“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
― Abraham Lincoln
The definition of procrastination is: To postpone to tomorrow, to temporise or leave tasks to be accomplished at a later date.
Procrastination comes from latin pro (going forward) and crastinus (tomorrow).
It is a tendency to systematically postpone actions. A difficulty to start work, especially if it does not procure immediate satisfaction.
Are we wired to procrastinate?
There has been an evolutionary advantage to procrastination. In a survival environment, where risks are higher, potential risks and reward are a matter of life and death, energy expenditure management is essential, meaning short term goals are prioritized. When there is uncertainty, better to cash in the little reward now, than potentially getting nothing.
There might even be genetic variations that influence behaviors of procrastination and impulsiveness. Now before you jump to conclusion thinking that it must be you, habits and training plays a much larger role in procrastination behaviors.
In todays world, where most of the rewards comes from managing long term projects and delaying gratification, we need to override our natural tendency to want things now. Developing our ability to exert willpower will benefit the bigger picture.
In psychology, procrastination is attributed to a lack of self-regulation, Either because of the lack of willpower, discipline, or due to the lack of mood regulation.
Psychological causes of procrastination:
–Fear and anxiety: There might be fear and anxiety for a variety of reasons associated with the task. The causes of these fears are complex and different every time. It could be related to; the task seeming to daunting, something way out of the comfort zone, a lack of self-esteem, believing the chances of success are really low (fear of failure), preservation of self-esteem from failure, fearing the consequences of success (fear of success), fear of being invaded or separated from others after you succeed (not wanting to say no or yes to others)
-Perfectionism: More often than not, perfectionism is another form of fear. You chase perfection because you are afraid of the judgment of others and want to be foolproof. Perfectionism is a way to never expose yourself, not be vulnerable and always have a excuse to delay.
-Laziness, tiredness, lack of energy: Energy has an important role in procrastination. If you are tired, unhealthy and unfit, it is likely that everything will seem tiring and daunting and you are therefore less likely to act. Staying fit not only keeps you energy level high but is also great to maintain your willpower.
You may have heard the adage ‘when there is a will there is a way‘ about motivation, but the reverse is also often true, ‘when there is a way there is a will’, since fatigue is often a major impediment to progress. Take care of your energy
Low motivation can be a symptom of deep fatigue and a precursor to a burnout. If you are an high achiever and suddenly start procrastinating, you might simply have pushed past your limit and need to ease of.
-Conformism and criticism: we don’t try because we fear the social consequences of our action. It is normal, we are built to be that way, and conform to a tribe. However, your tribe is small, an the amount of people who’s opinion you should worry about is small. Remember that you cannot please everybody and that you will always face criticism, no matter what you do. The best way to go above it is to find strong social support in your close ones, and have strong personal values and meaning behind what you do. Act for yourself and according to your own principles above pleasing anybody else.
-Low self efficacy: The lack of trust in ones ability to achieve and to be efficient can be crippling. Self-confidence and efficiency build on previous successes. If one has been unsuccessful to long, has an history of struggle and failure, self-trust in the ability to succeed and be disciplined might be low. The self-image can be stuck into ‘I’m a procrastinator’ I’m a failure’, I don’t have any self-discipline. This message can come from or be increased by peers, such as family, colleges and others in the social circle, in a form of learned helplessness. One needs to work on self-image, and build self-trust by starting with small achievements, until self-faith is restored.
–Boredom and apathy: You might be in a state where nothing seams exciting. The brain as lost the ability to find meaning, focus on anything for an extended length of time. It can happen after a traumatic event happens in one life, after a loss or a intense shock. The brain becomes addicted to quick dopamine release to alleviate from the pain. The cause of this apathy is a deep suffering and loss of meaning. To overcome this, a grieving process is necessary, and trying to find meaning in a new way, to fill what is missing with new meaning.
Comparison with others : Comparison with others can tend to lower your sense of self-efficacy. If you find that other are more performant, better, to far ahead, you might feel like there is mo way you can compete and achieve similar levels of success. In this instance, you might be tempted to give up and not try ou all, because you feel demoralized and ashamed. In this instance, the best you can do is ignore others. You do you first. The reason you can feel stuck is because you are dependent on outcome rather that processes.
