Everyone at some point has procrastinated from a task they may have. I did it and I’m more than sure that you have too. Whether you are studying or doing something that needs to get done, it is now so easy to become distracted with the amount of content you have at your fingertips. Mindlessly scrolling through TikTok, watching videos on YouTube or playing that new video game are just some of the ways we can become lost in our own world and forget the work we have going on. Nonetheless it is very much possible to eliminate all the distractions, with the first step trying to understand what procrastination is. Afterwards, we will explore why we procrastinate, signs of procrastination, and discuss strategies to combat procrastination.
Understanding the reasons why we put things off in the first place is one way to stop procrastinating. It might be a fear of failure or a lack of self-assurance for some people. Others could experience it as a result of ineffective time management or a propensity to get quickly sidetracked. By identifying the root causes of procrastination, we can start to create solutions that are tailored to each of our unique problems.
“Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow as well” – Mark Twain
The definition of procrastination is the action of postponing or delaying something and instead doing something less immediate and usually, more enjoyable. Etymologically, “procrastination” is derived from the Latin verb procrastinare — to put off until tomorrow. But it’s more than just voluntarily delaying. Procrastination is also derived from the ancient Greek word akrasia — doing something against our better judgement.
Let’s focus on that last part, “against our better judgement”:
Does this sound familiar? It’s the week before your Maths exam, you sit down at your desk ready to study with your laptop open and then suddenly 2 hours have passed. As you realise what has just happened, rather than feeling relaxed by this break, you seem to feel even more overwhelmed and potentially even agitated?
This is because when we procrastinate we are inherently self-aware that we are avoiding the task we need to complete. And yet, we do it anyway.
Procrastination can often be mistaken as laziness or having poor time management, but studies have proven time and time again that this is not the case.
The reasons people are endless but most of the time it is a way of coping with challenging emotions and negative moods such as boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, self-doubt, etc. that certain tasks may induce or stimulate.
Dr. Tim Pychyl, professor of psychology and member of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa argues that “Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem. Procrastination can essentially be understood as “the primacy of short-term mood repair..over the longer-term pursuit of intended actions”.
Because of this, procrastination often turns into a vicious cycle that feels impossible to escape. Whenever we delay the task we set out to finish, this only compounds the negative associations we have with the task, and those feeling will still be there when we eventually muster the motivation to resume completing the task now with increased levels of stress, as well as, greater feelings of self-blame and low self-esteem. This is because in the present when we put off completing a task we are provided with temporary relief, essentially “rewarding” yourself for putting off the task and due to the nature of human behaviourism.
Studies have shown that even thoughts about procrastination can typically exacerbate our stress, which in turn contributes to further procrastination (Dr. Sirois).
These are common feelings or roadblocks when studying that can sum up why we procrastinate:
To learn how to combat procrastination, download this useful table and further notes where we dive into ways to limit distractions, how to start developing a routine, experimenting with unconventional ways to motivate yourself, and how to organise notes by using support systems or outside resources like productivity apps.
Recognise the feeling or roadblock causing the procrastination → Analyse why that is the case → experiment with a solution for every reason → Reflect on the solution and trial and error till you find the right fit for you!