CARLOS VETTORAZZI

The Cost of Procrastination

21 June 2023

As the clock ticked to the deadline, I stared blankly at my computer screen and wondered how I got into this mess again.

I had known about the project for weeks but had put it off until the last minute, and now I was paying the price.

I had always struggled with procrastinating, both at home and at work.

Putting off laundry until there was nothing left to put on, waiting until the last minute to pay bills, and putting off important work projects until the pressure was unbearable.

Despite the many negative consequences of procrastination, I struggled for years to break the cycle.

I always found excuses to put things off, telling myself I worked better under pressure or needed more time to think things through.

I used to focus too much on my present self and not enough on my future self.

I liked the immediate benefits of the present, especially since the costs of my decisions wouldn’t be felt for a long time to come.

Today, I am a recovering procrastinator and have taken a different approach to life. I now coach others to find ways to achieve their goals.

Procrastination is a common personal and professional problem that most people I coach face, and despite its many negative consequences, it can be difficult to overcome.

Procrastination often results in missed opportunities, unfulfilled potential, lower quality in work and relationships, poor performance, missed chances for promotion, and financial consequences.

In addition, procrastination can be emotionally draining, generating stress and anxiety, reducing motivation, and lowering self-esteem.

But how can we identify the reasons behind our tendency to procrastinate, understand its negative impacts, and then take measures to overcome them in order to enhance our productivity and overall well-being?

Let’s explore why we procrastinate and how we can use evidence-based strategies to overcome it.

Procrastination

Procrastination is the act of putting off essential tasks or decisions that need to be made, frequently until the eleventh hour or even after the deadline has passed.

Procrastination is the tempting distraction that lures us away from crucial tasks and commitments. It serves as a detour from our goals and responsibilities.

In today’s work culture, many tasks can feed our procrastination. However, when we procrastinate, we often choose a comfortable and convenient path that ultimately leads to long-term stress and more procrastination.

Understanding the Psychology of Procrastination

Procrastination is a functional behavior. It is our brain’s way of delaying tasks or activities that we find boring, uncomfortable, or difficult.

While it can relieve stress or anxiety, it can also allow us to prioritize other things we perceive as more enjoyable or meaningful.

It is important to question the things we procrastinate on, as some of them do not contribute to our well-being.

Sometimes we procrastinate on tasks that do not align with our values and purpose because, deep down, we know that we are prioritizing someone else’s needs over our own.

With that said some factors that contribute to our procrastination include fear of failure, perfectionism, poor time management skills, and an overwhelming workload.

Understanding these underlying causes can help develop personalized strategies to overcome procrastination.

One of the most common reasons for procrastination is struggling to find the necessary motivation to start or complete a particular task.

This struggle is often linked to the following:

  1. A sense of disinterest in the task
  2. A lack of self-confidence or unclear and unspecific steps for completing the task
  3. A lack of motivation to engage in activities that we recognize to be the optimal investment in the long term.

Internet and Social media

Being constantly connected to the internet and social media substantially impacts our ability to focus and our tendency to procrastinate.

When we have easy access to social media and other internet distractions, putting off essential tasks in favor of browsing our feeds or watching videos can be tempting.

Additionally, social media and the internet can create a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out), making it hard to disconnect and focus on other things.

Research has shown that frequent social media use is associated with higher levels of procrastination, especially regarding academic work.

Energy Levels and Fatigue

When our energy levels are low, or we experience fatigue, our capacity to accomplish cognitively demanding tasks can be significantly impacted.

This is evident in the daily observation of students who appear exhausted and run down, resulting in suboptimal functioning of their bodies and minds, making even the simplest tasks seem daunting.

As a consequence, they engage in procrastination or avoidance of tasks altogether, leading to a cycle of stress and further fatigue.

It’s important to prioritize rest and self-care when feeling low energy, as taking care of ourselves can help us recharge and regain our focus and productivity.

Fear of Failure

Many of us procrastinate due to the fear of failure. We compare our potential results with people whose skills and experience are light years ahead of our own.

We often delay commencing a task or project due to the apprehension of falling short of expectations or making mistakes.

We need to address our limiting beliefs related to the fear of failure.

Overwhelmed

Feeling overwhelmed can significantly contribute to procrastination because it triggers a fight-or-flight response.

This feeling may arise when we perceive a task as overly complex or challenging, leaving us uncertain about where to start or whether we can deliver.

Furthermore, this sense of overwhelm can be amplified when other responsibilities or tasks are vying for our attention, making it arduous to prioritize and concentrate.

Procrastination: Habit or Coping Mechanism?

Procrastination is a learned behavior that most of us develop over time, often due to a lack of knowing our needs and values and setting healthy boundaries to protect our energy and time.

In most cases, procrastination is a habit we engage in without realizing it.

At the same time, procrastination is, as already mentioned, a coping mechanism to manage stress, anxiety, or other negative emotions.

Creating great results is not always easy and requires a lot of energy, so in order to save energy, we sometimes put off tasks.

However, this way of coping can be problematic if it becomes chronic and prevents us from accomplishing our goals.

Ultimately, understanding the underlying causes of procrastination is important in developing strategies to overcome it, whether it is seen primarily as a habit or a coping mechanism.

