If you’ve ever put off doing something important, such as filling in a worksheet, you know it’s not fair to call you lazy. After all, administrative work requires concentration and hard work. Hey, you may have even gone the extra mile to do research or ask for help.
And it’s not like you’re just meeting friends or watching Netflix; your boss would be proud of you for being diligent. It doesn’t mean that you are a slacker or wasting time, and this is basically procrastination. If you put things off, you may have asked yourself, “Why do I put things off so much?” or “Why do I keep doing it when I know it’s not good for me?” These are important questions because you need to know why you put things off if you want to stop procrastinating.
This article is long because putting things off is a complicated problem that affects different people differently. But don’t let this put you off. Feel free to skim this article, especially the list of reasons people put things off, and focus on what’s important to you.
What is procrastination?
Procrastination is putting off decisions or actions for no good reason. For example, if you need to write an article but instead waste time on the Internet when you should be working, you are putting things off.
People’s ability to achieve their goals is often hurt by procrastination. For example, this is undebatable because procrastination is linked to getting worse grades in school and making less money at work. Putting things off is linked to many other problems, like more stress and worse physical and mental health.
Why do I procrastinate?
People often think that putting things off is just a matter of not having enough willpower, but the situation is much more complicated. When we have to make a choice or finish a task, we use self-control to push ourselves to get things done. Also, our motivation, which comes from the hope of getting something in return for our hard work, can help us be more self-controlled and more likely to get things done on time.
As long as our self-control and motivation are more substantial than the effects of things that make us less motivated, we can get our work done on time, even if there are things that get in the way. But when all the bad things outweigh our self-control and motivation, we end up putting off our work, either indefinitely or until the scales tip back in our favor.
But some things can make us less motivated. These things have the opposite effect of making us more motivated; they make us more likely to put things off. For example, anxiety, fear of failing, and other bad feelings can cause us to waste time. So can being given an unpleasant task.
So you’re saying that people put things off because they’re upset?
Exactly. When we put off doing something, we are not only aware that we are procrastinating, but we also know that it is probably not a good idea. And yet, we still do it.
Procrastination isn’t a notable character flaw or a mysterious curse on your ability to manage time. It’s a poor defense mechanism to deal with difficult emotions and bad moods brought on by specific tasks, like boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, self-doubt, etc.
Does that mean procrastination is a mental health problem?
No. Even though chronic procrastination is not a mental illness, it can indicate other problems. Many mental disorders, like anxiety, depression, and ADHD, have been linked to procrastinating.
Here is a list of specific mental disorders that are linked to procrastinating:
According to many studies, there is a strong link between ADHD and putting things off. People with ADHD, even adults who have never been told they have ADHD, have trouble with their executive functioning.
These studies show that procrastination is caused by being easily distracted, not knowing how much time has passed, and not being able to start tasks, especially when they are hard.
When you have anxiety, tasks can seem too complicated and too much to handle. But stress can also make people feel worse.
People with anxiety symptoms are driven by their worries and nervousness, and they think about the consequences of not meeting a deadline before they think about procrastinating. Still, it is possible to have more than one disorder, like anxiety and ADHD, which could make it more likely to put things off.
Depression is also closely linked to putting things off. Depression causes a person to feel sad all the time, think about the same things repeatedly, and have no energy.
These symptoms make it very hard for someone who is depressed to focus and start or finish a task. If you feel you’re going through any of these problems, don’t be afraid to reach out to family, friends, or a counselor to help you overcome them.
Reasons for procrastination
Other than just having bad moods, there are many different reasons why people procrastinate. Let’s look at some of them.
Try to be honest and self-aware with yourself while you do this, because figuring out why you put things off is essential if you want to be able to stop doing it.
Disconnection from the future
People sometimes put things off because they feel like their future selves are not connected to their present selves, and this is called temporal self-discontinuity or temporal disjunction. For example, even if a person’s doctor told them it was essential to eat healthily, they might put it off because the harmful effects of their current diet won’t be a big deal for a few years, which they see as someone else’s problem (i.e., as the problem of their future self).
This can lead to a wrong way of thinking. For instance, it can make them think that their present self shouldn’t have to worry about the future because their future self will have to deal with any tasks they put off or any consequences for not getting those tasks done on time.
Optimistic or pessimistic behaviour
People sometimes put off doing things because they are too confident that they will be able to do them in the future. For example, I might put off starting a report that’s due in a few weeks because I think they’ll have plenty of time to finish it later.
