Updated: Feb 26
What is the Problem?
Procrastination is the enemy of productivity. Putting off work is a common past-time of students and professionals alike, with few being able to say they have never avoiding doing a certain task. The American Psychological Association claims that 80% to 95% of college students in particular admitted to procrastinating on their schoolwork (Karr). The cause of this staggering statistic: “fear of failure” (Karr). Students are not the only culprits. 95% of adults admitted to putting off work, according to the author of The Procrastination Equation, Piers Steel. There are a variety of systemic causes related specifically to workplace procrastination, including not feeling engaged in the workplace, to which 30% of workers worldwide relate, as well as not liking their job, to which 48% of workers worldwide relate (Vaughn-Furlow). These rates of employee disengagement are often caused by perceived job insecurity, lack of reward or incentive for hard work, lack of challenging tasks, and poor leadership from managers and supervisors (Vaughn-Furlow).
These factors seem to be primarily external, but we also experience internal drivers to procrastinate. We can enable ourselves to put off that important or urgent task because we are bored, we feel inconvenienced by the task, we feel stressed or overwhelmed when trying to complete the task due to it being difficult or unpleasant, or we experience a lack of self-discipline because we find the task to not be intrinsically rewarding (Bailey). These factors may apply more to students, but certainly are felt by many graduates. Whatever the cause may be, habitual procrastination inhibits productivity and can end up wasting our time, as well as that of our coworkers and classmates.
Do I Procrastinate?
While most people have purposefully delayed their work at some point in their lives, it is always helpful to gauge our personal tendency towards procrastination. What may come to mind when thinking about procrastinating behaviors are common activities, such as scrolling through Instagram or watching one YouTube video after another. These are certainly activities that can help us endlessly put off work, but there are some latent behaviors that contribute more to chronic procrastination. Some examples would be (Vaughn-Furlow):
Making unrealistic or unattainable plans
Promising more than what is realistic
Not planning at all for work, events, activities, etc.
Not following through with promises
Responding slowly to a demand or request on purpose
Putting work off because we believe we can work better under pressure*
*The assumption behind this last behavior is often untrue or exaggerated
The first step towards addressing our procrastinating behaviors is to be aware that we procrastinate. Understanding our own behavioral patterns and what motivated us to procrastinate can help us personalize our response to each behavior (Vaughn-Furlow). There are some common behaviors that can be mitigated with proven strategies, the most prevalent being to set small goals, or work in smaller time intervals, in order to make the task seem less intimidating (Bailey). On a similar note, finding our “resistance level” in regards to how much work we can do before we resist completing the task, is a unique way to help us work smarter. One way to do this is to start with an increment of time, let’s say one hour, then work in increasingly smaller increments of time until one is found in which doing work is not difficult or delayed (Bailey). Addressing our lifestyle can also fix more deeply-rooted problems that lead to procrastinating. Evaluating the balance between work and home life to create a more equal relationship between the two can relieve underlying stress and anxiety that cause us to look for distractions and avoid work (Karr).
Finding internal motivation is key, so making typically onerous tasks feel more rewarding is an effective strategy for almost any task (Bailey). Setting goals or providing yourself with small treats are two ways to approach this strategy. One of the easiest ways to beat procrastination is to at least start a task (Vaughn-Furlow). Studies have shown that we are less likely to forget about a task we have left incomplete, and that we are more likely to come back and want to work on it later. For external factors of procrastination, getting rid of distractions is crucial (Bailey). There are a variety of ways this can be accomplished, in order to better focus on the task to be done. Installing an app on our phones or a program on our computers that can lock us out of specific apps and websites for a certain amount of time are helpful for those who tend to endlessly scroll on social media or habitually shop online. We can also work alone, if noise, chatter, and other people tend to be distractions.
Sometimes mental clutter can be a source of distraction, so try to schedule non-negotiable time to work on a certain task and work on prioritizing what needs to be done (Vaughn-Furlow). Using a physical planner or journal can be beneficial if we tend to like using pen and paper, but digital calendars and planners can work as well. These tools can help lay out what we need to do in a visual format, which can aid with memory and motivation. Lastly, avoid perfectionism. While procrastinating may seem to oppose perfectionism, the two are actually related. We can be more likely to give up or not even start a task if completing the task seems intimidating (Vaughn-Furlow). Looking at tasks realistically and being more accepting of our best efforts are not only good for beating procrastination, but can also help with long-term improvement of our emotional wellbeing.
Minimizing procrastination starts with being aware of the problem and being willing to address it. The best way to work against procrastination is to prevent ourselves from feeling overwhelmed or intimidated by a task. We can accomplish this by breaking the task down into segments, either by amount completed or time spent working, making tasks more enjoyable, making standards for completing tasks lower, and by motivating ourselves to start a given task. At the end of the day, procrastination is an internal problem, although motivated by external contributors, and it is only solved when we agree to take control of our attitude and approach to work. Changing a habit is hard, but it only requires a little motivation and a positive mindset.