Why we procrastinate and how to overcome it

20% of adults are chronic procrastinators
Procrastinating vs. Being a chronic procrastinator
The definition of procrastination
An irrational behaviour
An inability to manage negative emotions
Overwhelming anxiety
Low self-esteem
The dangers of procrastinating
Depression, anxiety and low life satisfaction
Headaches, insomnia and colds
Procrastinators often delay medical checkups
Sleep problems
“Revenge bedtime procrastination”
Procrastinating is also linked to heart problems
Procrastinators are less likely to take action to cope with their illness
Overcoming procrastination
Practice self-compassion
Treat yourself with kindness and understanding
Research shows self-compassion increases motivation
Attach meaning to the task
Ask yourself how is the task valuable to your growth or happiness
Start small
Getting started
Carefully select which task to do first
A matter of personal preference
A place that’s interruption-free
Reward yourself
An anti-procrastination café
People enter with a task in mind and don’t leave until its done
All the costumers have finished their work
Unlimited refills of tea and coffee
People give themselves a specific time to finish their goal
Some people work better under pressure
Curbing procrastination is possible
20% of adults are chronic procrastinators

Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago and author of “Still Procrastinating?: The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done,” has found that about 20% of adults are chronic procrastinators.

Procrastinating vs. Being a chronic procrastinator

“Everybody procrastinates, but not everyone is a procrastinator”, Ferrari said to the Washington Post. Chronic procrastination has little to do with laziness, it’s far more complicated, he added.

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The definition of procrastination

Fuschia Sirois, a professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield in England, defines procrastination this way: “The voluntary, unnecessary delay of an important task, despite knowing you’ll be worse off for doing so.”

 

An irrational behaviour

On its surface, procrastination is an irrational behavior, Sirois said to The Washington Post: “Why would somebody put something off to the last minute, get stressed out of their mind, and end up doing a poor job or less than optimal job on it?”

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An inability to manage negative emotions

The reason, Sirois said, has to do with emotional self-regulation and an inability to manage negative moods around a certain task. We usually don’t procrastinate on fun things, she said. We procrastinate on tasks we find “difficult, unpleasant, aversive or just plain boring or stressful.”

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Overwhelming anxiety

If a task feels especially overwhelming or provokes significant anxiety, it’s often easiest to avoid it.

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Low self-esteem

Another reason people procrastinate, Sirois said, is because of low self-esteem. One might think: “I’m never going to do this right,” or, “What will my boss think if I screw up?”

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The dangers of procrastinating

Whatever type of procrastinator you are, pushing off tasks over and over again is a risk factor for poor mental and physical health, experts say. Chronic procrastinators have higher levels of stress and a greater number of acute health problems than other people.

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Depression, anxiety and low life satisfaction

The mental health implications include experiencing general psychological distress and low life satisfaction (particularly in regard to work and income), as well as symptoms of depression and anxiety, research shows.

Headaches, insomnia and colds

Those who procrastinate are more likely to experience headaches, insomnia and digestive issues, and they’re more susceptible to the flu and colds, according to PubMed data.

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Procrastinators often delay medical checkups

The association with health problems is best explained by stress, but another factor is that procrastinators often delay preventive treatment, such as regular checkups, according to PubMed.

Sleep problems

Procrastination is associated with sleep problems, such as shorter sleep duration and an increased risk of insomnia symptoms and daytime sleepiness, according to ScienceDirect.

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“Revenge bedtime procrastination”

Lots of people engage in “revenge bedtime procrastination,” which describes a tendency to push off sleep to make time for personal activities, according to research done by psychologist Fuschia Sirois and other experts.

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Procrastinating is also linked to heart problems

Sirois led a 2015 study in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine that found that people with heart disease were more likely than healthy people to self-identify as procrastinators.

Procrastinators are less likely to take action to cope with their illness

According to the study, procrastinators with hypertension and heart disease were less likely to take action to cope with their illness, such as changing their diet or exercising.

 

Overcoming procrastination

Because of all the reasons listed before, overcoming a tendency to stall, can improve our mental and physical well-being. Experts suggest there are various ways you can overcome procrastination.

