Is procrastination really our own fault?

Blame yourself for leaving your work until the absolute deadline again? Fear not, psychologists say it’s not all you.

We all do it.

In fact, you’re probably doing it right now. Procrastination, aka ‘the act of delaying or postponing something’ is the devil on all of our shoulders. We can do it on a small scale- by thinking, ‘oh I’ll just have a quick break, and then I’ll get in the zone’- (which is all well and good, until you’re stuck in a black hole of Youtube videos…) but the question is, do we blame ourselves for our procrastination, or is it just human nature?

Dr Joseph Ferrari says, “Procrastination is not waiting and it is more than delaying. It is a decision to not act.  It is very helpful and useful to gather information to make an informed decision, but when one simply continues to gather beyond the point of adequate resources, then they are being indecisive and the waiting is counterproductive.”

Whereas, Tim Urban says in his online blog Wait but Why, “For a real procrastinator, procrastination isn’t an option, it’s something they don’t know how not to do.”

I think procrastination is something that is just more common now, and that’s partially because of how impatient we are. As a twenty something stereotype, the concept of the long term has completely changed, and we just don’t have the endurance that society around us had even 40 years ago.

The main culprit of that? The mobile phone. We may think that ‘just a quick check of our screens’ won’t make a difference, but say if we have a look every five minutes or so, whether it’s having a peek at our Facebook notifications, or replying to our texts, that adds up to twelve times an hour.

Dr Joseph Ferrari says that he doesn’t believe today’s technology is an excuse for us to procrastinate more, as there are apps that exist that help us to not procrastinate. In fact, we are actually at an advantage compared to what we were before.

“The relationship between technology and procrastination was actually born with the snooze button.” He says. The more we press it, the more we are getting into the habit of putting off our day. If we are starting our day with the attitude of putting off even getting up, we are pretty much doomed! We are constantly fooling ourselves.

Recent research has shown that we procrastinate to put off our negative emotions and anxiety about what is to come, and we seek instant gratification by simply distracting ourselves and pushing away what we don’t want to do for as long as possible.

We are burdening ‘future us’, treating ourselves as two separate people, and rewarding the person we are currently dealing with. Again, Tim Urban, now in a Ted talk, personifies this with a little ‘Instant Gratification Monkey’ that lives inside our mind, encouraging us to amuse ourselves in the now. It completely changes our mentality. If living in the present is easy and fun, why wouldn’t we want to do this instead of punishing ourselves and doing something that takes longer, and is more dull?

We are giving ourselves immediate short-term joy, when we could actually reward ourselves in the long term if we just got our heads down and focused. When you think about it like that, it seems ridiculous. We are all getting into our heads.

Psychologist Peter Pychyl, a specialist in procrastination says, “The key to kicking the habit is simply to just start what you need to do.” Rather than just being aware of something, why not make it a reality? It seems difficult, but as Pychyl says, it really isn’t, and he’s the professional.

We all know what we have to do, but until we just sit down and do it, we aren’t actually connected to the activity itself. It’s like thinking about a really good Christmas gift that you’ve seen in the shop. You know it’s there, you know who you’d like to give it to, but, unless you go to the shop and actually hand over the money, that’s where it’ll stay.

If we just try and stop, or even just cut down our procrastination, we could be treating ourselves to a whole new life mantra. As Urban says, “Procrastination isn’t just about the little things- like getting that essay in on time”. You could have your own life goals, personal dreams that have always been just that, a simple aspiration that you could never imagine becoming a reality. Yet, how do we know these things are unrealistic, unless we try and do them? If we change our attitudes towards procrastination in the short term, then this outlook could impact everything we do, and actually feel manageable.

I’ve found, that so often, once I start writing something, whether it’s something I have to do, like writing an article, or something I should do, like tidy my room, once I get into it, an hour can just pass by, and often, shockingly, I’m enjoying it! The activity is never actually as bad as I thought it was going to be, it’s just been built up in my mind. The anxiety that I had towards it before magically evolves to relief, and things then become manageable.

So, I say why don’t we all form an alliance? Let’s make a promise to ourselves, and each other, that we will be more productive.

From this moment forward, let’s vow to work more at whatever we want to do, and let’s procrastinate less.

Now, I’m not going to be unrealistic, the proof is above that procrastination is a part of us all, and there are far too many Carpool Karaoke videos online for it not to be. Yet, despite that, and as nerdy as it may seem, I do actually enjoy doing my work.

So, to inspire you, here’s my promise. Rather than the 60 percent work, 40 percent procrastination balance I have going now- I’m going to try to make it more of an 80/20.

At least I will from tomorrow.

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