You feel that you will be happy once you have achieve success and are a top performer. But the truth is that you are often happy when you get better, often when you reached your goal, you get bored and you need a new goal. The good news is, no matter where you are you can make progress and be happy if you are process oriented. Forget how others are doing, and focus on how you can improve.
-The ‘feel like shit procrastination loophole’:
When you feel bad or anxious because you have work due that you haven’t even started, your brain start to avoid the bad feeling by trying to make you feel better with dopamine. A dopamine release makes you temporarily forget about you shitty situation. The problem with that is twofold. First, you only delay the problem and it soon comes back with a vengeance. Later,you are even more in the red and you still haven’t done anything, your anxiety is only increasing. Second, you brain becomes addicted to dopamine rush, making it difficult for it to focus properly and get anything done. You train your brain to have a low attention span and chase the high of pleasure. When we feel bad, we often give into feeling good, which leads to feeling worse soon enough, and so on and so forth.
The problem with us humans is that we’re great at viewing ourselves in a positive light. Because of that we tend to rationalise and justify bad decisions and convince ourselves that they are actually good.
For example, a classic rationalisation is the: ‘I deserve it”.
We entitle ourselves to have a bit of rest, because of our previous efforts and achievements, while in fact we might be negating the benefit from the little effort we produced. It might be entitled to give in sometimes, most of the time it’s just bullshit.
We also minimise the impact of our bad decisions with “oh, it’s not that bad”, and finding a myriade of reasons why the impact is minimal. Worse, once we give in, we think we might as well go all out. Instead of slipping and sipping one drink, the alcoholic ends up being completely wasted.
We even rationalize cutting ourself some slack by doing future hypothetic commitment. We tell ourselves. “I’ll be better tomorrow”. The problem is we pay ourselves for something we haven’t earned yet. And when comes tomorrow, we usually don’t end up doing anything and even use the same strategy for the next day.
We also convince ourself that we should live it up and that fun is a good reason to live. Prioritizing our time in favor of pleasurable experience, convincing yourself that it is actually good for you, the problem is that pleasure soon looses meaning, and we feel good on a superficial level while feeling like shit, deep inside.
-The I’ve got time until I’m panicked because the deadline is freaking soon:
We all have a limited amount of time. We will all die at some point, and our lives being already busy doesn’t leave much leeway to accomplish important things.
Think that each time you procrastinate, you waste your time into something that is not valuable to you. How you spend your time is all about how much value you can squeeze out from your day.
It can be a good idea to review your days and try to see what you actually value in the activity that you’ve had. Try to determine the times that you considered well spent and the one that you considered a waste. This new awareness might help you increase the former and reduce the later.
-The “It’s not the right time”:
When you procrastinate, the brain often produces thoughts and explanations for why now is not the right time. The brain will try to trick you into delaying because, another better opportunity might show up. So you delay what you need to be doing forever.
The stars will align, everybody will give you space, and circumstances will smile upon you. But the truth is, perfect time never happens. When you start finding reasons why you should delay, really try to identify if it is not fear expressing itself. If it is just some crappy excuse, just get on with it and start acting.
The joke is that procrastination and task preparation often takes more time than the task itself. We derive so much anxiety for so long about something that we could do in hours of committed effort, instead dragging it for days.
“Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone”
― Pablo Picasso
-The Information trap, “I need to know more”:
Another trap is to feel that you need to know more to get started. It is typical of thinkers and dreamers who enjoy the pure stimulation of thoughts and are less interested in the actual manifestation in reality. One can become obsessed with knowledge. Either from lack of realism, perspective, or to mask anxiety, we can be pushed to gather more and more information before making any decisions and actions, not taking the leap of faith.
The information trap locks us into feeling that we are always missing something.
More often than not, you know what you need to do, you are just looking for reassurance. The question is will you actually do it?
One of the great funny/sad paradox is to procrastinate on success with success theory, from reading books, watching videos, and getting more and more knowledge on ‘how to’, strategies that never get used.
Worse, this paradox can lead to increased expectation and performance anxiety, making it harder and harder to take any action.
