Overcoming Procrastination

Procrastination is ‘the action of delaying or postponing something’. According to an old proverb ‘procrastination is the thief of time.’ Many of us try to put off doing boring or unpleasant tasks. It may be that the deadline seems some time away and it would be better to do it next week instead.

We may defer tasks to some future date for a variety of reasons:

  • We may not know how to do the task
  • We may be indecisive and not know which course of action to take
  • We might be perfectionists and want it completed perfectly
  • It may impact on our emotions or the emotions of others
  • It may be demanding or boring work
  • There may be few perceived benefits in completing the task

Procrastination can be dangerous – if we put off important tasks in work, then poor performance may result. By putting things off, we may also increase our stress levels, especially if the task that needs to be done cannot be avoided forever.

Taking a rational approach, we can see the reasons why we should complete a task in a timely manner. For example, revising for important examinations is clearly important as failure to do so could result in lower grades and may possibly damage one’s career prospects. However, in the short-term, the long-term benefits are not always fully recognised, and we may be more concerned with our immediate wellbeing or happiness.

We may seek out alternative tasks simply to avoid the thing we don’t want to do. These are typically non-urgent and often unimportant tasks. Browsing our favourite websites or checking our social media accounts may seem preferable to getting on with the tasks that need doing.

Sooner or later, however, we will begin to feel guilty that we have not completed our task(s). We may feel anxious or stressed, especially as the deadline approaches. If we leave things too late, the consequences can be dire.

So, what is the best way to deal with procrastination?

The simple answer is to be strong and get it over and done with. It might be easier to do it first thing in the morning to get it out of the way. Once it’s done, the rest of the day may seem more pleasant without it ‘hanging over’ you.

This is particularly important if deferring the task is not going to make it go away. For example, if you need to have a difficult conversation with someone, it’s best for all concerned to do it sooner rather than later.

If you are faced with a recurring task that you don’t like doing, then it is best to do it more often to get used to it.

Writing a to-do list is an effective visual tool. You will see your task on the list and feel satisfied when you cross it out.

Think about the positives of completing the task – perhaps even reward yourself for doing it.

What are the risks of not completing the task? If inaction will have a bad outcome, think about how this will affect your life. Avoiding negative consequences can be an effective way of motivating oneself.

It may be possible to reduce larger tasks into smaller parts. Can it be done in stages? Taking this approach or devising/following a plan may make the task more manageable.

Some tasks may be more enjoyable if done with other people.

Very importantly, we must avoid unnecessary distractions. It takes willpower, but it will be easier to complete your tasks if you focus on what needs to be done.

About the author

Nathan joined RWA in 2016 on successfully completing his PhD. He previously worked in the private, public and charitable sectors. Nathan leads the content and professional standards team at RWA and is responsible for managing and curating technical content on the Aviva Development Zone and the award-winning My Development Zone e-learning platforms.

Since joining RWA, Nathan has written hundreds of business skills e-learning modules and assessments on a variety of subjects, including leadership and management, communication skills, human resources, employability, regeneration, citizenship and equalities.

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