If you have a tendency to put things off, you’re not alone. It has been estimated that around 20 percent of adults procrastinate, and around half of all students do. Unfortunately procrastination has negative effects. These include poorer performance and increased stress, as well as mental and physical health impacts.
People procrastinate for different reasons. Here we look at the most common ones, and what you can do to correct your behaviour.
Lack of self-compassion
People who lack self-compassion tend to be more stressed when they are performing tasks. If this is you, try being kinder to yourself. Accept that you are human, with regular human flaws. Try to be optimistic about your success instead of pessimistic that you’ll fail.
If your parents, siblings or role models were procrastinators, chances are you’ll be one too. You can ameliorate this by reminding yourself of the negative consequences of putting things off. Try and find a new role model — ideally someone who is a go-getter type.
Fear of failure
If you think you don’t know how to do something, or worry you’ll do it badly, you’ll put it off. If help is available, you should ask for it. If not, remind yourself that you can learn as you go and that it is better to try and see what happens; you defeat yourself by not trying at all.
Certain things you just don’t like doing. Maybe you think you’re bad at a certain task, or you’ve seen other people struggling to perform it. Remind yourself that this is bias and that doing the task is an opportunity to challenge yourself and overcome you bias.
If you tend to underestimate how long something will take you to do, it can knock your feelings of competency. Make a habit of starting tasks early and giving yourself more time than you think you need. This will compensate for time management issues — and if you finish early, reward yourself!
Short term thinking
If you are focused on immediate gains, instead of long-term ones, you may display what’s known as “short range hedonism.” Focusing on short term rewards means you are less likely to persevere when things get tough. Try reminding yourself of future goals and gains, and tell yourself not to place so much emphasis on the frustrations of the present. Don’t forget to use the three-minute breathing technique to calm and centre yourself.
Sometimes you let perfection be the enemy of the good. A perfectionist attitude may keep you from getting started because in your mind, if you haven’t done something yet, you haven’t messed it up either. Try to emphasis the importance of completing tasks in a timely fashion. Task completion is almost always going to be more helpful to you than perfectionism.
Depression or anxiety
Depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions can cause you to delay getting started. If you have mental health problems, or suspect that you do, see a therapist for proper treatment.
Most of us try and avoid discomfort, so if you don’t feel comfortable doing something, you’ll put it off. Like doing your taxes, let’s say. Try challenging your beliefs about tolerating discomfort. Focus on the long-term rewards instead. Remind yourself that getting out of your comfort zone is an opportunity for growth, and reward yourself for completing each uncomfortable task.