So you’ve put off the big project until the very last day, and now you’re rushing to finish it before 11:59 pm. Or you keep not calling your dad for your weekly talks, and you suddenly realize you haven’t talked in two weeks. Or your mom told you to do the FAFSA, and you keep not doing it because if you ask for last year’s tax information now, she’ll know you haven’t done it yet. And yes, these are all personal examples.
Ah procrastination, the murderer of good night sleeps and the cause of daytime stress. And yet we can’t stop. Had I written this post in a reasonable amount of time, this would be a more uplifting, optimistic, “get off your butt and work!” blog. But because this was left to the very last minute, my Psych class read a New York Times article just on this subject. So now we’re here to help you figure out why we procrastinate and hopefully give you the tools to stop it.
Why do we procrastinate?
When we think of procrastination, we often think of ourselves as lazy or unmotivated. In reality, it goes a lot deeper than that. Procrastination is about how we feel, and we’re more likely to procrastinate if you’re in a bad mood or the thing you’re procrastinating makes you feel bad. And it’s not like, “I don’t like doing math so I’m not going to do my Calculus homework.” Rather, it’s, “Doing this homework makes me feel stupid and like I don’t belong in this class, so I’m not going to do it.” These bits of self-doubt and anxiety and insecurity are what incline us to procrastinate.
So to avoid feeling bad, we procrastinate even though we know that doesn’t fix our problems. The entire time we’re procrastinating, we’re aware that we’re putting off things that actually need to be done. But procrastination is all about our brains trying to make us feel better short-term. It isn’t considering how much more stressed we’ll be when we only have an hour to finish something when we technically had all day to do it. It also doesn’t account for how much we blame ourselves for our own downfall. In the end, we’re left feeling even worse than before and the cycle continues.
So how do I stop?
Because procrastination is about stopping bad feelings, you have to find real solutions to feeling better. Studies have shown that forgiving yourself for procrastinating leaves you less likely to procrastinate in the future. It allows you to stop focusing on the mistakes of your past and move forward to new things. Another similar method is using self-compassion and being nicer to yourself. If you procrastinate and something ends up turning out worse than you thought it would, don’t spend the day shaming yourself for making a mistake. Instead, remember that we’re all humans and we’re all imperfect.
A more technical solution is to make the devices of your procrastination harder to use. Make the password on your phone more complicated or put your laptop really far away so if you wanna use Netflix you have to really travel to get it. Little things like that will lessen the mental incentive to procrastinate. Or the opposite of that is removing every obstacle to doing your work. Make Compass your homepage or keep your textbooks right next to your bed. Make it so easy to do your work that you can’t not do it.
Procrastination is something that everyone struggles with. I procrastinated writing this blog post until the day it was due, and I am procrastinating several other things at this very moment. But understanding why we procrastinate and using these tools can get us that much closer to not procrastinating.