As a full time student, I suffer from a very common trait called 'procrastination', and if you don't know what this is, you are about to discover a trait that could have possibly had a large impact on your life. Procrastination is the process of delaying completing a task or failing to regulate your time. Examples of procrastinating would be telling yourself 'I'll do that later...' and either never getting round to it or leaving it to the point where it is a major panic. Procrastinators are your last minute 'crammers', your friend who is always very nearly too late for the train, your colleague who won't complete their tasks until they are threatened and yourself when your parents used to nag you to clean your room.
Why do we procrastinate? This is a question I ask myself all the time, why can't I be organised and prepare in advance? Why am I easily led into distractions? To explore this question, we have to dive into when we procrastinate and the outcomes.
Deadlines are abused by procrastinators. Your average procrastinator celebrates long deadlines and little work to be completed, this is the first trap that we fall in to. The problem is, no matter how long the deadline is (or how little the workload), only minimal effort will be put in (if any at all) until the last week, day or even hour in some severe cases. What does this tell us about procrastinators? Well, it shows that they aren't lazy. You may be thinking: but hang on, didn't you just say that they don't do anything until the deadline is imminent? And you would be correct, but this is different to being lazy. Lazy people don't crank up their work ethic by incredible amounts when a deadline is close, instead they are too lazy to put the effort in at all.
When a procrastinator begins to panic, you see a whole new side to them. Working for multiple hours at a time (often with no breaks), working into the early hours of the morning and only surviving off of caffeine, superglue on their eyelids, and a lot of adrenaline. That doesn't sound lazy to me, that sounds more like the average university student.
So then after this insane rush and sleepless nights, this procrastinator will hand the work in and can finally relax and repeat the cycle for the next task, and the next and so on. But the underlying problem with procrastination is that it works. That may sound like a juxtaposition, but it's very true. The more it works, the more procrastinators keep doing it.
Rewards and success can just feel too distant to procrastinators, to the point where they aren't interested until the impending rush comes closer.
I will revisit deadlines later in this article.
Feeling motivated and energised to complete a task is amazing. You feel like you are learning, being productive and succeeding. But what prevents us from having this mindset?
Fear of failure is a big factor. Sometimes the thought of doing badly or letting someone down can force us to give up or just mentally freeze. Failure is terrifying to everyone, feeling prepared and confident can help crush this and overcome that fear. Feeling in control of your life and your knowledge is extremely important in not being afraid to give something a try, and learning positive things from a bad outcome.
How does this link into procrastination? Many procrastinators feel helpless in their lives, like they are on a roller-coaster that they can't control. This 'panic' instinct directs and manipulates your life while your rational mind sits back and suppresses feelings of failure, doubt and anxiety.
Delaying tasks and things you need to do is your brains way of pretending it doesn't exist, but facing your fears and taking responsibility is really important in overcoming these negative feelings that overpower your lack of motivation. This is obviously easier said than done. It can be much easier to ignore your problems, but it becomes like a snowball rolling on the snow down a hill. It just gets bigger and bigger and faster and faster until it rolls you over. I have done this countless times, and it only leads to these feelings being transferred to every aspect of your life, from tidying your room, to really significant events such as job interviews or exams. You think you are suppressing your problems, but in reality they are just getting worse.
Many people find it hard to feel motivated when tasks are vague such as 'get fit'. Creating a solid plan and sticking to it is one way to stop procrastinating. Defining what you must do to succeed in your task and not relying on your future yourself to just figure it out.
Decisions can be difficult when you feel overloaded. I once saw a study suggesting people are less happy when they have more choice. If I offered you one of two different flavoured sweets, you are very likely to feel like you made the best choice. If I offered you one of twenty different flavoured sweets, well first of all it might take you a long time to make a choice. You may have lots of different ones you want. All of a sudden, the choice becomes a lot harder and you are much more likely to be disappointed with your decision and feel regret.
For a procrastinator, they may find small decisions within a task very difficult leading to a lot of time being wasted and general unhappiness if they feel like they could have made a different improvement. When the task has a long deadline, it is much easier to just get stuck at simple hurdles in pursuit of perfection. But when the deadline is just around the corner, you no longer have the time to think through your decisions as deeply. Your decision may go from twenty choices to two when you don't have as much time to think about all the different options.
As I mentioned earlier, the issue with procrastination is that it works. That only applies when there is a deadline. When you leave the boundaries of education or your workplace and have your own spare time, it is incredibly difficult for procrastinators to be productive. They no longer have that deadline looming that causes a manic rush, they have an endless deadline. If you feel like you don't get anything done in your spare time, you may be procrastinating.
Solutions that I mentioned before are still effective. Try your hardest to regulate and organise your time. If you can't, get someone else to do it with you. Create rewards for yourself, this will give you an incentive to do productive things if you feel disconnected from your future self. Tackle your problems and don't let your fears consume you, talk to someone and get help if necessary.
Obviously these are not easy things to do (and I should listen to myself), but these small things can have a huge impact on how productive, energised and happy you feel. When you feel in control of your life, that's when you are happiest.
I highly recommend everyone watches this brilliant TED talk on procrastination. It's not only really interesting, but its also incredibly funny and largely inspired me to research into it more and write this article.
Thanks for reading and I hope this has been informative for any procrastinators out there (if they ever got round to finishing it!)