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Why We Procrastinate, and How To Stop

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There’s something else you’re supposed to be doing right now. And yet, here you are, reading an article about procrastination. Why is that? And will it help?

Reading articles about how to motivate yourself may be the most high-minded way to waste time. A piece from the Washington Post notes that:

For many people, procrastination is a strong and mysterious force that keeps them from completing the most urgent and important tasks in their lives with the same strength as when you try to bring like poles of a magnet together. It’s also a potentially dangerous force, causing victims to fail out of school, perform poorly at work, put off medical treatment or delay saving for retirement.

Papers, Books on a Desk

© Flickr user brewbrooks

What Is Procrastination?

Most psychologists see procrastination as a kind of avoidance behavior, a coping mechanism gone awry in which people “give in to feel good,” says Timothy Pychyl, a professor who studies procrastination at Carleton University, in Ottawa.

It usually happens when people fear or dread, or have anxiety about, the important task awaiting them. To get rid of this negative feeling, people procrastinate — they open up a video game or Pinterest instead. That makes them feel better temporarily, but unfortunately, reality comes back to bite them in the end.

Why Do We Procrastinate?

Concentration is hard. Discipline is a limited resource. We often put things off because it’s more comforting to do something we know how to do than something we don’t know how to do. And tasks that are fun—even tasks that are productive, but easy—are those we tend to do first.

In some respects, procrastination is about momentum. It’s easier to keep doing things than it is to start doing something new. And if the new thing is a big, scary, difficult thing, we might put it off.

To summarize: we procrastinate because it’s easier than working. That may not sound like an astonishing insight, but it does tell us something about the key question:

How Do We Stop Procrastinating?

Here are four strategies to stop putting off what you know you shouldn’t delay:

  • Self-Forgiveness. This is human psychology. When we procrastinate, we beat ourselves up. If we tell ourselves it’s okay and move on, we tend to do better. Studies show that self-forgiveness reduces procrastination. Don’t use it as an excuse, but if you end up wasting time, forgive yourself and get back to work.
  • Being Decisive, Not Moody. Look, all of us get lazy. Everyone feels like not working some of the time. But you don’t have to be in the mood to work to get things done. Recognizing this fact allows us to decide when we want to work, even if we don’t feel like working. And it also allows us to feel more accomplished if we didn’t procrastinate at a time we really wanted to.
  • Reward yourself. Incentives are tricky, but if you can find a way to give yourself a treat for not procrastinating, it might be worth doing. This requires a great deal of honesty and self-awareness. You want to do it when you need to, but not do it all the time. Reward yourself, but not too much!
  • Control your goof-off time Procrastination often strikes when we least expect it, but the same is true for slack time. Sometimes due to customers, bosses, or the power going out, it seems like we suddenly have nothing to do. But, if you always have something to do (such as read a book, or organize papers) then you can decide when you’re going to goof off.

Now That You Know, Stop Procrastinating

You read the article on why we procrastinate and how to stop. Now, go do something useful.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
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Troublemaker and productivity/workflow expert. https://t.co/lJk8tIwe9q. Slightly more complex than 140 characters will permit.
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