What you need to know:
- Procrastination is caused by what psychologists call ‘hyperbolic discounting.’
- If you procrastinate a lot, it’s likely that you’re also a perfectionist.
- Sometimes procrastination comes from thinking something is easy, so it feels OK to leave it until later.
We all put things off, especially small chores like fixing stuff around the house. But it could just as easily be something important. And it can eventually become a habit that spoils your whole life. Increasing your stress as you endlessly play catch up, and leading to a whole load of missed opportunities.
Procrastination is caused by what psychologists call ‘hyperbolic discounting.’ Because we generally make good choices when we’re thinking long term. Like deciding to exercise more. But then get sidetracked by the here and now.
That’s because we get distracted by what’s urgent rather than focusing on what’s important, especially whenever ‘something comes up.’ We also simply forget stuff!
Deal with all that by making prioritised ‘to do’ lists, including even the smallest items, and checking them off as you go.
If you procrastinate a lot, it’s likely that you’re also a perfectionist. So you won’t start something until you’re quite sure you can do it perfectly. You also probably tend to overthink tasks into something so scary you can’t tackle them. Dividing a job into f15-minute chunks will get you past that hurdle.
Like if you’re putting off filling in a form, start by filling in just one easy section. Or persuade yourself to spend just five minutes on a task and then assess what you’ve done.
Then ask yourself if you could do another five minutes. Yes? Then do. And before you know it, the momentum of the job’s carrying you forward on its own.
We tend to put off anything unpleasant, and so we continue with an unhappy relationship rather than face the drama of ending it. Or we’re afraid of failure, so we put off asking someone out because ‘they might say no’.
Resolving that issue starts with dealing with the fear itself. Because failing is part of life — think how every successful musician was once a beginner and making loads of mistakes. So expect the no’s, and work on getting your crushes to say ‘yes.’
Sometimes procrastination comes from thinking something is easy, so it feels OK to leave it until later. But then something else comes up and so you end up rushing at the last minute. Or you could have an opportunity in your grasp, only to have it slip through your fingers. Like your passport needs renewing, and you keep putting it off. Instead, imagine you might suddenly have the chance to go abroad at work. And how foolish you’d feel if your passport had expired.
The ‘action illusion’ is another way that we put off doing things. Like the student who spends hours writing a revision timetable instead of actually revising! Instead, decide what tasks actually matter and only do those.
Procrastinating seems to be part of human nature, but it’s worth learning not to. Because once you do, you’ll find you have a whole new approach to life. More pro-active, more confident, less stressed, and feeling far happier about yourself!