Summer holidays may be the most universally and socially accepted excuse for reduced productivity or pushing a deadline (again). But if you are a tried-and-true procrastinator, you may find yourself in the same behaviour pattern year-round.
With a few weeks to go before the official start of the back-to-school / back-to-work season, try some of these awareness tips and strategies, if think you’ve perfected the skill of putting things off.
The common causes of procrastination
Why do humans procrastinate? Experts have cited several reasons, none of which point to laziness. Procrastinators are usually motivated by one or, several leading factors, most typically: dislike of a task, lack of confidence to get the task done or done well, or possessing a personality that is easily distracted — especially by a more rewarding opportunity (‘I’d rather bake cookies than organize the storage room.’) Dr. Tim Pychyl, a professor who leads the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University along with his peers has identified that, “procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time-management program.” So, that feeling of temporary relief you get when avoiding an undesirable (for whatever reason) task? It’s based around your emotions — not a tendency towards lackadaisical energy output.
Understanding your procrastination
Start with asking why you might be putting off a task. Are you feeling insecure about part of the task? Do you need to research details you don’t know how to lookup? Did Netflix just release a new season of your favourite show? (Maybe all the above.) If you’re no longer adding guilt or thinking of yourself as lazy or unproductive, it may make the task slightly less stressful or intimidating and therefore easier to finish.
Working through procrastination
There are ways to help make it less easy to fall into a cycle of “I’ll do it tomorrow / next week / next month / next year” and so on. Here are a few tips — and if you’ve made it this far down, congratulations, you didn’t put off reading this entire article.
1. Make it easy — or at least easier — by automating tasks
Consider automating tasks. For example, if you’ve been able to start putting away money each month, set up an automatic transfer to have a small amount deposited from your main account into a separate account each week. You likely won’t notice the small, regular transfers out, but watching it grow may motivate a new savings habit.
2. Make it a thing of desire: Promise yourself a reward for completing tasks
Choose a reward you’ll be motivated by and to help you make a bargain with yourself. If you’re dreading a public speech like writing a wedding toast, you might be searching for an excuse to put it off the minute you open your eyes. So set up something you are looking forward to later in the day: meeting friends at the dog park, picking up a new cycling accessory for your bike, or having your car detailed.
3. Make big gains, by starting small: break tasks into smaller units
Procrastinators possess the inclination to get unenjoyable tasks done. But often the task grows in imaginary magnitude with each minute or day you delay. How to make the first step? Make tasks you’ve been avoiding a set of smaller ones. The bedroom chair that’s been supporting a pile of clean laundry for a month? Try taking just five pieces of clothing off it a day. Five the next day and then the next. Suddenly, an overwhelming task has been reduced to a manageable way to address it in your mind.
If you’ve read this far in one sitting, you should commend yourself. It’s a sign you’re looking for ways to deal with your procrastination so you have less stress — and hurried excuses — that procrastinators can face daily.
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