But pessimism can also make people put things off, like when they think they’ll fail at a task anyway, so there’s no point in starting.
People are more likely to put things off when their goals are unclear or vague than when they are clear and well-defined. For example, goals like “study” or “start reading” aren’t obvious, so you’ll likely put them off.
On the other hand, a concrete goal like “finish your three-page article on pathogens before midnight” is much more likely to get you to act.
Bad decision-making skills
People sometimes put things off because they can’t decide what to do right away. This can be a problem in several ways, like when someone can’t decide what to do or when they need to make a particular choice before moving forward with their overall plan.
For example, a person might put off starting to exercise because they can’t decide which exercise plan to follow. In the same way, someone might put off cleaning the house because they can’t choose which task to start with.
People tend to procrastinate because they feel too busy to do everything they need to do. A feeling of being too busy can come from many different things, like having a single task that seems huge or having a lot of small tasks that add up. When this happens, a person might just avoid the functions or try to do them but feel helpless before they are done.
How to solve procrastination
Break a task into smaller sub tasks
Part of why we put things off is that, deep down, we think the work is too hard for us. Break it up into small pieces, and then work on one piece at a time. For example, “cleaning the house” may look a bit daunting, but breaking it down into vacuuming the floor, doing the dishes, folding the laundry, etc., makes it look less intimidating.
If you still put off doing the task after breaking it into smaller parts, break it up even more. Soon, your job will be so easy that you’ll think, “This is so easy, I might as well do it now!”
Know when you’re procrastinating
Examine where you’re procrastinating to figure out why you’re procrastinating in that particular area. Try asking your boss for more training in a specific subject area to improve your skills if it’s a work-related issue.
Change your surroundings
Different environments have different effects on productivity. Examine your work environment and living quarters. Do they entice you to work or to curl up and sleep? If this is the case, you should change your work environment. Remember that an environment that previously inspired us may lose its effect over time. If so, it’s time to make some changes.
Remove all possible distractions from my work environment—both physical and digital—to avoid procrastinating and focus on what you’ve decided to focus on. This entails closing the door, turning off your phone, etc.
Make a schedule with deadlines
Having only one deadline for your work is a recipe for procrastination. We assume we have plenty of time and keep procrastinating until it’s too late. Break down your project into smaller components, then generate an overall timeline with due dates for each small task. With this, you’ll know when you have to complete each task.
Your timeline must also be solid—if you don’t finish this by today, everything else you have planned will be for naught. This creates a sense of urgency to act. Goals can be split into daily, weekly, and monthly task lists, and each list is a call to action that I must complete by the deadline, or my goals will be postponed.
Re-invent your goals
When you procrastinate for a long time, there may be a disconnect between what you want and what you’re implementing. As we learn more about ourselves, we frequently outgrow our goals, but we don’t adjust our aims to reflect this. Taking a break from work is a good idea (a short vacation is ideal, but a weekend break or staycation will suffice) to recharge your batteries.
What exactly are you hoping to accomplish? What are your options for doing it? What are the steps involved? Is that what you’re doing now? What can you do if it doesn’t work?
Take a break every now and then
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re having trouble overcoming procrastination. Remember that you are not a machine, and we all like to sit and stew in our own unfinished mess of work from time to time. Just put in the effort to get out of it.
Take a break if you’re tired or lacking motivation. Don’t be hard on yourself about the timing of a task, and you’ll be less likely to try to avoid it in the future by procrastinating. Simply reschedule and resume your regular routine later today or tomorrow.
Have someone hold you accountable
This person can inquire about the status of a task, and you can update them on your progress. You can celebrate in some small or large way if you finish the job on time.
Don’t be scared to ask a friend, family member, or life coach (if you can afford one) to help you out.
It all comes down to action in the end. You can strategize, plan, and hypothesize all you want, but nothing will happen unless you take action. I occasionally get readers and clients who keep complaining about their problems but refuse to take action at the end of the day.
I can’t recall anyone ever procrastinating their way to success, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. If there’s something you’ve been meaning to do but have been postponing, you need to grip yourself and do it.
People procrastinate for various reasons, and one person may procrastinate for several of them. Learning the reasons for procrastinating is beneficial because it can help you identify why you procrastinate, which can lead to a solution to your procrastination problem.