“Procrastinate now, don’t put it off.” Ellen Degeneres

This week, one of our amazing coaches, Eva, talks us through that pesky trait, procrastination, and how we can overcome our own flaws.

Procrastination is defined as putting off doing a task that needs to be done. This can be writing a paper, studying, tidying up, seeing a doctor, avoiding an important conversation… The task is associated with some discomfort – you need to put a lot of effort in it, maybe it makes you anxious, pushes you out of your comfort zone a bit; we don’t procrastinate on things we enjoy doing.

We're all doing it.

According to various studies, more than 50% of university students procrastinate; data varies, but in some studies it goes up to 80%. Wow! So, if you ever struggled with procrastination, you are not alone.

But more than 50%? More than one in two people??

Is there a plus side? What can be good about procrastination?

  • There can be an instant gain. If something is stressing you out and you are able to push it away from your mind and do something fun instead, you make yourself feel better. (This strategy only works in that moment, not long-term.)
  • If you have been procrastinating for some time, you might want to look closer at what’s going on. Is the task still important for you? Are you overwhelmed by doubts? Is it too difficult?

Some people only start really working when the deadline is fast approaching, they finish on time and are satisfied with a not perfect, but good-enough result.

More often though, people get stressed because they started late and then ran out of time. They are not happy with the result. And to be fair, the result does not do them justice – they have skills, abilities and resources to do it better, but they ran out of time. In the end, this does not help their confidence and reinforces self-doubts.

I know it's bad, so what can I do about it?

1. Notice it.

  • if you noticed that you are procrastinating, you have already done quite a lot; it’s not always easy to spot. You can be very busy, but sometimes the only purpose of being busy is to avoid something.

2. Sort through the things you have to get done.

  • The table below can help you prioritize what needs to be done first, what can be done later and what is not important.

Sometimes we are very busy doing things that are not as urgent as others, although they are important (you don’t need to tidy up everything when your exam is in three days, the exam is more urgent; tidying is important, too, but less urgent. On the other hand, some calls or mail can be urgent, but they can get in a way of the important task. You can fit them in when you have a break or you can let people know that you have a pressing deadline and will get back to them later.).

3. Write it down.

  • Once you have sorted through things, write down what you need to do. Be specific. I was very surprised when I wrote down my first “to do” list! I was very much against it – “it’s in my head, why write it down?” – but it does make a big difference to actually see it written. AND – it will give you a lot of pleasure and reward to actually cross things off once they are done!

4. Allocate time.

  • Allocate time to each point. When (2pm) and for how long. Be realistic, planning to study for 5 hours in a row might get tricky. It might be more useful to allocate shorter slots every day.
  • Everyone is different, some will need a strict schedule, others need more leeway. Try out what works for you.

5. Stick to your plan.

  • This is the most important part – once you have planned it, keep the commitments you made to yourself. (When you promise something to a friend, you will probably do your best to keep your promise. You deserve the same. Be your best friend. Otherwise you might feel that you are letting yourself down.)

6. Just start.

  • Just start. Things often feel differently when we actually start doing them. They are not what we thought it would be. Start anywhere, just do a little and see how it feels. You will be more clear about the next steps, therefore less stressed.

Ask yourself why..

I did not have time to procrastinate on this blog about procrastination, but I found myself recently procrastinating on a different work. When I looked closer at what was happening, I realized that I became to resent it, I wasn’t enjoying doing it. I did not like the way my client was communicating and his attitude, and the work itself was hard and required a lot of effort from me. This awareness did not make me feel enthusiastic about the job, but brought clarity. I was not lazy or ungrateful, or disorganised. I managed to keep the deadline that I set for myself and did a good job, but it took me longer than I thought it would. Which meant less sleep.

When there is no deadline looming over your head, you might want to look closer at what makes you procrastinate. Do you think you won’t achieve what you want anyway, so why bother? Do you feel unworthy of having good things in life? Procrastination can often be easily dealt with by more conscious time planning. It can also be the tip of the iceberg that hides deeper feelings of unworthiness, self-doubt or lack of confidence. In any case, it helps talking about it to someone (a friend, a professional) to see what others find useful.

It's all science's fault, so don't feel too bad.

Neuroscience might have something to say about why young people get in trouble for procrastinating. There are lot of changes going on in our brains in adolescence (12-24). According to dr. Dan Siegel, adolescents are more prone to give in to their impulses and need novelty – that’s why they get easily bored. Social connections are very important, enough to take a person away from a solitary task. The part of the brain that has a lot to do with long-term planning, decision making and evaluating future consequences of our actions, called the prefrontal cortex, is among the last to fully mature. All of this is individual, but it might suggest why some people struggle more with procrastination that others.

So don’t be too hard on yourself – but most of all, don’t procrastinate on dealing with procrastination!