Perfectionism

Perfectionism is another reason why we procrastinate.

As a former perfectionist, I would often put off starting a task because I thought everything needed to be perfect before I began. This, of course, made me overwhelmed and made it even more challenging to get started.

My fear of being unable to complete a task perfectly further contributes to procrastination.

While procrastination may provide short-term relief, it has more negative consequences, such as missed deadlines, reduced productivity, increased stress, and lowered self-esteem.

Places We Go When We Procrastinate and Strategies to Overcome Procrastination

If the underlying causes of procrastination are not addressed, we will continue to use procrastination as a coping mechanism to deal with strong feelings and emotions.

Knowing where we go when we procrastinate, we can develop personalized solutions and strategies to achieve our goals.

Here are some strategies to stop procrastinating:

Low energy or fatigue:

  • Take breaks when needed and get enough rest and sleep.
  • Engage in physical activity or exercise to boost your energy levels.
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet.

Lack of motivation:

  • Break the task down into smaller, manageable steps.
  • Find ways to make the task more exciting or meaningful.
  • Use positive self-talk and visualization techniques to increase motivation.

Fear of failure:

  • Change your mindset to view failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.
  • Set more realistic goals for yourself.
  • Focus on the process rather than the outcome.

Perfectionism:

  • Set realistic standards for yourself and recognize that perfection is not always achievable.
  • Give yourself permission to make mistakes.
  • Focus on progress rather than perfection.

Feeling overwhelmed:

  • Break the task down into smaller, more manageable steps.
  • Prioritize the steps based on their importance and urgency.
  • Ask for help or support if needed.

Lack of focus:

  • Identify and eliminate time-wasting activities
  • Be mindful of activities that are not essential to your goals and that you tend to spend a lot of time on, such as scrolling through social media or watching TV.
  • Use time-management techniques, such as the Pomodoro technique, to stay focused for short periods.
  • Practice mindfulness to improve your ability to focus.

Indecisiveness:

  • Gather information and consider the pros and cons of each option.
  • Set a deadline for making a decision.
  • Seek advice or input from others.

Disorganization:

  • Create a clean and organized workspace.
  • Use a planner or calendar to stay organized and keep track of tasks.
  • Prioritize tasks based on their importance and urgency.

Overcommitment:

  • Learn to say no when necessary.
  • Prioritize tasks based on their importance and urgency.
  • Delegate tasks to others when possible.

Distorted sense of time:

  • Keep track of how long tasks take to complete.
  • Set realistic timelines for each task.
  • Allow extra time for unexpected delays or setbacks.

Change your environment:

  • Design your environment so it reduces as much friction as possible between you and what you want to accomplish.
  • Try working in a different location or adjusting your workspace’s lighting, temperature, or noise level.

NOTE TO SELF: Showing up, getting started, and learning are the most important things to avoid procrastinating.

The Benefits of Overcoming Procrastination

Overcoming procrastination leads to increased productivity and improved mental health and can lead to tremendous success in personal and professional endeavors.

A study in the Journal of Social Psychology found that participants who procrastinate experience higher levels of stress and lower levels of well-being compared to those who do not procrastinate.

To stop procrastinating is crucial because it reduces stress and anxiety and improves how we feel about ourselves.

When we take action, we signal to ourselves that we are a person that gets things done to achieve our goals.

That is powerful.

The Role of Mindfulness

An emerging area of research is exploring the role of mindfulness in overcoming procrastination.

Mindfulness is being present and fully engaged in the current moment. It has been shown to reduce stress, improve well-being, and increase focus and attention.

Increasing awareness of the present moment and cultivating an attitude of acceptance and non-judgment help us overcome the cognitive and emotional barriers contributing to procrastination.

Being mindful helps us protect our minds and reduce stress and anxiety. When mindful, we are present in the moment and aware of our thoughts, emotions, and sensations.

By being aware of these thoughts and emotions, we can address them and stop procrastinating.

Actionable Insights

Procrastination is a habit that can be difficult to break, but it is not impossible, and the most important thing is that it gets a lot easier with practice.

Focus on the positive outcomes of completing a task.

Identifying the root cause of why we procrastinate, breaking down the task into smaller steps to fit into our calendar, eliminating distractions, and practicing mindfulness can significantly reduce stress and anxiety, improve our mental health and help us reach our goals.

Take care of your basic needs like sleep, rest, and healthy food.

Learn to say no.

If you want to overcome procrastination and make better choices in the long run, you need to find a way to get your present self to act in the best interests of your future self.

You have three main ways of doing this:

Make the rewards of your long-term behavior more immediate and immediate.

Make the costs of delaying action more immediate.

Eliminate procrastination triggers.

Have a plan, be present and fully engaged in the current moment, and focus on the positive outcomes of completing a task.

Empowering questions to identify any limiting beliefs you might have about procrastination:

  1. What is the worst that could happen if you fail to complete a task or project perfectly?
  2. What evidence supports the belief that you cannot complete a task or project?
  3. How can you reframe your perception of failure to view it as an opportunity to learn and grow?
  4. What do you need to get started, continue and finish?

Research on Procrastination

Books on Procrastination

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