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What is it?

Procrastination is more than putting something off. According to psychological researchers, it is choosing to delay an important task that we intend to do, despite knowing this may have negative consequences.

While we all put tasks off from time to time, for some people, this is habitual. Indeed, “everyone procrastinates, but not everyone is a procrastinator.”

Why does it matter?

Whether you procrastinate occasionally or often, it can have negative consequences.

Why do we do it?

Popular beliefs are that people may put tasks off because they fear failure, are perfectionists, or find it more exciting to wait until the last minute.

Somewhat surprisingly, these reasons are not supported by research, according to a 2012 literature review on procrastination, published in the International Journal of Psychological Studies.

So what are the causes?

the task is unpleasant, or boring and uninteresting
the deadline is distant, so completing the task feels less urgent
low self-esteem
low self-efficacy – our belief in our ability to succeed in a particular situation
depression
tiredness
impulsivity – the tendency to succumb to temptation and feel overwhelmed by our drives and desires
getting distracted.
While understanding the nature of procrastination is important, so too is getting tasks done!

How to fix it

Write a to-do list of priorities.
Break tasks down into smaller pieces.
Record how long it takes to do regular tasks, so you can make more accurate estimates in the future.

Then, decide how to approach your tasks.

Strategies include:
doing your worst task first, so the rest seem easier
starting an enjoyable task, then, without taking a break, using this momentum to switch to a task you’ve been delaying
planning to spend just five minutes on a task, then, at the end of that period, reassessing whether you can spend another five minutes on it
setting a specific amount of time for a task
doing a task at the time of day you feel most productive, energetic or creative
working in environments with minimal distractions
doing tasks as soon as you remember them, rather than delaying and forgetting
using reminders to prompt you to do something
visualising yourself doing your tasks
focusing on your breathing whenever you feel unsettled
planning rewards as a break or for when you’ve achieved something.

A final step in overcoming procrastination is to identify when to do your tasks. This can involve creating a schedule of what to do and when. Start by allocating time for existing commitments, and then add the tasks you may have been avoiding, including any steps you have broken them into.

Of course, spontaneous events can disrupt schedules if they’re too inflexible. If you find it hard to get back on track in these cases, ‘unscheduling’ may be the answer. Create a schedule of only existing commitments, so you can see where to fit in tasks you may be avoiding. When one of these ‘free’ blocks of time appears, go to your prioritised to-do list and approach a task.