The common problem from planners is the belief that thoughts must always drive actions. While it is true that efficient action must be planned, if all endeavors remains at the plan stage, no value is actually created, besides learning often comes from feedback, which can only happen if some action is taken first.
The opposite is also true, actions drive thoughts, and though experimentation, on can often come up with ideas, learning and way to refine the process. When you find yourself over thinking and getting lost in details before you even get started, it might be a good idea to let it go, and just do it.
Some good advice to remind us of this fact are that “success is a number game.”, “you can’t get to quality without quantity”, and trial and error is what will bring refinement. The only factor left is time as “success is applied commitment overtime”.
So now, that we understand procrastination and it’s trap, lets bust is right open.
Procrastination quick tips:
– Focus on how the opportunity will run out, a lot of widows don’t stay open forever, deadlines happen, patience runs out, trend changes. Procrastination can rob you of capitalizing on opportunities that might not present in the future. If you have some free time now, and are not making the most of it, it might be because you don’t realize it might run out eventually. Try to think of when you will have a family, a more demanding job, or whatever else that might restrict your schedule. Maybe that will focus you into spending with consideration.
You can be healthy afraid of not having enough time. It can push you to do more and make most of your life, while you have it.
‘Tomorrow : a mystical land where 99% of all human productivity. motivation and achievements is stored’
-Just start: You just need to start, often when you just set out what you need to do with the intention of doing just 2 min, you end up going longer. The hardest is starting, 80% of people who start the activity will end up going longer that they intend to.
-Develop starting rituals: A starting ritual is all about helping you to start. Once you have a technique to increase spontaneity, over thinking and negative patterns are less likely to take hold. Mel Robbins 5 second rule, is based on that principle.
-Just do less: in order to make starting easier in your mind, just have the objective of doing less that you actually can. That way, the task is perceived as easy and doesn’t stress you out further.
-Deconstruct the task in small steps: If what you need to do seems very daunting, simply take a piece of paper and see if you can break it down. For example, an essay can be broken down into writing a paragraph or even a sentence everyday.
Imaging eating a whole cow in one meal, you couldn’t, you would probably die of indigestion. If you were to cut it in small portions and eat some everyday, you could eat the whole of it eventually.
-Eliminate distractions: The more distractions are available to you, the more opportunity you have to procrastinate. If you have no other options that do what you need to do or be bored, you are much more likely to follow through. That might means cutting yourself off technologies, isolate yourself, reduce noises and tend to your needs before they arrise.
–Develop working habits: By doing the same thing at the same time everyday, you teach your body and your mind to go through the same motion without having to think to much about what you are doing. Once an activity has become part of you routine, you will perform it without thinking, and it becomes easier.
–Increase motivation by increasing value: If I told you I’d give you a million dollars if you achieve by the end of today one of your primary goal, you probably would work damn hard at it. Because the reward is so great, the value of accomplishing the goal skyrockets, and usually, motivation tends to follow.
Or decrease value: On the other hand, if you are already freaking out because the stakes are really high, try to decrease pressure by being realistic about the outcome of your goal. For example: if you are afraid of failing your exam, try to minimise its consequences in your mind. After all, you won’t die, and chances are, you won’t remember it 5 years from now, whether you succeed or fail at it.
–Clarify your purpose and long term goals: If you have the achievement of your goals planned out, it is much easier to follow through. By not being clear on the steps needed to achieve a goal, it is vague and scary to the mind.
To clarify your goals:
-Write them down, and try to be precise
-Visualise the end result
-Deconstruct the goal into mesurable steps
-Organise a timetable to follow through, and accomplish each steps
-Have a long term dream, create a dream map or a mission statement, that you can look at often. That way, you are reminded of your purpose and meaning often.
-Forgive yourself: If you are procrastinating, it is likely because you feel stressed about something. The task seams to difficult or other factors in your life creates pressure that you need to relieve by having fun. The first thing you need to do if you catch yourself in a procrastinating pattern is to forgive yourself and de-stress.
Take time to figure out what you are stressed about: Once you identify the real reason why you are procrastinating, try to debunked the validity of your emotions, or simply be aware that it is there but move forward anyway.
