I’ll Do It Later; Thoughts on Procrastination.

The holiday seasons are over, school is in full swing, and the weather is always constantly changing. Though the sun is coming up earlier, it is the perfect time for procrastination to rear its ugly head.

Procrastination is the avoidance of a task that a person has planned or aspired to do. It is tied to our self-control and our difficulty with predicting future tasks and events. People’s experiences of
procrastination are on a spectrum, some having an ability to push it away quickly, and others chronically struggle with it. It is also influenced by factors such as lack of sleep, poor eating habits, feelings of depression and anxiety.

One important component of removing procrastination as an obstacle is to understand that we often overestimate both the time, and unpleasantness of the activity we are avoiding. We build these up in our mind (e.g., writing a paper will take many hours today, and you do not have many hours) and avoid the task completely, thereby putting it off until we perceive we have more time. Overcoming procrastination is also tied to understanding that the value we place in an activity influences our likelihood of completing it. If we devalue the task, we are more likely to not complete it. Therefore finding ways to change how you think about the task is important. If you can find an aspect of the task that you value, for either its own worth (e.g., you enjoy talking about a part of a paper) or its external worth (e.g., you get more time to go out on the weekend) completing the task is easier.

Another important component of understanding procrastination is analyzing the reasons behind procrastination prior to implementing techniques to change it. There is a point when you think about a task that two things happen. You create a cue saying “I am going to do this” and may create a plan of action. Then when the time comes another cue occurs that distracts you from the original cue. Often this second cue is due to distracters such as Facebook, the internet, or Netflix. Finding and being aware of this change in cues is important. Reflect on the last time you procrastinated and try to slow the image down, going from when you intended to do something to when you procrastinated. Ask yourself what images, sounds, voices, and feelings you experienced that might have triggered this second cue. For example many of us have all put off writing papers or doing a project. Imagine when you think of the paper you have to write that you imagine a giant black hole full of question marks. That you feel anxious because you have no ideas, don’t know where to start, and feel like time will be eaten away. These are all perfect cues and feelings that can make avoiding the task seem like the best choice. Trying to face and change this image can help you get back on track. Some ways to change this image include…

Finding value in some small component of the image, so the black hole has a single area of clarity you can enlarge and focus on.

Visualizing what is at the end of the black hole, perhaps something you enjoy and can use as a reward to help push through the procrastination.

Visualize a mechanism which will help you break the black hole into smaller pieces. Perhaps reading a bit about the topic is less daunting and feasible. Start with a small component to help make the project
feel less anxiety provoking.

If feeling confused about why you are procrastinating, know that this is often another distracter cue. Often confusion is hiding other emotions such as anger or fear, so it is important to challenge yourself to see what image comes to mind by slowing the process slower. What happens before the feeling of confusion comes? What image might be creating this sensation? What voice/words are being spoken
that influence it?

Understanding the root of why procrastination is occurring can often be a first step to getting enough motivation to move forward. Now understanding it better, all those steps you have read about getting
past procrastination might work better.