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The Real Reason for Procrastination

The Real Reason for Procrastination

by Anna Yoni Jeffries

Living in an age of technology has its perks. But it can provide the perfect distraction for those moments when we want to avoid doing something we know we need to do. We are able to access information in a moment’s time—an ever-tempting source of distraction. At the same time, with all this access nowadays it can be difficult to grasp that not everything worthwhile will be immediately gratifying. Why write that difficult report when you could smile immediately after watching videos of puppies fall asleep sitting up?

But contrary to popular belief, we don’t procrastinate because we’re lazy nor because we have poor time management skills. Dr. Tim Pychyl, professor of psychology and member of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa states, “Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem.” So, basically my procrastination exists to alert me that my emotions are out of balance when it comes to specific tasks and duties that need completing. Good to know.

Dr. Piers Steel, a professor of motivational psychology at the University of Calgary, describes procrastination as “self-harm” since, when we put off a task, we also know that we’re doing it against our best interests.

It’s said that procrastination has existed all throughout human history, though the ways it manifests have changed according to the access of eras. In fact, more than 20% of the US population has been reported as chronic procrastinators, meaning it’s become a habitual practice to 1/5th of the folks in one country.

girl looking out of a window

Procrastination usually happens when a task seems too difficult to complete, and brings our irrational emotions to surface. These irrational emotions can range from boredom to sadness to anger to confusion to inadequacy—and anywhere in between. When a person hasn’t developed or honed helpful tools for navigating difficult emotions that may arise, that person will avoid the thing that caused the emotions, hence procrastinating a task. Knowing that these emotions will arise and that you don’t have a way to cope with them is enough of a reason for anyone to put off tasks. But when we put off tasks we know we should do, then procrastination can affect our mental state by making us feel inadequate and irresponsible. Often these emotional responses may be happening subconsciously, so we’re not fully aware of why we’re avoiding the tasks: we simply know that we do.

So what are some of the ways that we can combat our procrastination?

Here are a few ways:

  1. Split tasks up into smaller tasks.
  2. Consciously decide that you will complete the task and come up with a reward for when the task is done.
  3. Take a few breaths before getting started.
  4. Schedule in breaks to give your mind a rest.
  5. Understand the emotions connected to the task

Number five on this list is likely going to be the most impactful, since managing procrastination requires understanding the emotions behind the motivation to avoid or put something off. Once you understand what you’re feeling that is causing you to become overwhelmed, you can develop and hone skills for coping with those feelings in ways that feel manageable and achievable. If you feel like you need help with this, you’re not the only one! Many people need help learning how to become aware of and then manage their emotions. Just remember that the root cause of procrastination is emotional, so anything you do to address time management skills will only partially address the underlying cause of the problem.

References
https://www.psycom.net/procrastination-why-we-do-it
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/25/smarter-living/why-you-procrastinate-it-has-nothing-to-do-with-self-control.html
http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/91793/1/Compass%20Paper%20revision%20FINAL.pdf

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