Updated: Mar 26
Procrastination. Reading this word alone brings on feelings of guilt. Memories are brought up of the too many times I left an assignment to the night before. Overestimating my ability to nut out a 2000 word essay in 24 hours. The feat would always be followed with a moment of handing it in thinking, “if only I had a few more days – I could’ve done ok”. After all, anything would’ve been better than a 24-hour attempt!
Let’s not lie. I’m not only guilty of this at university. I can think of many examples of parking my productivity for whatever reason I found at the time. Whether I should’ve been writing, working or doing something as simple as sending out a single email. But why?
What makes us procrastinate and how can we overcome it?
Here are the insights I wish I knew in school (and still need to work on today):
What is procrastination?
Google tells us it’s “the action of delaying or postponing something.” Fair enough, we’ve all been there.
Why do we do it?
Mostly, it’s a task that we’re not that excited about. Other times we might delay doing something because we don’t have the confidence or the skill level that we expect of ourselves to sit down and get it done effortlessly. Usually a little more energy, whether it be emotional or technical, is required on these tasks.
We make up excuses for why we should be doing other things before doing the task at hand. Whether the other things we do are productive or not is up to the individual procrastinator.
High guilt procrastinators might decide to clean their house, while the complete avoidant procrastinator will put the task completely out of their mind and get on with their day as if it doesn’t even exist! It’s actually quite fascinating when you break it down. The human phenomenon of avoiding doing something that we know is in our best interest to get started, and something we need to get done.
Tim Urban takes us even further inside the mind of the procrastinator in his awesome Ted talk below, (my favourite piece on this topic).
So, what are 3 ways we can overcome procrastination?
1. Change the way you look at it.
When you notice you’re procrastinating on a certain task, stop. Take the weight off. This isn’t the biggest task in the world, and it surely doesn’t deserve all the anxiety its being given. Even if it is a large task – it can always be broken down and completed. Most importantly, your first step must be to shift your mind set from “How am I ever going to do it?” to “I can get this done”.
2. Make a plan.
Next, write down your plan. A realistic and manageable way that you can get the task done. Be specific and include when, where and how you’ll do it. Write it somewhere you can it pick up and look at each day.
3. Hold yourself accountable.
It’s all very well and good to have these great intentions, but how do we ensure we’ll follow through? My tip – tell someone else. Find a buddy to tell when you’ll have the task done by (either certain parts of the task or the whole thing if it’s smaller) and let them know when you’ve completed it.
If you’re more of a solo task setter – you can always create your own reward that you’ll be allowed once the task is complete. For example, once I finish the introduction for my essay I can check my phone, and once I finish the whole essay I can catch up with friends. Whatever the driver is that you find to keep motivated and to just get the thing….. done.
Happy non-procrastinating! (If that’s a thing…)
Amba is an Australian author, and writer of Finding Your Path Books, a happiness series for youth transitions. She has also spoken at TEDx on supporting students through graduation and beyond. Follow Amba on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.