–Reduce resistance: We often don’t follow through on what we need to do because of some resistance or other. This resistance is due to the consequences that we’ll get from achieving what we want. We might be afraid of getting what we want, and so the status quo provides us with a sense of security. Try to identify what consequences or resistance you are avoiding, and try to eliminate them, by focusing on what you really want, what you are missing out, and if your mental projection are even real at all.
–Time yourself: When you time yourself, you take some of the stress out of the equation and can really focus on what you are doing instead of being distracted.
The classic productivity method involving timing is the pomodoro method:
It goes like this: pick a task, set a timer for 25 min (1 pomodoro session), Have a notebook for tracking distractions (for future reference),take a break for 5 minutes and repeat a few time.
“Procrastination is the thief of time, collar him.” Charles Dickens,
-Create deadlines: We often leave things again until the last minute, its Parkison’s Law. Because of that you can shorten your deadline in order to increase you productivity and stop gratification. Forget the idea that you can complete a task a later time by committing publicly to be finished by a certain time in the near future.
With better time allocation you can create the artificial deadlines to stop you from mucking around.
-Do what you enjoy doing: Find a way to do what you enjoy doing and your motivation will naturally be high. If the activity is it’s own reward, then there is less need to push or force yourself.
Ideally, we tend to be efficient and good at what we enjoy doing and bad at what we find boring. Maybe delegate what you don’t like to do, or try to trade service with someone else, or try to make it fun in some way.
“You can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood. What mood is that? Last-minute panic.”
– Bill Watterson
-Set yourself Prepare yourself for productivity. By planning and organizing your time, you are much more clear on what you need to accomplish and when, leaving some of the guess work. Often we start procrastinating because we lack a clear picture of what we need to be doing, so we fall into the path of least resistance and end up doing was is immediately fun.
Try to organise yourself with: organizers, to do list, bullet journal, and by prioritizing your goals and tasks.
Keep track of your activities and moments when you are productive and procrastinating. Try to identify the why’s, the triggers and influencing factors to replicate or eliminate them in the future .
-Organise free time, you cannot function at a high intensity all the time. Try to plan time to relax and have fun. It is not procrastination if you have already made significant progress on your goal but a necessary breathing room for your brain and body to recover.
By planing your day in advance, you leverage your time more effectively to have everything that you want, from productivity to meaning and fun.
-Build self-trust: Build self-perception of being an achiever. How do you currently view yourself ? If you view yourself as a procrastinator, a low achiever, or a failure, it is likely that your actions will reflect your self-perception.
Taking responsibility for how you view yourself, trying to establish trust with your ability to do what you set out to do, one step out a time, can gradually change the image that you have of yourself
-Do the hardest thing first: If you do the most difficult thing that you have to do first, all the rest after that seem like a walk in the park. Brian Tracy calls it eating the frog. If you have to eat a bunch of frogs, eat the most repulsive first.
Or ease into it: Other personality types work better by getting momentum, confidence and easing into it. Start with related smaller task, to build momentum and then achieve the big challenge.
-Priorities: In order to be effective, find out what are the big priorities you should focus on. Ask yourself what are the most immediate and beneficial tasks that I can take to improve my life right now. Or ask yourself, what are consequences of not doing these tasks?
Maybe you are not procrastinating but overwhelmed with a majority of irrelevant tasks. By prioritizing properly you might realize that a lot of the thing you thought required your attention, don’t need to be done at all.
-Set priority for each item on your goal list, and make a point of achieving what is the most important. Procrastinating on the rest is not nearly as important. The problem is we often do the small urgent things first, and leave out our most important goals.
-Procrastination positively: You might be putting something off because is scares you. If that is the case you can procrastinate productively. Meaning you don’t achieve your priority because it is to hard for you at the moment, but you can achieve other goals or objectives that are not as hard.
For example, instead of doing your homework, you could clean your room. It is obviously not the ideal situation as it is a lower priority, but you can still get productive byproducts of you procrastination.
If you feel that there is absolutely no way you can force yourself to do what you intended, maybe try to find a task that requires less will power and follow through with.
