Some traits or behaviors transcend boundaries of color, caste, creed and age. Procrastination happens to be one of them. Why do we procrastinate? For me what works is to identify all the reasons and then keep them in check. Smash them when they rear their head to bite.
I may not always be successful but identifying the trigger is always the first step towards cure.
Fear of being judged
As a child when I would playfully compete in long jump and if I clocked the longest jump, the tendency was to either end the challenge then and there or pull out of it on a high. I didn’t want to continue lest I could not either improve my own distance or worst still not achieve it again. These were low stakes challenges, yet the fear of being judged was so strong. The tendency to live in our past glory restricts us from starting because we are unsure of the results and hence prefer to delay than accept the challenge, fearful of not being able to repeat our past performance.
What we need to remember is that opportunities should not always be perceived as challenges. Missed opportunities are equal to missed learning.
Be heroic and put your work out for review.
Fear of the unknown
The feeling of being unsure of the outcome, unsure of whether we will be able to complete the task at all, stops us from even starting. All we do is find faults to justify why we are unable to start. It could be, because we don’t have the resources, or we are waiting for inputs from someone or we have something more urgent and important to do or that we feel that it will not be appreciated.
When we are caught between two rocks what we find comparatively easier of course is to simply improvise on the existing. Improvise to the point that it looks new yet keeps us secure in our comfort zone.
Ever present distractions
Distractions are not always caused due to other people, things or events. We somehow find reasons to be distracted and remain in that state for long enough to make it an excuse for not getting ahead with work.
Mitigate all possible distractions by identifying them and eliminating them is the first step and perhaps the only step. Keep that phone away or at least keep it face down.
Ugly as hell
The tendency to shift the task that we don’t like to do because it may be challenging or will take more time, or we simply find it boring can only be overcome by doing it first! Yes, eat the ugliest frog first and celebrate your achievement. There really is no other way.
Another reason why we are not able to complete a task is because our priorities change with time or when unexpected requirements arise. But then that is life, it will hit you when you least expect it. New priorities just change the balance, much like the fat kid sitting on the seesaw!
Set your timer for your tasks and stick to it. And yes, don’t forget to add the buffer.
Hot-cold empathy gap
According to Wikipedia, hot-cold empathy gap is, ‘A cognitive bias in which a person underestimates the influences of visceral drives, and instead attributes behavior primarily to other, non-visceral factors.’
In simple terms, your resolve breaks when you encounter rough patches. And these you did not account for in the first place. For example, a student decides to set the target of doing 10 questions of math each day. Her best friend breaks up with her. That evening is now spent in checking the phone for messages from the estranged friend. Now that the habit that was being set is broken, it becomes hard to get back to it.
Human behavior is greatly affected by our state of mind.
Our preferences change with time. What appears certain today may not be how we may think in future as it is difficult to predict our future self. For example, when the teacher announces a deadline for submission that is ten days in the future, all students accept even when she offers to extend it. But as the date comes closer and is only two days away, the teacher asks if they want the date extended, many of them will request for that extension. Displaying time inconsistency.
Dynamic inconsistency also arises in behavioral economics where it is often termed, ‘time inconsistency’. Time inconsistency arises when the sequence of choices made by the separate selves are different from the choice planned by the initial self. A study performed at Stanford University states that as we look for instant gratification rather than future rewards, we tend to live in the here and now. For example, if our friends have planned a lunch together tomorrow, the inclination will be to go for that lunch with a promise to self that the pending task will be completed right after the lunch.
What is seen is that there are many factors why we procrastinate. What is important is to realize that we are procrastinating. Make that realization the trigger to jump and get that pending task done and out of the way.
Or you could go back to procrastinating.