I, the master procrastinator

The ability to channel thoughts, feelings, and action to achieve a goal.*

How simple does that sound! For many of us though, there is a huge barrier in the way: procrastination.

Procrastination the voluntary and irrational delay of an envisioned course of action*.

From as early as primary school the main concern my teachers expressed on parents’ evenings were ‘Louisa struggles to stay focused on tasks, she is often distracted by her surroundings. For me, as I’m sure it is for others too, procrastination is followed by feelings of guilt, frustratedly asking myself why I’ve wasted my time again. So, I felt a slight sense of relief when I learned the theory behind why my brain is so inclined to stray from a task; it’s been termed temporal decision model*

From this perspective, delaying a task depends on motivation-to-act/motivation-to-avoid ratio. The emotional aversiveness (in other words, the negative emotions we feel) towards a task, which might encourage us to delay an assignment is controlled by the parahippocampus. Activity from this part of the brain reminds us how much of a burden the task has been previously. So, if the task feels like more of a burden to us than we feel motivated to do it, procrastinators will find something more effortless to do (queue endless scrolling and ending up rushing about at the last minute).

On a more serious note, procrastination can have detrimental repercussions on a business, for example, tainting the relationship you have with customers/service users by not delivering on time and eventually resulting in reputational damage, losing work or missing opportunities, and poor decision-making. Personally, I’ve made a few bad decisions in the past by leaving it to the last minute to make my mind up. As we all know, time management is a must have skill to achieving success in business, unfortunately procrastination is why so many of us fail to manage time effectively.

Put accurately, an American entrepreneur said “procrastination is opportunity’s assassin”**

But there is hope, studies show that there are ways we can combat procrastination and get rid of the bad habit for good. Here are some top tips I’ve came across:

Handling our impulses and distractions by creating daily routines and to-do lists in our work and private life. I’ve tried and tested this tactic, and I can report that it has helped! I know if my working day is planned, following a structure that works best for me, and I have tasks set out for each hour, I’m much more likely to get the work done.

Your to-do list might start with ‘create my to-do list’ – already you have accomplished something! It is also beneficial to break the tasks in your to-do list down into manageable actions and take one small step at a time. Starting a Monday with a chunky task on your desk and no idea how to start it might even bring even the most productive of us to procrastination!

Another one of my personal favourites is accountability. Spread the word about the outcomes you are going to produce with your actions and tell them when they should expect to see it. This helps with the motivation-to-act vs motivation-to-avoid ratio by increasing your motivation to act – by telling others it’s not just you that you are letting down by not achieving the goal. Taking this tip further, you might even choose an accountability partner at work to check in with.

So, I’ve managed to keep myself in check with work by following these tips. However, clearing out my wardrobe, decluttering the cupboard or taking up that new hobby… a few tasks that I’ve been telling myself I SHOULD get round to for months now…

* Zhang et al., 2019

** Victor Kiam

Photo credit: Matthew Henry

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