Procrastination

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Being willing is not enough, we must do.

Procrastination is defined as the needless delay of things one intends to do. The research surrounding procrastination has gained traction within the last forty years not only because it is a phenomenon that has accompanied humankind since Cicero but also because of the substantial costs which procrastination exacts. Procrastination weakens your immune system and keeps you awake at night. While it is normal for everyone to delay tasks until a later time, such as filing taxes, cleaning your abode or finishing homework, procrastinators chronically avoid difficult tasks. The stasis of procrastination is most often driven by the idea that there is too much to do or too big to tackle. Some of the reasons for avoidance include fear of judgment, lack of motivation and fear of failure. Procrastination also involves a level of self-deception, that is, the individual is aware of their actions (or the lack thereof) and their consequences, but actually changing their habits requires a great deal of effort and motivation. More often than not, the stress of undertaking what may initially be considered a daunting task outweighs the potential benefits of actually engaging in the task. The psychological drivers for procrastination include anxiety, low self-confidence, lack of structure and the inability to motivate oneself. Research has also shown that procrastination is closely linked to rumination or fixating on negative thoughts.

A common therapeutic modality used when counseling individuals who procrastinate is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT aims to reduce irrational beliefs (such as underestimating the time needed and overestimating future motivation states) and maladaptive behaviours. These beliefs and behaviours were assumed to be responsible for procrastination such as poor time management and inability to make reasonable plans.

However, CBT only addresses the surface factors that are responsible for procrastination. Another therapeutic intervention is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). One of the benefits of ACT is that it enables individuals to reify their values since values are a continually fulfilled direction, rather than a specific attainable goal. In this manner short term, mid-term and long-term goals can be tackled in discrete stages thus reducing the concept of the task as insurmountable.

Strategies for reducing procrastination include the following:

  1. Make a list of everything you have to do. This list could be as detailed as what one needs to accomplish on a daily basis in addition to tasks which require completion within a month to three months.
  2. Break the task down into smaller more specific tasks. Be honest with yourself about the tasks you plan to do and eliminate the tasks you never plan to do. Often times, the disconcerting feelings which accompany the initial thought process of starting a new activity is lessened when the task is divided into smaller components. This approach not only reduces the feeling of being overwhelmed but also provides motivation to continue with the remaining parts of the task.
  3. Promise yourself a reward. This approach not only allows the individual to hold themselves accountable but also honours the effort and willpower that it took to complete what was originally deemed as insuperable.
  4. Estimate the amount of time you think it will take. Once you’ve estimated the amount of time required to complete the task, increase it by 100%. This approach reduces self-sabotage and leaves room for unexpected circumstances which have the potential to circumvent the completion of the task.

References

Gautam, A., Polizzi, C. P., & Mattson, R. E. (2019). Mindfulness, procrastination, and anxiety: Assessing their interrelationships. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice.
http://dx.doi.org.libaccess.lib.mcmaster.ca/10.1037/cns0000209

Klingsieck, K. B. (2013). Procrastination: When good things don’t come to those who wait. European Psychologist, 18(1), 24-34. http://dx.doi.org.libaccess.lib.mcmaster.ca/10.1027/1016-9040/a000138