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Procrastination – a silent killer of our effectiveness

When you look at your colleagues and friends, have you noticed that there are some people, who do unimportant things for most of their time and omit those crucial ones?  Are there also people who can’t get their priorities straight and all tasks are labeled as very important by them?

These people very often tend to concentrate of short-term and administrative tasks, such as organizing the environment, responding to e-mails and scrolling through social media feed. They often wait for a perfect moment to act upon what’s important. Unfortunately, what’s crucial is often hard and consequently a subject of procrastination.

It’s like these people don’t want to deal with reality and run into vicarious activities. In result, they are incredibly exhausted and feel that their lives are not progressing despite all their actions.

Such behavior does not hinder at first. It is a source of temporary emotional mollification and it builds a sense of being constantly busy and having no time. This leads to the decrease of capability of self and is like handcuffs, and becomes a habit which leads to decrease in satisfaction with a quality of such person’s life.

What is procrastination?

Procrastination or leaving everything for the last moment is a behavioral tendency concerning postponing, dragging out and delaying in time activities, which can be problematic. Procrastination means conscious postponing of realization of activities planned despite being aware of negative consequences of such behavior. Interestingly, a person who is procrastinating is most often than not aware of what he/she is doing. But the emotional barrier, which stands on the way to realization of the task is very hard to overcome.

Such behavior is strongly conditioned by our longing for pleasure and escaping pain. Consequences of not completing a task seem to be very distant in time, and discomfort connected with acting now is too overwhelming. A person who – more or less consciously – chooses to procrastinate, is in fact choosing an instant emotional gratification connected with escaping into what’s easy, known and very often – pleasurable.

It is worth remembering that procrastination as such is not a problem but only a symptom. Therefor, in order to effectively fight it we need to get to the source.

What are the causes of procrastination?

According to the so far done research, the basis of procrastination consist of personal ways of dealing with emotional discomfort, anxiety and self-control.

In the 60s, an interesting research was conducted by a professor of psychology Walter Mischel at the Stanford University. It concerned postponed gratification.

The participants of the research consisted of children age 4-6 yo. Each of them was invited into the room, where there was a chair, a table and on the table were sweets: marshmallow, cookie, pretzel (depending on what the kid liked). Kids were informed that they can eat sweets now or if they wait for 15 minutes, they will get twice as many sweets to eat. Mischel wanted to find out how many children can use emotional self-control and not give in to the temptation.

It turned out that out of 600 kids, only 1/3 waited till the end of an experiment and got their reward. But the most interesting part of this story is actually another research that Mischel conducted 20 years later and unexpected correlation between results from the first research with the results form the second one. It turned out that those kids, who could refrain from eating candy, had higher professional competencies and better SAT results. And the latest research conducted in the first decade of 21 century, proved that they have a better developed frontal lobe and are less prone to addictions.

Does it mean that procrastination is inevitable for some of us? Absolutely not. A conclusion can be drawn that most kids did not have mechanisms that would allow them to deal with emotional discomfort connected with abstaining from pleasure so they could get rewarded.

Whereas other participants could not give in to the temptation of instant pleasure because they knew how to regulate their own behavior despite emotions.

What should I do when I catch myself procrastinating?

When we catch ourselves postponing tasks that seem difficult, instead of getting into a temporary fix it is good to pause and ask ourselves a question:

  • What are my thoughts concerning this task?
  • What is really blocking me from accomplishing this task?
  • Why is it good to take action right now?

This short pause might have a good impact on functioning of our nervous system. Instead of ignoring the signal and trying to quiet it, we notice it and give it some of our energy.

It’s worth writing down the answers on a piece of paper. After taking a close look onto our answers, lets try creating a plan of activities needed for the task to be completed so we see a way to the goal. Next, we elaborate on each of actions and divide them into simple and easy tasks. This is how the action plan is created, which now needs only to be realized.

What is important, once it’s created we have to realize the first step from our list so it is accomplished. Then we deserve a reward. And we are all experts on that. It is beneficial to continue such cycle until task is completed.

If we succeed one time, we will succeed second time and third. The more we use this method the easier it gets and procrastination itself will become just a foggy memory from the past.

There is a story about two friends, that will be a great end to this article. One men when asked what he was doing, answered: nothing important. The other then said: nice job, but the competition is quite big. This is why, if you don’t want to end up like more procrastinators with big – yet unfinished plans, it is beneficial to start realizing them now. Step by step. There will never be a better time to do just that.

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