example, You might think of checking your notifications before you start your work. But you end up mindlessly spending more time on social media than you decided. Finally, you feel guilty about your productivity.
- Uninstalling the social media networking application is unrealistic. Hence Unsubscribe to the channels and websites that are adding no value to you anymore.
- Have a fixed time for social media usage.
- Make use of tools such as Freedom, Block site, and Space which helps you to stay focused and prevent procrastination.
This eliminates your option. As a result, doing the right thing becomes easier.
Don’t Break the Chain
James calls this framework Seinfeld Strategy. Jerry Seinfeld is one of the “Top 100 comedians of all time”, by Comedy Central. Once an aspiring young comedian asked him what was his secret behind showing up day after day, show after show beating the procrastination.
He said, “the way to be a better comedian is to write jokes every day”. He advised him to get a calendar and a marker.
For each day of completion of his writing task, he asked him to put a big X(Crossmark) on his calendar. After a few days of writing, the calendar will have a growing chain.
“Now your only task is not to break that chain!”
Another reason supporting this strategy would be the visual cues. Having your goal visually right in front highly motivates you.
It can take a while to overcome the old pattern and requires great efforts to establish a new routine. Hence don’t focus on perfect finished products, but rather on getting a headstart. So get out there and get started to thank yourself later.
Overcoming procrastination is difficult, but not a mission impossible.
How do I stop being a procrastinator?
It’s tough to be a procrastinator, but there are a few tips that can help. First, try to focus on one task at a time. If you’re having trouble completing one task, try another one. Also, be realistic about how much time you have to complete the task. Finally, be patient. Don’t give up if you don’t have all the answers.
Is procrastination being lazy?
Some people say that Procrastination is lazy. Others say that it’s a way of avoiding tasks that are difficult to do while one is procrastinating.
Is procrastination a form of anxiety?
procrastination is a form of anxiety that can cause you to put off tasks or activities that you need to complete in order to avoid feeling anxious.