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Cracking the procrastination code

Aktualisiert: 22. Jan.

Understanding procrastination and unlocking productivity


Procrastination

"I’ll do it later." – "I don’t feel like doing it." – I can't do it." – "I work better under pressure." – "I’m not in the right mood."

These are all common thoughts and statements of procrastination. We distract ourselves with social media or other activities or keep finding excuses to not start with a task. We delay or postpone a task to the point that our procrastination is accompanied by negative consequences.


But why do we procrastinate?

What is behind this common behaviour? Why do we often find it so difficult to stop it?


Let’s dive deeper into the topic and learn more about why we procrastinate and how we can stop.


 

Procrastination describes a dysfunctional behaviour in which an intended action is postponed even though this delay is associated with long-term negative consequences. In psychology, it is seen as "a form of self-regulation failure" (Pychyl & Sirois, 2016, n.p.). We fail to regulate our behaviour to pursue our real intentions and plans for our goal. We put off a task to engage in more pleasurable or easier activities even though we know that this can lead to increased stress, anxiety, guilt and poor performance.


Procrastination also involves a misregulation of our emotions. We want to feel good in the moment and prefer the short-term feeling of satisfaction, joy, pleasure to the negative consequences in the future (Pychyl & Sirois, 2016).


It is a simple formula: Difficult task = bad feeling and Procrastination = good feeling.


Emotions

This often has to do with fear of failure and perfectionism. We are afraid of rejection and criticism from others. By procrastinating we want to protect ourselves from failure.


Because if you never start, you can't fail.


In addition, procrastination can be related to a lack of motivation or interest in a task, feeling overwhelmed, a tendency to prioritise short-term pleasures over long-term goals, or other psychological stresses. Poor time management, distractions or lack of clear goals can also contribute to procrastination.

"Procrastination is like a credit card: it's a lot of fun until you get the bill." Christopher Parker

However, putting off tasks does not always have to be a bad thing, because it basically means prioritising tasks. Sometimes putting off tasks also opens up new opportunities. Procrastination becomes an obstacle when important tasks are not completed (on time), when it harms others, when it exposes yourself to greater stress or when it bring you down (e.g. when you blame yourself for procrastinating).


 

And how can we overcome procrastination?


To do this, we need to understand that procrastination often follows a predictable pattern, such as reaching for the mobile phone, going to the fridge and doing other, less important tasks. We are triggered by a task, go into an avoidance state and engage in alternative activities where we may feel a temporary sense of relief or pleasure. However, by avoiding the actual task, the pressure and stress increase and we may have to complete the task under time pressure and with a loss of quality. But the good news is: based on the fact that procrastination is a learned behaviour, a coping mechanism, we can change it.


In 4 simple steps you can learn to better understand your procrastination behaviour and gradually replace it with more supportive and beneficial alternative actions.


1. Recognise your own patterns


The first step is to become aware of your procrastination behaviour. Take a closer look at your own procrastination patterns and ask yourself: What does it look like when I procrastinate? What do I do in these situations?


2. Ask for the reasons


The second step is to look at what is causing your behaviour. Ask yourself: What is behind the procrastination? Why do I put things off? How do I feel when I put things off? How do I feel in the long run?


3. Create an action plan


In the third step, you create an action plan for the next time you find yourself in a situation where you want to procrastinate: What do I do when I notice that I tend to procrastinate? What do I do instead? What or who can support me in this?

Set up supporting processes and routines that make it easier for you to tackle a task.


Formulating SMART goals can be helpful in this context. This means that you break down your goals into smaller, realistic sub-goals. Because it is easier to tackle smaller, more feasible work packages. In doing so, also make clear to yourself the WHY of the goal. If you understand why it is important to tackle the task now, the task will take on a higher priority on your agenda. You will be more motivated and less likely to put off the task.


At the beginning of the day, try to do the most difficult and unpleasant task first, according to the principle of "kiss the frog first". Because at the beginning of the day we usually have the most energy to tackle such tasks. It also allows you to look back on small successes right at the start of the day. This lifts your mood and motivation.


In addition, the Pomodoro technique can help you divide your time into smaller, manageable chunks to maintain your focus and attention for longer. Work on the task in 20- to 30-minute intervals, followed by a 5-minute break. You can use virtual Pomodoro timers, which you can find free of charge on the internet, for this.


Set up your workplace in a way that is conducive to working and learning. Try to ban distractions, such as your mobile phone, from your workspace so that you can concentrate fully and are not tempted to distract yourself.


Learn more about how to better manage your tasks in my blog post "Feeling overwhelmed during PhD?".

4. Forgive yourself


And what do you do if you do procrastinate?

Self-forgivess

In a study of 119 first-year students in Canada, it was shown that students who practised self-forgiveness for procrastination were less likely to procrastinate the next time (Wohl, Pychyl & Bennett, 2010). The findings of the study indicate: "Forgiveness allows the individual to move past their maladaptive behavior and focus on the upcoming examination without the burden of past acts to hinder studying. By realizing that procrastination was a transgression against the self and letting go of negative affect associated with the transgression via self-forgiveness, the student is able to constructively approach studying for the next exam." (Wohl et. al., 2010, p. 806)


So the answer seems quite simple: Forgive yourself.


If you procrastinate, try to be understanding with yourself and speak kindly to yourself. Acknowledge the urge to procrastinate. Analyse the emotions that arise and ask yourself how you want to feel in the long run. Talk to yourself as you would talk to a good friend. You are not the only person who procrastinates.


 

Are you looking for support to break your habit of procrastination?


Then contact me and let's work on it together.


Attention!

Until 31.08.2023 only, I offer a Coaching Summer Special: 3x 1h 1-to-1 coaching at a reduced price. Arrange a free 30-minute discovery call today to learn more about it.



 

References

  • Pychyl, T. A., & Sirois, F. M. (2016). Procrastination, Emotion Regulation, and Well-Being. In F. M. Sirois & T. A. Pychyl (Eds.), Procrastination, Health, and Well-Being (156-176). Elsevier Science & Technology.

  • Robbins, M. (2023). The Reason You Procrastinate Is Not What You’re Thinking | The Mel Robbins Podcast. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8r_F-xR3Ig

  • Wohl, M. J., Pychyl, T. A., & Bennett, S. H. (2010). I forgive myself, now I can study: How self-forgiveness for procrastinating can reduce future procrastination. Personality and Individual Differences, 48(7), 803–808. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2010.01.029


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