Procrastination

Procrastination occurs when we delay doing something that will have negative consequences, in order to avoid unpleasant feelings, or avoid having to make hard decisions.

What is it?

Procrastination is the act of postponing tasks or activities one should complete, such as studying for an exam or responding to emails in a timely fashion, among many other examples. Procrastination has a detrimental impact on work and life and often leads to increased stress and anxiety levels. Procrastination is a complex phenomenon with various causes for people postponing important activities.  Examples are lack of self-control (akrasia), prioritizing short-term mood repair/emotional regulation needs (instant gratification), difficulty making decisions/distractions/fear or feelings of inadequacy/fear or fear.

People often postpone tasks because they’re unwilling or unable to accept the consequences of not taking action on a task, like studying for exams or cleaning house. Unfortunately, people often don’t recognize just how much their procrastination affects their lives.

Procrastination can cause unnecessary stress and poor performance.  Procrastination  can lead to reduced self-esteem, increased impulsive behavior and less energy, which in turn lowers performance and well-being.

Procrastinators tend to feel discontented about both work and life in general. They may not believe they deserve the benefits of employment or healthy living habits, while having difficulty with interpersonal relationships. Their resentment may even affect their work or school performance negatively.

Procrastination can increase levels of depression and anxiety while making goals harder to attain and deadlines harder to meet. Furthermore, procrastination may contribute to financial issues, including lack of savings, or filing taxes at the last minute.

Why do we do it?

Researchers have identified various reasons for why people procrastinate. These factors include low expectations due to impostor syndrome; low self-efficacy, or feeling powerless over how things unfold; and low achievement motivation (i.e. lack of innate drive to pursue goals). Other cognitive biases that contribute include planning fallacy and optimism bias are also major influences.

Procrastination can also be driven by emotions like boredom or frustration, leading us to engage in procrastinatory behaviors like browsing social media for hours, instead of doing our homework or exercising, despite knowing it will make us feel worse tomorrow.

Procrastination can also be driven by the desire to avoid unpleasant feelings, like guilt or anxiety. That explains why so many people put off tasks associated with negative or painful emotions, such as sending an email that may anger someone, or filing tax returns.  Such tasks often feature complex, unfamiliar procedures which lead to feelings of incompetence and inferiority, resulting in feelings of stress and inadequacy that contributes to procrastination.

Research has also demonstrated that people tend to procrastinate when lacking the resources or skills required to complete a task, such as poor time management, low levels of self-control and impulsivity and difficulty focusing. Postponing these tasks may result in any number of negative consequences: from incurring losses due to delayed investments, to falling behind on bills and missing family events.  But perhaps the most serious is damage done to relationships, as friends and family come to view you as unreliable or disengaged.

How do we stop doing it?

Procrastination can be an intractable habit for some individuals, often stemming from fear and low self-esteem issues. Luckily, there are various strategies available to people that can help stop procrastinating and start getting stuff done more effectively.

One key to combatting procrastination is ensuring your motivation comes from productive sources.  This means not pleasing others, trying to please parents, or feeling inferior in some way. Your motivation should instead focus on learning and achievement, fulfilling any personal goals set for yourself.

Breaking large tasks down into smaller ones is another effective strategy for relieving anxiety about an overwhelming project and making it feel more manageable. For instance, when writing or preparing for job interviews, breaking it into sections and attacking each section in short blocks of time like 10 minutes will help break through initial resistance to starting and build momentum.

Focusing on how your work will ultimately benefit you can also be helpful. Doing this will remind you why all the effort and struggle was worth it in the end, while setting a deadline can create a concrete goal to strive towards.

Make rituals a part of your motivation-building strategy. Also try eliminating distractions while working on important projects, like turning off TV or social media while working.

What can we do about it?

If procrastination has become an ongoing problem in your relationships, work, or overall well-being, it may be wise to seek professional assistance. A licensed mental health provider can provide insights into behaviors driving procrastination; identify productive time management tools; reframe negative thoughts; and reframe negative emotions. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) may prove particularly helpful as it explores connections between thoughts and emotions, while teaching skills for improving self-esteem and managing emotions.

CBT can teach you strategies to combat procrastination triggers such as comparing yourself to others, or feeling guilty for not finishing work.  Psychotherapy helps identify procrastination as a maladaptive coping mechanism that leads to stress and anxiety.

Assuming someone puts off starting something because the process will be too painful to bear, they might wait until they feel “inspired” to start.  This type of self-regulation called akrasia makes one act against their better judgment and puts off taking any steps at all.

Procrastination may also be driven by fear of negative or unpredictable outcomes (such as being criticized or failing), difficulty managing emotions, and disconnection with future outcomes.

Procrastinating can be costly in both time and energy terms, leading to stress, anxiety and even depression. Procrastination should be seen as a maladaptive coping strategy used by life to deal with pressures.  Instead of delaying or postponing our tasks for no productive purpose, we should strive towards them instead.

Precrastination

Precrastination refers to the tendency to prioritize and complete tasks as soon as possible, even if it means doing them prematurely or inefficiently. It is the opposite of procrastination, where individuals delay tasks until the last minute. In precrastination, individuals feel a sense of urgency to complete tasks ahead of schedule, often sacrificing quality or effectiveness in the process.

The term “precrastination” was coined by David Rosenbaum, a psychology professor at Pennsylvania State University, who first observed this behavior in his experiments. He noticed that participants would often choose to complete a task immediately, even if it required more effort or was unnecessary.

So, why do some people precrastinate? One possible explanation is the desire for immediate gratification and the need to reduce cognitive load. By completing tasks as soon as they come up, individuals experience a sense of accomplishment and relieve themselves from the burden of having unfinished tasks hanging over their heads. It provides an instant sense of relief and a feeling of being productive.

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