If you’re reading this instead of working on one of the projects you were planning to do or before starting the report you’re supposed to finish tomorrow, congratulations, you’re procrastinating.
But hey, don’t feel guilty about it. We all do it.
Roughly around 20% of adults are what scientists call chronic procrastinators. Believe it or not, it’s actually a more common condition than alcoholism, panic attacks, or depression. And yet we tend to trivialize procrastination. We think it’s just laziness. Well, contrary to popular belief, it has little to do with laziness.
It’s far more complex.
But before I tell you why we procrastinate, it’s important to understand what procrastination really is. After some research, I found this definition: “The voluntary, unnecessary delay of an important task, despite knowing you’ll be worse off for doing so.” What’s interesting to me is that we don’t procrastinate on things we find nice and pleasant. I’ve never heard someone say, “You know what, let me wash the dishes before eating this delicious cake.” I don’t know about you, but that cake is gone the second I see it. No, we procrastinate on things we find difficult or boring. Makes sense. If the task feels overwhelming and fills you with anxiety, it’s easier to avoid it.
But it doesn’t come without consequences.
People with tendencies to procrastinate experience higher stress levels and more health problems. Headaches, insomnia, anxiety, and digestive issues are just some consequences of the stress-related issues procrastinators can experience. I think we can both agree that this habit brings nothing good to your life. Let me share some simple things you can do to overcome your procrastinating brain.
Start with self-compassion. After we procrastinate, we’re often hard on ourselves. There’s always guilt about letting others down or not meeting our expectations. Then there is anger, self-hate, and a whole bunch of self-talk that leads nowhere. Instead, try to be kind and understanding to yourself. Sure, you might have screwed up a little, and maybe you could have started a little earlier. But there’s no reason to beat yourself about it. Remember, you’re not the first person to procrastinate, and you won’t be the last.
Start small. The brain of a procrastinator sees
Reward yourself. When you beat the temptation to procrastinate, always remember to reward yourself for the achievement. It can be anything you enjoy. Another good approach is to make something you want to do a reward for something you don’t want to do. For example, if you have a sink full of dirty dishes and you’re about to meet your friends for dinner, make a deal with yourself: You can only eat a dessert if you do the dishes first. This idea can be applied to almost anything you can imagine. With time you’ll see the results of your hard work, and fighting the temptation to slack off will be easier.
And remember, we all procrastinate.
There’s an amazing TED talk recording where Tim Urban explains what happens Inside the mind of the master procrastinator. It’s hilarious.
This post first appeared in our newsletter.