What really is procrastination? As defined by Psychology Today, “procrastination is a negative form of delay related to anxiety, depression, or psychological distress”. However, such a simple definition does not encompass all aspects of this complex concept. I will delineate what procrastination is and the science behind it, as well as what we can do to avoid this issue.
In my view, phrases such as “I’ll do it later” are the backbone of procrastination. For instance, without deadlines, we always tend to put things off to do tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, or the day after that, because there’s simply no firm obligation to start something, so we don’t. Tomorrow is a day that is always coming, but never actually arrives. Even with deadlines, like an important essay due on Monday, it’s human nature to forget about this task until the last minute, such as on Sunday night. It is at such time when we go into overdrive mode, stress out, and consequently do a poor job on said task. Let’s face it, we’ve all been there before. Procrastination can play a powerful role our lives, and we can’t change anything by simply deciding to do it later.
To gain a better understanding of why we procrastinate, I started to delve into the science behind this issue. In the brain, there’s a section called the limbic system. Think of the limbic system as a dog. It has emotions and does whatever it wants, unless you tell it not to. Because its actions are automatic, this dominant region of the brain tells us to pull our hand away from something hot, to catch ourselves if we fall, or to flee from unpleasant, tedious tasks. Another section of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, is a region that allows us to make rational decisions based on analysed information. For our purposes, think of it like a robot. However, the prefrontal cortex does not act automatically: we have to engage it or “turn the robot on”. And once we’re not actively engaged in a task, our limbic system takes over again. This constant, never-ending tug-of-war between the impulsive and rational parts of our brain often ends up with us giving in to what we like better, which is not doing the difficult task. As a result, we procrastinate.
For most of us, procrastination will often be there throughout our lives, taking control when we’re at our most vulnerable. How can we manage this issue? I have five pieces of advice that you may find useful.
Number 1: Try to avoid any distractions that will steer you away from your task. While you’re working, you can power off your phone or put it in another room, so those Snap notifications don’t get the better of you. If you’re writing something on your laptop, consider turning off Wi-Fi so that you stop going on useless websites like chihuahuaspin.com and even block certain websites temporarily.
Number 2: Set your own deadlines. Sometimes, a large, daunting task may be the reason we procrastinate. To solve this problem, you can split the work into small, less daunting sections that you do on a regular basis. Over time, you’ll have achieved much more than you’ve ever expected. Say to yourself, “I need to get this section of my assignment done by 6:00 pm today. This section should be done by 7:00, and the last section by 8:00”. Make sure that you stick to these self-made checkpoints. They’ll ensure that you stay on track and give you a sense of urgency, which actually decreases procrastination.
Number 3: Make a daily must-do list. Plan out what you have to achieve today and don’t go to bed before you cross everything off the list. These lists are very useful because you always know what needs to get done and you feel guilty if you don’t complete everything. As a result, you procrastinate less.
Number 4: Use the Pomodoro technique. Study, work, and focus on something without distracting yourself for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break. Repeat this until you get the task done. This technique is worthwhile, because you don’t over-study or become really tired. Instead, focus is maintained.
Number 5: Manage and track your time. I know we all have busy lives, but saying “I’m too busy” is just an excuse to procrastinate. You’ll be surprised at how much time we spend every day doing unnecessary things. By keeping track and managing time efficiently, we’ll be able to get more things done and become that much closer to realizing our goals.
In summary, these 5 points are the key to locking procrastination away. Because when we finally achieve our goals, we’ll be able to enjoy ourselves much more than we would while engaging in guilty Netflix binging, when we know we should be doing our homework. Remember, procrastination is something we can all control in our own minds. We choose to do things later. We choose to avoid difficult tasks. Instead, we have to choose to do things now. Choose the hard path. To overcome the power of procrastination, we must be stronger than the temptation of our own minds.