Having space for idleness is also important. It is often when doing nothing or putting things off that great creativity arrises. If don’t want to work, at least don’t distract yourself, but instead do an idle activity that lets you space to think and be creative, like going for a walk, relaxing while laying down, or listening to music, whatever works for you.
You can also use you idle time to learn something new or read, which will be of more value than watching cat videos on Youtube.
-Increase accountability: In order to be more productive, you need to increase your accountability. Being accountable will increase the stakes or pressure on you to achieving your goals.
Accountability is a form of positive self-punishment, it creates negative consequences for not doing what you are supposed to do.
There are a few ways to create accountability:
Social accountability: Meet with an accountability group, where you each support each others goals and achievements. Meeting regularly and having to present your progress to others helps to create a healthy amount of peer pressure.
Declare commitments in your social circle, with people who will give you shit if you do not follow through on what you said you would do.
You can also use an accountability coach, that can help you track your goal, behaviors and help you move forward. You can also use accountability tools such as: stickk.com and Beeminder
Use negative consequences to tie to your productivity for increased accountability. Make it very painful to not do what you said you would. Make it more scary to fail that it is pleasant to succeed. It works because people are often more loss adverse than gain oriented.
You can transfer some money to an external account. You can only get that money back if you achieve your goal within your deadline, otherwise your money is lost.
Maybe get a friend on board and promise you will give them something that you value if you do not accomplish your goal.
Or lend him something that you like to use, that you can only get back once you are finished doing what you are supposed to do.
The more ridiculous the loss the bigger the incentive you will have to act on what you said your would. Imagine if you friends were to beat you up or your wife/partner divorce or break up with you if you didn’t follow through, that would surely up the stakes of your success.
Sometimes the promise of a reward are not enough, but the promise of pain if we don’t follow through will push us further.
When Cortes reached America with his crew, he ordered their ship to be burned so that there would be no way back. It forced the hand of the crew to truly commit to moving forward, harnessing their survival instinct. Maybe there is a jump that you are afraid to take, and are always leaving yourself an exist strategy. Maybe you can burn your ships, and force yourself to commit fully to your goal.
You will always have distraction, but maybe you can tie yourself to a course of action that is impossible to change. Ulysse ordered his crew to tie him to the mast of their ship so that he could not be lured by the sirens. Thats what true commitment is.
It is called changing the pay off matrix. Have an all out commitment and make it really expensive not to follow through. Imagine someone having a gun to your head ordering you to perform an action, you would likely do it. Maybe you can embrace the do or die, and put yourself through uncomfortable situations where you are forced to improve.
Try a 30 day no procrastination challenge: Right down a list of difficult things to do. And force yourself out your comfort zone, doing one difficult, new thing everyday.
This will help you stretch and push your limit. It also helps to build back trust in your ability to push yourself and achieve things.
Bring mindfulness into your moment, focus on how you are and how you feel, especially when you procrastinate. We often slip up when we are on autopilot mode. If you realize that you are acting without purpose, without thoughts, in a way that is not congruent with your deep wishes try to realize what you are doing, stop and try as best you can to gain back control.
The problem is that when we stop paying attention, start feeling tired, or experience negative emotions, we constantly revert back to maximizing the enjoyment of the present moment. While there is nothing wrong with enjoying yourself, instant gratification is often not in tune with your deeper, long term goal.
When you catch yourself, bring your attention to why you are doing what you are doing right now, maybe right down your why, that way, you can identify what influenced you into this situation, and get more leverage on yourself in the future.
It’s fine to relax, but maybe try to plan for it and restrict it’s time, so that you do not become absorb and lose all of your day before you realize it. If you procrastinate and the appeal is very strong in your mind, try to think about the bigger picture, what is it you really want, maybe that incentive will be strong enough to get you back on track.
Measure you progress and keep moving forward:
It is easier to mesure you progress if you have a metric. One of the reason you can procrastinate is because you don’t really know what you are doing.
To have a sense of direction, keep track of your progress with milestones. At each accomplished milestone, you know that you have accomplished something and made progress.
