Decoding Procrastination: The devil that won't let us finish our work
We look into the science behind procrastination. Yes, there is a scientific reason to why we procrastinate.
Suppose you have an assignment to submit by the end of the day. But instead of choosing to work on it in the morning or during the day. You finish the submission at night. Right before the deadline! During the day, you choose to reorganise your wardrobe or spend your time doing nothing.
If asked why? You would often say, "I was bored to do it then. Or I was too lazy." However, this end minute submission, is followed by a brief phase of regret. And given a chance to fix it the next time, we often end up doing the same thing.
But procrastination does not necessarily mean laziness or boredom. The Latin verb procrastinare means — to put off until tomorrow. Additionally, the ancient Greek word akrasia — also considered the etymological origin of the word — means doing something against our better judgment.
Finally, according to the Oxford dictionary, the English word procrastination means the action of delaying or postponing something. Hence the word procrastination in no way expresses laziness or boredom.
People of the 21st century have also conveniently evolved the verb — procrastinate — into an adjective procrastinator. The following generations have even displayed a general acceptance of the action as a personality trait.
But what makes procrastination so unacceptable or inappropriate?
Initially, putting off something that needs to be done may feel good or comforting in the beginning. The after-thought is often negative. Dr Piers Steel, a professor of motivational psychology at the University of Calgary calls procrastination, "Self-harm".
Dr Fuschia Sirois, professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield explains the irrational feeling as, "This is why we say that procrastination is essentially irrational." "It doesn’t make sense to do something you know is going to have negative consequences."
She also cites, "inability to manage negative mood around a task" as one of the reasons for procrastination.
Do I procrastinate? No, I don't? Does everyone procrastinate?
Yes! Everybody procrastinates. According to a recent study in the UK based on 1000 people. Just 15.6 per cent of people claim that they never procrastinate. This means that more than 84 per cent of the population has put off important tasks.
Research into the matter tells us that procrastination is often caused by boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, self-doubt and beyond. It is not specific to certain people and is definately not a character flaw. Anyone and everyone can experience this negative feeling about a particular task leading us to procrastinate.
You may have also experienced that procrastination is sometimes easy to manage. Suppose you have to run an errand, that you have been putting off for a while. But one fine day, you tell yourself "enough is enough" and get on with the work. And once it's done, you don't feel so bad anymore. This is where the 'self-awareness' or consciousness plays a role.
Hence, looking into procrastination, we realise, the whole idea behind procrastination may be simple, "I'll do it tomorrow!" but the reasons may be complex.
Bad mood, ill feelings, anxiety or the feeling of not being good enough often are the reasons why we procrastinate. Suppose you have not had a good day, or are already tired because of all the tasks you had at hand, the pending tasks don't feel important enough.
This could also be because of ill feelings towards a specific thing that needs to be done. Not liking the subject, fear of failure or even not known what exactly to do. Even the feeling of not being good enough can deter us from finishing our work on time.
So why do we procrastinate?
Looking for reasons behind procrastination, Devon Price, a social psychology professor at Loyola University cited: fear of failure or confusion about the first steps of an assignment. He was studying procrastination in students.
“Procrastination is more likely when the task is meaningful and the individual cares about doing it well,” Price explained. Procrastinators can stare at a screen or book for hours, paralyzed by fear. At that point, the best solution is to take a short break and engage in a relaxing activity.
"Fatigue is another reason that prevents you from engaging with the task and you rather engage with or some other activity may seem so much easier to do," says Ms Kamna Chhibber, Consultant at Fortis La Femme, Fortis hospital.
How does procrastination affect us?
Ms Chhibber explains that procrastination can heavily impact how we view ourselves. It may also make you question your work ethics and overall approach in life. "It makes you wonder if you are good enough to accomplish tasks and leads to a lot of comparisons. It can also significantly affect your temper, anxiety.
How does one manage procrastination?
Managing procrastination is easy as it is mostly to do with disassociating the negative and bad feelings around it. It is also important to understand why is there a need to delay. When understanding this, if you realise that it is because of the stress or anxiety caused by the task, it is important to eliminate it.
Remind yourself of the positive feeling that follows the moment you finish a task. It is very very helpful as delaying something also brings happiness. But that's momentary," says the consultant.
Here's a checklist to motivate you to procrastinate less.
It is ok to procrastinate when something feels daunting. But leaving it right there is not current. Rather it is important to find out what makes procrastination so easy and doing the task so difficult. Understand the stressors and work on them to eliminate the fear.