Practice self-compassion

Procrastinators are often hard on themselves. They might feel guilt about letting others down or be appalled by their own slowness. Sirois’s research indicates a connection between procrastinating and low levels of self-compassion.

Treat yourself with kindness and understanding

“Just sort of recognizing that, yeah, maybe I screwed up and maybe I could have gotten started earlier, but I don’t need to beat myself up,” the expert said. Tell yourself: “I’m not the first person to procrastinate, and I won’t be the last.”

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Research shows self-compassion increases motivation

According to a 2015 study on self-compassion, affect and health-promoting behaviors, by the East Tennessee State University, self-compassion doesn’t make people lazy. On the contrary, it actually increases people’s motivation to improve themselves.

Attach meaning to the task

One of the best ways to stop procrastinating, Sirois said, is to find meaning in the task in question. Write down why it’s important to you: It could be because getting it done on time is helpful to other people, or because it will help you avoid negative repercussions, such as a late fee or bad grade.

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Ask yourself how is the task valuable to your growth or happiness

Think about how completing it will be valuable to your personal growth or happiness. Doing so will help you feel more connected to the task and less likely to procrastinate, experts say.

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Start small

When a task seems big, we become so overwhelmed by it that we’re paralyzed into inactivity, psychologist Joseph Ferrari explains to The Washington Post. This is why it’s helpful to split up a task into manageable parts, and of course, get started.

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Getting started

“Once you’ve gotten started, and made even a small bit of progress on your task, there’s a good chance you’ll keep going”, Ferrari says.

Carefully select which task to do first

Some people want to get the most unpleasant tasks out of the way, while others “psych themselves up by doing smaller things,” says Gretchen Rubin, author of “Better Than Before”, which dispenses advice on curbing procrastination.

A matter of personal preference

“As they accrue small, easy accomplishments, they feel ready to do that big one.” It’s a matter of personal preference and knowing yourself. But she added that, when people build up to the most daunting task of the day, they might use other work as a stall tactic.

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A place that’s interruption-free

Situate yourself in a spot that’s free of interruptions. We get interrupted constantly: by our phones, our families, howling dogs, the TV, and once you’re interrupted, Rubin said, it’s much harder to resume the task you finally started.

Reward yourself

“If you have 12 dirty dishes in your sink and your favorite TV show comes on in a half-hour, make a deal with yourself: You can only watch it if you do the dishes first”, Ferrari exemplified. The idea can be applied to almost anything that you’re pushing off, he said.

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An anti-procrastination café

A more eccentric solution has been proposed in Tokyo, where Manuscript Writing Cafe, which opened in April, is supposed to be a haven for writers, editors, proofreaders, video producers or manga artists; basically, anyone struggling with the distractions of the home or office.

 

People enter with a task in mind and don’t leave until its done

Committing to a specific writing goal is a condition of admission, as is an understanding that leaving in a fit of pique is out of the question before the task at hand has been completed, according to The Guardian.

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All the costumers have finished their work

The cafe charges 150 Japanese yen ($1.15) for the first 30 minutes and then 300 an hour after that. Although a few people have stayed past the official closing time, they have all eventually finished their work, the proprietor, Takuya Kawai, said to The Guardian.

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Unlimited refills of tea and coffee

The snug, 10-seat cafe provides unlimited self-service refills of tea and coffee, high-speed wifi, docking ports and tall chairs that positively discourage slouching or nodding off.

 

People give themselves a specific time to finish their goal

Customers must write their name, writing goals and the time they plan to finish. They can also ask Kawai to nag them about their progress. Those who ask for the “mild” option will simply be asked how they got on when they pay at the end of the session.

Some people work better under pressure

The ones in need of a heavier dose of discipline can expect the owner to occasionally stand behind them, although he insists he makes no value judgments on the contents of their laptop screen.

Curbing procrastination is possible

We don’t have to wait until the world fills up with anti-procrastination coffee places, such as Tokyo’s. The bottom line is that overcoming procrastination is possible, we just have to work at it and stop being so hard on ourselves when we don’t.

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