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Blog > Procrastination: Why We Do It, Plus 4 Tips to Stop It in Its Tracks

Procrastination: Why We Do It, Plus 4 Tips to Stop It in Its Tracks

Say goodbye to unnecessary stress
Businessperson procrastinating at their workplace, sitting with their feet on their desk, using a smartphone.

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We’ve all been there. You wait slightly longer than you should to start a project or prepare that third-quarter report. But all that matters is that you get the job done…right?

Many people think procrastination is harmless, but the reality is that whether you procrastinate in your professional or personal life, it can significantly hinder your success. The good news is that by understanding the causes of procrastination, you can stop this bad habit once and for all.

Why Do We Procrastinate?

It’s essential that we first understand the science behind why we procrastinate. According to a New York Times article, Dr. Fuschia Sirois, professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield, notes that procrastination can be traced back to an “inability to manage negative moods around a task.” In other words, if a task makes you feel negative emotions—anxiety, stress, uncertainty—you may avoid the task for as long as possible to avoid the emotions you experience around completing it. Avoiding negativity may momentarily put your mind at ease. However, this feeling can be short-lived. Short-term comfort won’t eliminate the task. In fact, it can cause you more stress and anxiety as your deadline looms nearer and nearer. Without understanding the psychology behind procrastination, you might experience more negative emotions by refusing to manage the anxiety, stress, or uncertainty you feel toward starting the task.

In a Psychology Today article, the author points to studies that show humans and animals find behaviors more rewarding when they complete them closer to a deadline. This creates a problem; while procrastinating can spur us toward productivity and inspiration, pushing off a task until you’re closer to a deadline can also generate more anxiety and frustration.

In an article from Brown University, researchers discuss a similar theory, noting that the more immediate an incentive or deterrent for a task is, the more “real” those incentives and deterrents feel. For example, if you have a work deadline three months out, you don’t really feel like your boss would fire you if you didn’t complete the work, nor do you feel your boss might give you a raise if you complete the work with spectacular results. The closer the deadline becomes, the more those two things feel like reality, inspiring you to take action.

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Procrastinators: Is It Worth Trying to Stop?

If procrastination is a seemingly hardwired part of our human psyche, why try to change this behavior? Well, as you may have learned through personal experience, procrastination can cause not only major issues at work (i.e., you may produce lower-quality work), it can also wreak havoc on your health.

The Association for Psychological Science reports that chronic procrastinators are more vulnerable to severe health conditions and issues, such as:

  • Hypertension
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Colds
  • Insomnia

In other words, putting off important tasks can increase your stress levels, which can negatively impact the body and increase your susceptibility to illness.

4 Tips to Stop Procrastinating

So, how do you stop procrastinating? Both Psyche and Princeton University’s McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning offer suggestions that can be summed up with four key steps:

1. Identify the Underlying Source

What exactly is causing you to procrastinate? If you’re procrastinating because of a negative emotion, as the theorists above suggest, try to identify which negative emotion you’re experiencing. Are you experiencing self-doubt in your abilities? Anxiety over your team members’ or boss’ feedback?

Whatever the emotion is, find it, name it, and then deal with it. Unsure how to manage your emotions? Psyche recommends keeping a daily procrastination and emotion journal to help you identify certain emotions you may be avoiding.

2. Learn to Better Manage Your Emotions

Emotional regulation is an important skill for any leader to learn. Once you identify the negative emotions contributing to your procrastination habit, you can manage them.

3.Adjust Your Outlook

Learning to regulate your emotions might be as easy as changing your outlook on the tasks. If you’re feeling intimidated by what needs to be done, try reframing your perspective. Instead of looking at a project as overwhelmingly giant, try to see it as something you can do in smaller, more manageable tasks.

4. Be Realistic

Sometimes, altering your outlook surrounding a task requires you to get a firm grip on reality, defining what your task actually is. Getting a grip on reality may require you to change some bad habits or understand that your goal isn’t realistic now.

Don’t make things harder for yourself (thereby increasing your chance of procrastination) by setting your standards too high. That’s not to say your standards shouldn’t be high, but don’t expect to train for one day and be able to run a marathon the next.

The Bottom Line

We’ve all been guilty of procrastination at some point. However, by identifying the underlying causes of procrastination, you can begin to eliminate the habit from your life and replace it with greater productivity and peace of mind.

If you’re a serial procrastinator or want to learn more about time management strategies, sign up for our upcoming Time Principles Fireside Chat on April 25 at 6 PM EST.

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Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be and should not be taken as professional medical, psychological, legal, investment, financial, accounting, or tax advice. Arootah does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or suitability of its content for a particular purpose. Please do not act or refrain from acting based on anything you read in our newsletter, blog or anywhere else on our website.

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