“Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” “There’s no time like the present.” “The best way to get something done is to begin.” Most of us have heard these quotes at one time or another, perhaps from our parents, our teachers, or bosses, to offer inspiration to those of us who put off doing a task or what is otherwise known as to procrastinate.
What is Procrastination?
Procrastination is putting off or delaying something that requires attention. For example, a student may put off starting that class project because s/he knows it’s not due for another week, or an employee may put off writing that report until the last possible minute, or someone puts off going to the grocery store for just one more day. Procrastination in these cases could end up with a poorly executed class project, numbers that don’t reflect actual business results and a hungry family ordering take-out instead of enjoying a healthy meal.
Why Do We Procrastinate?
But why procrastinate? In the above scenario, we can guess that the student passed on the class project because s/he wanted to do other things, doesn’t like the class, or perhaps doesn’t know how to approach the project. The employee perhaps knows that the boss isn’t going to like the results of the report so s/he put off doing it to avoid potentially being reprimanded. Perhaps the person putting off going to grocery store used traffic as the reason for the delay, or maybe didn’t want to stop in the middle of a fun gardening project. Most of us can relate because most of us have procrastinated at one time or another.
A common explanation by some procrastinators is that they work better under pressure. Some people, with only one task in front of them no matter how simple or complex, and with plenty of time ahead of them, will place the task to the side and wait for other tasks to do along with it before beginning. Once a few tasks have accumulated, the process of working on them can begin.
Psychologists say that the decision to work on something depends on how much we value finishing the task—in that moment—it is referred to as its “subjective value”. This is when we value doing something else more than we do the task we’ve put off. To trick ourselves to avoid procrastinating, we would have to assign more value to the task or consider the replacement task of less value. For example, if you put off vacuuming your house and decide to watch a video instead, you might tell yourself how nice your house always looks once it’s vacuumed and that the video probably won’t give you the same feeling of satisfaction that a clean house will. This might motivate you to vacuum because the payoff to you will be greater.
Another factor in procrastination is referred to as “delay discounting”. What this means is that because finishing the task happens in the future, the reward is delayed. The further away the deadline, the less we want to do the task right away.
Here are just a few tips you can try to avoid procrastinating:
- Recognize that you are procrastinating: Admitting the problem is the first step.
- Identify why you are procrastinating: Do you not like the task? Are you unorganized? Do you find the task overwhelming?
- Create your anti-procrastination strategy: Keep a To Do list to help keep you on track. Realize the consequences of not doing the task. Create a reward system for yourself; for every task you don’t avoid, reward yourself with a special treat.
The problem of and treatment for procrastination can be very extensive in some cases and may even require medical assistance. However, for the simple procrastinator in all of us, remember: "If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it.” – Olin Miller.
For more information about procrastination and how to prevent it can be found at these websites: