I am an avid procrastinator. I’ve tried rewarding myself for hard work, breaking down big tasks into smaller ones, and reading many, many articles on how to “beat procrastination!” and “maximize my potential!” Predictably, none of this has worked. Why? I was too focused on trying to fix the problem, when I should’ve been looking at why I was procrastinating in the first place.
No matter the reason, all procrastination does is create more stress. But if you’re trying to stop procrastinating, knowing why you do it is going to make it easier to tackle.
The consequences of delaying
Procrastination is the tendency to delay important tasks, despite the potential consequences. But, what are the consequences of procrastination, really?
Firstly, procrastinating can result in lower quality work. And I know there is a whole legion of people who would insist that they work better under pressure, and that their best work happens after midnight (I know because I’ve been there - and to be honest, I’m still trying to break that habit). But there are ways to create similar environments that inspire motivation without waiting to start your project until the night before it's due.
Also, studies have found that procrastination can have negative effects on our physical and mental health, like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and higher levels of mental stress.
Knowing that procrastination is bad hasn’t stopped me from doing it though, and I know I’m not the only one.
Like a lot of habits, procrastination is usually a reaction to something underlying. Namely, there seems to be a link between procrastination and perfectionism.
Perfectionism is a mindset that dictates that you need to be, appear to be, or achieve a “perfect” standard. It’s been linked to O.C.D. and anxiety, which Jade awesomely discusses in her recent blog. Like Jade, I never considered myself a perfectionist because I didn’t worry about achieving straight A's, and I wasn’t an over-achiever. But after looking into what perfectionism is, I identified with a lot of the ways perfectionists think.
It can be tempting to leave your work until the last minute, but doing so can lead to a lot of anxiety.
Perfectionists are highly concerned with achieving their goals and producing high-quality work, which is great! What makes a perfectionist’s mindset detrimental is that they may put too much pressure on themselves, making it more difficult to complete their work.
Some characteristics of perfectionism that can cause procrastination:
- Avoiding a task until they know they can do it perfectly
- Not seeing a product as finished until it is perfect, according to their standards
- Taking excessive amounts of time to complete a task
- Decision paralysis, the feeling of being “stuck” and unable to make progress
I can’t say that my procrastination comes 100% from perfectionism, and I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I just don’t feel like doing the productive thing. But a lot of it has come from a lack of confidence that my work is good enough.
Tips for staying focused and taking action
Whatever your reason for procrastinating, it’s totally possible to change. If you struggle with perfectionism, making an effort to change your mindset will be crucial. But to change your mindset, you need to change your routine.
Something that’s helped me is reminding myself that I can finish things early. I always feel like I need to wait until the last minute to hand things in because I’m afraid that there’s always something more I can do, but I usually spend more time worrying about my work than I do working. Finishing early will not only help you stay diligent about getting things done, but it’ll also help you let go of the fear that there’s always something to improve.
And once you’re done, don’t torture yourself by obsessing over “what-if’s”. Know that it’s no longer in your hands, and think positively about what you accomplished. Be proud of yourself!
While decision paralysis is related to perfectionism, procrastination can cause decision fatigue. To combat them, I schedule everything. You can keep daily to-do lists, schedule tasks into your calendar, or dedicate specific times in the day to do certain tasks. This takes the pressure off of you to decide to work, since it’s already in your calendar, and it’s a good way to trick your brain into seeing productivity as non-negotiable.
Find what works for you
There are all kinds of solutions for procrastination, so it’ll take some experimenting to find what works for you. Be kind to yourself, and try not to compare yourself to other people. Forgive yourself for developing a procrastination habit in the first place, and focus on finishing every day having done your personal best.
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