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How to Stop Procrastination and Get Things Done - Kaldzar
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How to Stop Procrastination and Get Things Done

Time is Precious; Don't Procrastinate. Image by Eunice Lui, cropped.

How to Stop Procrastination and Get Things Done

Let me know if this sounds familiar… You’ve got a looming deadline for work or school -a project, report or essay that is due soon- but you just can’t bring yourself to work on it. The vast majority should be nodding your heads, because statistics show: we’ve all been there. If you ever wonder “Why do I procrastinate so much?” or “How do I stop putting things off?” then this post is for you. By understanding the issue we can answer these questions, and get more done daily. So today I’m going to explain why we delay starting or finishing tasks, and provide advice on how to stop procrastination. This is such a big issue, there’s no time to wait… Let’s get to it.


Jump to these Procrastination Subjects:


What is Procastination?

In order to address the problem, we must first be clear about what we’re up against – what it is, and what it isn’t. So to start, here is a definition of procrastination:

Procrastination is the voluntary act of unnecessarily postponing important tasks or decisions despite knowing there will be unfavorable consequences for doing so.

Checking Time. Image by Ono Kosuki.

Therefore, although you may be delaying a bit, you are not procrastinating if you are waiting for a system update, or for somebody to get back to you with needed info. You’re also not necessarily procrastinating if there are zero consequences to your decision. Notice that procrastination isn’t necessarily about being lazy, either. The typical procrastinator is not just laying around doing nothing. Whether they realize it or know, they actively decided to stall work and are likely expending energy building up to the work or on other tasks. You’ll see what I mean shortly. Importantly, there are many ways in which we procrastinate that seem valid until we investigate their underlying causes.

The Procrastination Problem

Studies have found that approximately 20 percent of adults are chronic procrastinators. Shockingly, that’s higher than alcoholism, depression, panic attacks, and phobias. Those are all considered serious conditions that negatively impact productivity and livelihood. Additionally, this tendency to put things off can also impact personal health.

Repeatedly pushing off tasks is a risk factor for poor mental and physical health. In fact, chronic procrastinators experience:
– Higher levels of stress. [1]
– Greater psychological distress with lower life satisfaction. [2]
– Symptoms of depression and anxiety. [3, 4]
– More headaches, insomnia and digestive issues. [5]
– Increased susceptibility to sickness such as colds and flu.
– Links to heart problems. [6]

Something that exacerbates all these issues is that procrastinators often delay preventive treatment, such as regular checkups. And further, procrastinators with hypertension and heart disease are less likely to take action to cope with their illness, such as changing their diet or exercising. With this in mind, it is important that we get to the root cause of procrastination and identify the ways we can change our habits.

Ways We Procrastinate

Here are a few examples of ways that people procrastinate. See if you recognize any of these behaviors.

  • Setting a “start time” in the future. Rather than just diving into the task that needs to get done, you may set a time or date to get to it. Unfortunately, this usually is an excuse to waste time now (and until that start time).
  • Trying to create the perfect plan beforehand. Don’t get me wrong; we need good planning in order to execute a project efficiently. But you can overdo it you strive for perfection over production, and continuously work on “getting ready” rather than doing the hard work.
  • Working on side-goals. We all deserve to spend time on the hobbies we love, like exercising or learning a new skill. However, we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking we’re not procrastinating if we’re doing this rather than the “must do” task at hand.
  • Staying super-busy. Finally, you may find yourself doing a bunch of menial tasks, like answering emails or shredding excess documents. And when those are done, you come up with new ideas and new projects to work on. Sure, these are things required of you at some point during work, but do they really move the important, current project forward and closer to completion?

These are so sneaky because it feels/looks like you are working hard and getting a lot done. But when you step back and look at the big picture, it is easy to see that you may simply be treading water and actually falling behind on the important tasks that would get you closer to your goals.

"I like doing things today because it frees me up to do more tomorrow. But sometimes, tomorrow seems like it's going to be a much better day, doesn't it?" This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Author: Alexandre Normand from San Francisco, United States

Relax, Refuel, and Restore Focus By Doing Nothing


Why Do We Procrastinate?

Now that we’re clear on what procrastination is and ways it manifests, let’s delve into why we do it. This irrational behavior is summed up nicely by Fuschia Sirois, a professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield in England, who ponders: “Why would somebody put something off to the last minute, and then they’re stressed out of their mind, and they end up doing a poor job or less than optimal job on it? And then they feel bad about it afterward, and it may even have implications for other people.”

“Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem.” ~Dr. Tim Pychyl, Prof of Psychology – Carleton University in Ottawa

The exact reasons for putting things off are diverse and vary from person to person. We’ll look at those in just a moment. However, the common thread has to do with emotional self-regulation. Procrastinators tend to exhibit an inability to manage negative moods around a certain task. For example, people don’t usually procrastinate on fun things they enjoy. Rather, they put off things they find difficult, unpleasant, boring or stressful. Ultimately, we get things done via self-control and motivation. But if these drivers are hindered by factors such as exhaustion and rewards that are too far in the future, they can be outweighed by demotivating factors such as anxiety and fear of failure. And this is when we subconsciously “choose” to procrastinate.

