So, it’s 11.08pm and you’ve got exactly 52 minutes left to submit your assignment. Despite it being worth 20% of your semester grade and having had three weeks to complete it, you only started it this morning. It’s been a marathon day of caffeine and chocolate, stress and mania, but you manage to upload the finished product just in time. You collapse on the bed and chastise yourself for leaving things to the last minute again!
If you can relate, you might be part of an illustrious group I like to refer to as master procrastinators, of which I too am one. Rather than bowing our heads in shame, let’s take a deep dive into why procrastination is so common and how we can nip it in the bud!
First, let’s be clear on what procrastination is not. Research has shown that procrastination is not about being lazy. Procrastinators have the desire to do something but just can’t seem to get started.
Procrastination is a coping mechanism – it’s our brain’s way of dealing with challenging emotions and negative moods induced by certain tasks. These emotions might include boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, or self-doubt.
For example, when you sit down to start an assignment, you may be filled with self-doubt, feel that it’s too hard, you’re not smart enough, or a good enough writer, or that you may fail. So even though you know you’re eventually going to have to complete it, you avoid the assignment despite knowing it’s a bad idea to put if off.
What can you do to break this cycle? The good news is, if you learn to manage your emotions in new ways, you can re-frame how you approach tasks you would rather put off.
5 STEPS TO GET YOU STARTED:
Recognise and understand the reasons why you’re procrastinating. Maybe you’re a perfectionist and are afraid of getting it wrong. Maybe you feel overwhelmed at the enormity of a task and don’t know where to start. To help you uncover your roadblocks, check out the Self Awareness and Making Decision modules in our online Explore Your Options Challenge.
Practice self-compassion – don’t be too hard on yourself. Recognise that while you may have procrastinated in the past, you’re now addressing the issue and taking steps to break the cycle. Give yourself a pat on the back and try to reframe the negative self-talk into positive affirmation. You are capable!
Start small. Avoid feeling overwhelmed at the enormity of a task by breaking it down into small, manageable actions. If you’re doing a research project, begin by spending thirty minutes writing a list of steps you’ll need to take. Once you’ve gotten started and made even a small bit of progress on your task, there’s a good chance you’ll keep going.
Set deadlines for the small steps. This will make you more accountable as you go and, if you’re someone who thrives under pressure, doing so can help replicate the adrenaline rush you get when you wait until the last minute.
Reward yourself. Treat yourself with something you want to do by first doing what you don’t want to do. You might tell yourself that after sixty minutes working on your assignment, you’ll watch a new episode of your favourite series.
From one procrastinator to another, we can do this!