Procrastination is the guilty little pleasure that steals time from our lives, helping us to put off important tasks relatively easily. Although most of us do it every now and again and still meet deadlines, it can become a real problem that eventually leads to detrimental work performance and crippling anxiety. If procrastination is becoming a problem for you at work or university/college, don’t despair – there are several ways to tackle procrastination behaviours, and to adopt more productive work habits for the future.
Why does procrastination feel so good?
Procrastination is a classic avoidance behaviour that helps us to deal with the anxiety that we sometimes feel when a difficult task awaits us. Whether it’s a fear of failure or simply a block in creativity, many factors can trigger procrastination. Doing something pleasurable (such as watching TV, making a snack, playing a computer game, or going shopping) relieves the anxiety we feel, thus reinforcing the procrastination behaviour. Breaking the cycle is hard, as our instinct is to stick to what is easy and what feels good. However, stopping procrastination will lead to long-term happiness as you will avoid last-minute, sloppy work and the resulting disappointment and guilt that comes from producing sub-standard end products.
Strategies for beating procrastination
It may seem like an incredibly hard habit to break, but you can beat procrastination with a few helpful strategies and a bit of extra willpower.
- Have reasonable expectations and goals
Perceived failure can fuel procrastination, especially if you set impossible goals that you continually fail to meet. Rather, set small, achievable goals that you can complete with little to moderate effort. Choose “checkpoints” along the duration of your task completion for small rewards, such as an hour browsing the internet, or one episode of your favourite series, as a kind of “controlled” procrastination.
- Make the task fun
If you get bored easily, try to make your task more fun. If you are working on an assignment, use mixed media (articles, YouTube videos, etc) to make the task more interesting. Approach the topic from various angles, chat with others about the subject, and engage with it in novel ways. The more interesting you find it, the less boring and tedious a task will seem.
- Time management
One serious problem with procrastination is that you often overestimate the time you have left to complete a task. One, or two, or three hours of procrastination can easily turn into days, and your word document remains empty with a blinking cursor. Have a calendar within sight of your desk – a visual reminder tends to stick more in your mind, and you can see the number of days left before your deadline.
Once you break the procrastination habit, you will be more productive, less anxious about your work, and more comfortable getting work done in a timely fashion.