Dr. Nicola McCaffrey

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Why Wait: The Psychology of Procrastination

As you find yourself beginning to read this are you doing so because you are putting off something else? The next task at work, a difficult conversation you have to have, or some housework even? Did you somehow end up reading this article on your way to something else entirely?

Whilst everyone may find themselves procrastinating from time to time, not everyone is a procrastinator. In most cases, putting things off is not a sign of a serious problem. It is rather a common behaviour that we all give in to at one point or another. When procrastination becomes chronic and impacts most areas of your life, it becomes a more serious issue that warrants some reflection and consideration.For those chronic procrastinators, their behaviour is not an issue of time management, but a maladaptive lifestyle.

Given that procrastination is a normal, near-universal phenomenon, this makes it all the more important to understand why it happens and how you can overcome it. 

So why do we procrastinate in the first place? Well the short and simple answer is that we typically procrastinate because we either do not associate the task at hand with having significant value, we are trying to avoid a negative experience, or because of impulsivity. 

The good news is of course that procrastination is a learned behaviour and not something we are born with. Meaning that we can take steps to unlearn it too. The first step is in stepping back and reflect on what is actually happening. Try to identify your own habits. Is there always one type pf task that you put off? What are your thought patterns around this task? Once you have a clearer picture of your own habits and behaviours you stand a better chance of fixing them.

If timing is the issue then try to make it work to your advantage. Many people are inherently more productive at certain times of the day. Try, as much as is possible, to work around these natural productivity ebbs and flows when you schedule your days. For example if you know you work better in the morning try scheduling some of the tasks that you typically proctrstinate around for then. Don’t try to attempt to do them when you are tired and at times of the day where you know you don’t preform as well. 

Some procrastinators put off tasks because they feel overwhelmed and anxious at the size of the task that lies ahead. They can get into negative thought patterns around either not completing the task or not doing it well and feeling like a failure. If this is the case then try segmenting tasks into smaller pieces so you can work through a more manageable series of assignments.

If you find that you are easily distracted then think about optimising your environment before you settle down to do the task. Put your mobile phone on airplane mode, switch off notifications on your computer and open just one tab at  a time!