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Time's Up! The Truth About Procrastination

“If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done.”

 Sound familiar? Statistics show that over 20% of the population procrastinates. We tend to associate procrastination with laziness, but is it really such a bad thing? Let’s take a closer look.

Procrastination can actually foster creative thinking by allowing time to consider divergent ideas. The most innovative ideas arise when someone is actively delaying a task and mulling over alternative possibilities. According to Adam Grant, this is called active procrastination, or what others may refer to as “good” procrastination.

If you’re an active procrastinator, delaying tasks is often a conscious decision to allow yourself more time before making a final decision. Active procrastination means you feel in control over your own time and how you’re managing your time.

On the other hand, 1 out of 5 people procrastinates so much that it may jeopardize their jobs, their finances, their relationships, and even their health (brandongaille.com). If this sounds more like you, you’re probably struggling with its opposite condition, passive procrastination. And passive procrastination is almost never a good thing.

Passive procrastination is habitual, chronic procrastination. Passive procrastinators doubt their ability to finish tasks, they feel guilty, they get stressed over deadlines, they avoid tasks to cope with their stress – all of which leads to a cycle of avoidance and anxiety. Sound like you? Read on to find out the core causes of procrastination and some key strategies to overcome this potentially debilitating habit.

Why do passive procrastinators procrastinate? While here are many factors that are linked to passive procrastination—here are the 4 most common:

  1. Underestimation of task completion time.
  2. Self-doubt.
  3. Perfectionism.
  4. Fear of failure.

These factors often work together to exacerbate each other. For example, fear of failure can lead to perfectionism and perfectionism can lead to self-doubt. Self-doubt can cause fear of failing, especially if you severely underestimate how much time the task will take and avoid getting started. Avoidance continues to the point when suddenly, it is T-24 hours before the yearly report is due and self-doubt reaches an all-time high. This then cause anxiety and worry that inhibits productivity. And while avoiding the task, you return to your default setting: instant gratification (online shopping, social media, etc.).

Here are some strategies to reduce your procrastination habit:

  1. Find a way to move future rewards or consequences into the present moment. You can go about this two ways:
    1. Make rewards of action more immediate. For example, listen to your favorite podcast only when you’re working, or only drink coffee (or your favorite beverage) when you’re working on something you’ve been putting off. The key to this method is giving yourself the reward only when you’re working on something.
    2. Make consequences of inaction more immediate. You can tell others about your goals—having someone else to keep you accountable adds a factor of motivation. Another common strategy: use a service like stickK to place a bet. If you don’t finish a project you bet on, your money goes to a charity you hate.
  2. Make your tasks more doable. This means measuring your accomplishments based on smaller increments of success. Pro tip: use the Pomodoro method to divvy up your project into manageable chunks! This scientifically proven method to increase productivity involves 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of break. There are plenty of apps and browser add-ons to seamlessly integrate the Pomodoro method into your work habits. If you have Google Chrome, we suggest Marinara: Pomodoro Timer.
  3. Become aware of your peak productivity. Are you most productive in the morning? Midday? In the evening? Start monitoring when you’re most focused, and utilize those times to work on the most difficult tasks.
  4. If you need a more structured way to prioritize your tasks, try the Ivy Lee method:

    1. At the end of the work day, write down the 6 most important tasks to accomplish the next day.
    2. Prioritize these six in order of true importance.
    3. First thing tomorrow, concentrate on the first task. Don’t start the second task until the first task is done.
    4. Repeat this with the rest of the list.
    5. At the end of the day, copy any unfinished items onto the next day. Re-assess your priority order, and start again.

This method removes the obstacle of starting the task. By making the list the evening before, you know first thing the next morning what your first task is going to be.

Passive procrastination can be challenging to overcome for chronic procrastinators, especially when it’s ingrained into your daily life. The first step to dealing with this issue is to acknowledge how it affects your life, understand the behavioral and psychological reasons behind why it might affect you so much, and recognize that it’s up to you, and only you, to fix this habit.

We wish you all the best in achieving your goals!

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