Awwwards

Understading the Mechanisms of Procrastination

by Ciprian Paraschiv on 8th March, 2016

Management

Last article was a good opportunity for you to learn more about your most productive state of mind: “the flow”. You learned how to identify when you are in such a state and how to allow it to happen.
This week I will continue the journey in the realm of personal productivity, this time exploring more on the dark side of the moon, by helping you to understand the mechanisms of procrastination better. If you are the kind of person who deliberately stacks plates in the kitchen sink for the coming days, then this article is for you.

What is Procrastination?

There are at least three ways of defining procrastination:

  • etymologically, it has origins in the latin verb procrastinare = pro -forward motion + crastinus – belonging to tomorrow). Summed up, it means “to defer until another day”.
  • psychologists define procrastination as being the gap between intention and action, an irrational but consciously made delay, despite the fact that potential negative outcomes are expected.
  • there is also a definition each one has for himself, as we all develop unproductive habits to replace our assigned tasks. You know better when and how you procrastinate.

We are much easier prone to procrastinate when we consider the task troublesome. You think about something that does not particularly brings you pleasure, and the next second pain centers of your brain light up. As a result, you shift your attention to something more enjoyable (let me guess… Facebook?). Now you feel better, isn’t it?

Regarding the importance of the avoided task, procrastination can turn into a bad habit that can impact many aspects of your life. The effects are long term.

The truth is, in many aspects, procrastination is very similar to addiction. A temporary form of alleviation from the boring or the unwanted reality … can you see the pattern?

Procrastination often takes the form of an inner monolog. You start telling yourself stories; you are inventing rather irrational excuses like “that particular task is not important” or “tomorrow I’ll feel more inspired”. Sometimes you can feel so trapped inside this non-productive attitude that you end up considering it innate, incorporated in your DNA.

Fighting procrastination is a matter of understanding our habits rather than willpower

Unlike procrastination, willpower is hard to acquire. It consumes a lot of neural resources. It is not recommended to waste your willpower to fight procrastination. The more natural approach is to detect and understand your habits.

Habits are actions that feel natural for us to perform, allowing us to empty our mind for other types of activities. You don’t need to be extremely focused while you are performing it. A good example is riding a bike. First, you feel overwhelmed by all the factors you need to take into account, but as soon as you master it, you can ride a bike and listen to an audiobook without worry.
We all have good habits and bad habits. Some are short, like snapping fingers, others take longer.

We continue to perform our habits because they offer us some sort of reward, more or less. It’s easy to procrastinate because shifting our attention to something more cheerful happens fast. But remember we also have good habits. Reward them! You know best what motivates you. It’s not the actual reward that matters, but the satisfaction of winning a battle. Your reward is a small trophy.

Another key aspect in harnessing your habits is the belief. You need to build a strong belief that you can change your bad habits. The way I nurture a strong belief is by fueling an inner peace, by calming down, detaching from the whole scenario and simply working on what I planned. A fit body also helps a lot to find your “sweet spot”.

Focus on the process, not on the task itself

By process, I mean the way the time flows and the actions and habits you take in that particular time frame. The task is an outcome, the piece of work you are assigned to do. The task is what brings the pain. Instead of thinking how to accomplish it, you should pay attention to the process. Try to observe what distracts you most, what’s your reaction, how easy is for you to lose focus, what are the drivers that switch off your state of “flow”? The key is to train your mind to allow any distraction to simply pass by.

One of the easiest methods that will enable you to keep your attention to the process is using the Pomodoro technique, a topic I invite you to learn more about from one of my previous article. Focusing on that particular 25 minutes time frame will shift your attention from the task itself. It helps you getting more relaxed in a natural flow of work, instead of always asking yourself: “Am I getting closer to finishing the task?”

Ciprian Paraschiv

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I am a breed of SEO specialist and UX Design advocate. My strong engineering knowledge is key to reconcile the distinct goals of the two areas. I design with user’s delight in my mind, while not averting from optimizing conversion rates.