Types of Procrastinators

Just as there are multiple ways in which people procrastinate, there are several ways to categorize those who procrastinate. In general, the three types of procrastinator are:

“Avoiders” – Are afraid of being judged on how they perform, so avoid starting (or finishing) the task before them.

“Indecisives” – Feel stressed out when faced with difficult or important decision, so end up putting off the work while they mull all the possible choices and outcomes.

“Thrill-Seekers” – Believe they work well under pressure so seek to put off tasks until the last minute.

Like most people, I can identify with all three of these types. While you may have a tendency to be one procrastinator type, you may find that you take on a different role depending on the activity that needs to get done.


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Reasons We Procrastinate and Possible Solutions

The categories above give us an easy way to group the “excuses” for procrastination. But we can go one step further, by digging into the specific reasons you might feel the compulsion to delay work. In doing this, we can also think of the solutions that help you avoid procrastinating, and get more done.

Abstract Goals

Research shows that you are more likely to procrastinate if your goals are vague. [7] For example, what exactly does the goal “get fit” mean?
The fix: Set clear, achievable goals. For this example try “go to the gym, Monday-Friday, working out at least 30 minutes per day.”

Rewards That Are Too Far In The Future, and Disconnection From Future Self

Due to a phenomenon known as temporal discounting or delay discounting, people are wired to think less of a reward (or punishment) that comes far in the future. [8] Think of this as “I want the satisfaction of that ice cream now” while ignoring that you are trying to lose weight, which you know takes continuous effort over weeks or months.
The fix: Keep your eyes on your long-term goals. Take actions that your future self will benefit from and be proud of.

Feeling Overwhelmed

Overwhelming Stack. Image by Shvets Production.

Sometimes you may feel paralyzed because a single task seems too huge, or because many task have piled up. A great example we can all relate to is spring cleaning of the entire house.
The fix: Remember that the task won’t “just go away”. Make a list of clear steps, and start taking them. So instead of thinking about the whole house, do one thing (like cleaning under the fridge), check that off, then move on to the next task.

Anxiety

Those who suffer from anxiety may procrastinate because they feel anxious about the job they need to do. Unfortunately this can set off a feedback look that causes a vicious cycle. For example, if you avoid opening your bills because you’re afraid of the amount or don’t know how you’ll pay them… You procrastinate even thought you know not paying will make the problem worse, so then you get even more anxious, which causes more procrastination…
The fix: Take action to settle your nerves. Then recall that resolution only comes with action. So no matter how painful or difficult the next step is, resolve to do it right away so that it’s not completely overwhelming in the future.


Reduce Anxiety and Increase Productivity with New Mood



Task Aversion

We may avoid doing a certain task because we feel that it is frustrating, tedious, or boring. Or perhaps we feel that the task is too difficult to handle.
The fix: Sometimes we just need to rip off the band-aid. If you’re capable of doing the job but don’t like it, just get it done and out of the way. The sooner you complete the task, the sooner you can forget about it and go do the things you like. And if you feel the is too hard, consider that “you never know until you try.” Give your best effort; you may be surprised at the results. And if they aren’t ideal, learn from them so you can do better next time.

Perfectionism and Fear of Failure

Do (not doubt). Image by Olya Kobruseva.

Many times people procrastinate because they fear the results won’t be perfect, not good enough, or maybe not good at all. This leads to self-sabotage when you’d rather blame your short-coming on procrastination rather than your ability.
The fix: All anybody can do in any situation is simply to give their best effort. Plus, delaying your work will likely lead to a rushed end-product and poorer results. So like the above, start now and give it all you’ve got. The results will be whatever they are, so be open to the feedback.

Depression

Sadly, as if it weren’t difficult to deal with by itself, underlying depression can also cause procrastination. [9] The symptoms of fatigue, difficulty in concentrating, and a reduced interest in activities can cause people to procrastinate. For example, a depressed individual may repeatedly postpone finishing a report or getting an oil change, because they just don’t have enough mental energy.
The fix: This one is a bit trickier to fix all on your own. Obviously you can meditate, exercise and do other tasks you like to improve your mood. But it may be worthwhile to speak with a doctor or therapist.

Lack of Energy

In general, people are more likely to procrastinate [11] if they suffer from low energy levels. [12] This includes both physical or mental energy. Most working adults have experienced this at one point or another. After a long day at the office, you may find it harder to stay disciplined to do other tasks at home at night. This may lead you to procrastinate on things like working out, studying, or even doing laundry.
The fix: Take time in the day to relax your brain. Meditation and intentional daydreaming can help, along with taking a moment to do nothing. But of course, nothing can replace the essential, rejuvenating power of sleep.