Another way to measure your progress is to keep track of your obstacles. Progress is not linear and you often runs into walls before you can move forward. Keep track of those problems and the creative solutions that help you resolve them.
You can try to keep track of objective metrics as well, for example:
-time spent performing the activity productively
-number of units achieved (words, reps, emails, calls)
-Tracking reward and success (percentage of success/failures, number of visits, customer, etc)
The clearer your metric, the more clarity and incentive you will have to keep moving forward.
-You can also track your behaviors as best you can:
-when you feel distracted or procrastinate and why
-when you feel productive and why
-try to identify your triggers, and accompanying factors, what emotions/thoughts/event are present or lead to a specific behavior. If you find behaviors that are holding your back, try to find a way to modify them.
-If you organise and plan your time, you can keep track of the Value/impact/enjoyment of your activities. After a while, you can identify what makes a difference in your life and try to remove the unnecessary, while increasing the productive and pleasant.
Once you start keeping metric for your progress, you can start to be process oriented rather that result oriented, and improve you performance day after day, eventually reaching the desired result, instead of being obsessively stuck on the end result.
Another way of increasing the pay of matrix is to increase the reward that you get from completing the tasks that you set yourself out to do. You can chose things that you enjoy doing, things to buy, or allow yourself certain things only if you follow through with what you said you would do.
Keep your reward proportional with what you accomplish. You can even create a proportional progressive reward system to encourage you further.
In a competition: The first receive the biggest prize and then the second a smaller prize, the third even smaller and so on and so forth. If you can devise increasing rewards depending on your performances, that might motivate you to go all out. Therefore you can design a ridiculously high reward tied with a ridiculous performance cap, along with more realistic ones and see what happens, like compiling your months work into one week to get three weeks off.
–Think about your future self:
Try to focus on the impact of the difficult things that you have to do. How will they benefit you in the future? After all, you chose to do them, because somehow, they will benefit you.
The problem is that we are foreign with our future. In fact our future self seem to be a stranger to us. We often think that we will be better in the future that we are today, but it is rarely the case. If you want to be better tomorrow, you also have to be better now.
What kind of set up do you want to leave yourself in the future.
Imaging yourself in 10 years. That person is real, do you want to leave him/her in a shitty situation, or do you want to do all that you can in order to make it’s life the best it can be?
We lack a sense of continuity with who we are because we have difficulty envisioning the future. Try to familiarize yourself as an older person, and imagine what you would want to do for yourself now.
Try to think of the what your procrastination is robbing from your future self. We often regret less what we tried and failed at that never having taken a shot at all.
“Procrastination is like a credit card: it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.”-Christopher Parker
-Accept discomfort and failure: It is normal. You are feeling anxious because you care, and stakes are important to you. Now that anxiety is not based on reality but on your mental projections. Also understand that running away is not what truly makes you feel better, getting things done is what will effectively deal with the stress.
Once you understand that the stress will be there for as long as the uncompleted task remains, you might be more inclined to move your ass.
If you catch yourself procrastinating, ask yourself if you like feeling bad. You’ll probably answer no and then tell yourself that the only true way of feeling better is to do what you need to, pushing through the initial discomfort.
Manage expectations: Don’t expect things to fall into your lap straight away. Often we have a good initial burst of productivity but then stop when the rewards are not immediately apparent. If you expect that there will be setbacks, or that the sign of your progress will take time to show, you won’t be as easily discouraged or tempted to give up. Remind yourself often of why you have chosen your goal, and keep being persistent in your efforts. If you are consistently not getting the result that you want however, it might be a good idea to revise your plan of action and see what isn’t working.
The procrastination equation:
An interesting way to view procrastination is with the procrastination equation by Piers Steel, it goes as follow:
motivation = expectancy * value (÷) impulsiveness * delay
Expectancy refers to how how much you expect to succeed at doing the task and thereby getting the anticipated reward.
Value refers to how much you enjoy doing a task, and how much you’ll enjoy the reward.
Impulsiveness refers to your tendency to get distracted by other things.
Delay refers to the time lapse until receiving the anticipated reward
We want to maximize expectancy and value, as they are directly proportional to motivation, and we want to minimize impulsiveness and delay, as they are inversely proportional.