Get going: Understanding procrastination


Aldina Braganza
There are times when you have to complete an assignment or task. It could be your internal assessment report or even a mundane task like paying your electricity bill. Are you the kind of person that will put it off for much later? Do you panic and stress when the deadline arrives and scurry about to finally complete the project? You may have your reasons, the most common of which is ‘I work best under pressure!’
Well, if you are one of those kinds of people then you are a typical procrastinator. Defined as delay in doing activities despite the consequences, procrastination is the absence of progress.
Procrastination is far more common than we would like to admit. But does this make it normal? Should you be concerned that you procrastinate? Well, read on because research is stating that it is important to understand the causes underlying your dilly-dally.
People procrastinate for various reasons
If the task at hand is overwhelming. As humans we are wired to seek immediate gratification. In today’s world where everything is instant, the brain is encouraged to seek immediate pleasure and put off tasks that need some efforts and pains. When we start a task or even think about it our brain selects the mode that says ‘I prefer feeling good now’ and we keep ‘the getting done with’ for later. So our brains seek other distractions. In the age of social media and various forms of internet activity like gaming or chatting, we end up distracting our brain with irrelevant time consuming activity. Before we know it, time has passed and another day goes by.
The second reason people procrastinate is emotional in nature. They feel a sense of anxiety about their output. Often people who are afraid of being criticised or want super perfection with their task, tend to procrastinate. Such procrastination is the worst as the person feels the pressure of an incomplete task. The thought keeps nagging at them. An unneeded stress preoccupies their mind that will eventually spiral into a panic attack if not dealt with in time.
Another emotional reason is a depressed mind; the person doesn’t want to deal with the task at hand. Their depression stops them for being proactive and they procrastinate.
A third reason is the inability of a person to make decisions. People who are preoccupied with other things feel a decision fatigue and procrastinate with mundane stuff like paying the bills which could be important but to their minds do not take priority.
People could also procrastinate because they are not able to plan and manage their time adequately. Since such people do not
have an adequate plan, they get easily distracted.
Creative people use procrastination as a tool of productivity. Many writers, artist or scientist might often leave their work midway and take a break to come back refreshed for better creative output. Such behaviour cannot be seen as purely procrastination because although the person is not sitting down at the task, the person will be in some ways working through it in their minds, like readings about related stuff or doing research or spending time in nature to get inspired. Unfortunately, most procrastinators ride on this excuse for their last minute work.
When we keep things for last minute we overlook important stuff we would otherwise have considered. Additionally, the stress that accompanies the task is what really takes a toll on the person. It is better to break the task at hand into smaller parts and deal with it one step at a time if the problem is overwhelming. Studies conducted on college students to study the effects of procrastination found out that procrastinators had many more health complications that were stress-induced, like insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, pains and general fatigue. There was also a sense of feeling that they could have done better if they had put in more efforts. Performance decreased and their self-esteem took a beating.
So how does one deal with procrastination?
Awareness is the first and most important tool at hand. Be aware that the brain is trying to hijack the priority listing, and learn to overcome it with a to-do list and time management. Once the awareness sets in it is easier to manage the task at hand.
If a task seems too difficult, seek help. Talk about your idea to someone who could help and find a procedure to adopt. Keep distractions like internet activity as rewards rather than a distraction. Visualise the result of a good performance and how you will feel once it’s done and over. Don’t be hard on yourself. Think about the end result as a positive outcome. Identify what is blocking you and then ask yourself why? And most importantly remember that trying is half the battle won. So what are you waiting for? Get going.
(Writer is a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and the HOD of psychology at Carmel College for Women)