Read About the Benefits of Sleep and How to Maximize Yours


Lack of Motivation

People often find themselves not motivated enough to work on a given task. [10] This is more commonly a problem if our reasons for doing a task are extrinsic – coming from some outside pressure or encouragement. Levels of motivation tend to stay higher when the reasons are intrinsic – driven by your own enjoyment and satisfaction of completing the job.
The fix: Find the reason why the task is important and beneficial to you. And find pleasure in the growth you get from pouring yourself into the process rather than seeking an outside reward. Also, learn how to harness the power and momentum of a massive transformative purpose.

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Sometimes we lack the motivation to get started (or keep going) on a particular project because we lack focus and don’t feel like our brain is up to the task. This is where certain supplements can be useful. Nootropics can help stimulate your brain activity and cognitive functions, giving you the energy needed to concentrate on -and power through- daunting tasks even when you are tired. One that we find particularly effective is Alpha Brain from Onnit.

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This special formula helps you get more done in several ways. First, it contains natural compounds that promote healthy and sustained levels of acetylcholine while encouraging nerve cells to receive it. This boosts your memory, making it easier to recall things like names, dates, and other key information. And when thinking is easier, tasks become easier. Second, the scientifically-researched ingredients also improve focus. And of course, when your are able to concentrate on a task, you’ll finish it more quickly. Additionally, this formula is shown to promote alpha waves, which are associated with greater creativity and productivity. In turn, you more easily reach the optimal level of consciousness where you can perform at your best.

When you’ve got focus on a task, and confidence your brain will perform as need, you’ll naturally feel calmer and more motivated to get started. It’s helped us stay on task, that’s why we recommend you try it, as well.


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The End (of Procastination)

Posted notes saying do it. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Author: Vic https://www.flickr.com/photos/59632563@N04/6261230701

Learning how to stop procrastination is not necessarily easy. But understanding why you procrastinate is crucial if you want to figure out how to stop doing it. So hopefully the explanations and information above help you get to the root causes of this problematic behavior pattern.

Keys points to remember:
– You are not alone. Many people procrastinate, so don’t be ashamed… take action.
– Procrastination is bad for your health, so don’t dawdle… take action.
– Recognize the ways you procrastinate and the reasons for it… then take action!
– Don’t be afraid to get help from others -or from specialized products- to decrease anxiety, and increase focus, motivation, and productivity.


We always say that knowledge is power. So if you’ve read this far, you’ve already taken a big step in eliminating the procrastination in your life. Congrats! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask! And if you have any additional suggestions to share with us and fellow readers, please drop those in the comments, too. Thanks!


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References:

[1] Sirois, F. (2007, Jul). “I’ll look after my health, later”: A replication and extension of the procrastination–health model with community-dwelling adults. Personality and Individual Differences.
[2] Beutel, M. et al. (2016, Feb 12). Procrastination, Distress and Life Satisfaction across the Age Range – A German Representative Community Study. PLoS ONE.
[3] Rose, A. et al. (2016, Sep). Procrastination and Depression from a Cognitive Perspective: An Exploration of the Associations Among Procrastinatory Automatic Thoughts, Rumination, and Mindfulness. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy.
[4] Flett, G. et al. (1995). Procrastination, negative self-evaluation, and stress in depression and anxiety: A review and preliminary model. APA PsychNet.
[5] Li, X. et al. (2020, Apr). Do procrastinators get worse sleep? Cross-sectional study of US adolescents and young adults. SSM – Population Health.
[6] Sirois, F. (2015, Mar 15). Is procrastination a vulnerability factor for hypertension and cardiovascular disease? Testing an extension of the procrastination–health model. Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

[7] McCrea, S. et al. (2008, Dec 1). Construal Level and Procrastination. Psychological Science.
[8] Zhang, S. et al. (2019, Jan 14). To do it now or later: The cognitive mechanisms and neural substrates underlying procrastination. WIREs Cognitive Science.
[9] Rozental, A. et al. (2015, Jan 16). Differentiating Procrastinators from Each Other: A Cluster Analysis. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.
[10] Senecal, C. et al. (1995, Jan 20). Self-Regulation and Academic Procrastination. The Journal of Social Psychology.
[11] Kühnel, J. et al. (2016, Jan 27). When do you procrastinate? Sleep quality and social sleep lag jointly predict self-regulatory failure at work. Journal of Organizational Behavior.
[12] Gröpel, P. et al. (2008, Oct). A mega-trial investigation of goal setting, interest enhancement, and energy on procrastination. Personality and Individual Differences.


Dave Hughes

Editor and Contributing Author at Kaldzar

Certified Biologist and Data Scientist
Constantly curious; Curiously compassionate
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1 Comment
  • Nada
    Posted at 11:48h, 08 November Reply

    It’s amazing

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