“Procrastination” is generally defined as delaying a task you have to do because it’s not fun. We’ve all done it. Just think of the times you’ve put off boring stuff like paying bills, tidying up your inbox, or getting a month’s worth of receipts to accounting. Traditionally, procrastination was associated with not being able to manage your time well, or even simple laziness, but modern research suggests that it is, in fact, a psychological issue.
You may very well be, but don’t worry, most people are to a degree, though if you frequently put things off you may be considered a chronic procrastinator. There is something of a pattern that most procrastination follows, which usually sends things like time management and to-do lists out the window as you instead prioritize doing something, anything else.
There’s a difference between being genuinely too busy and trying to avoid key tasks. Maybe you find yourself giving yourself “just five more minutes” on social media or video games, or simply staring out the window for half an hour. You may not feel like you’re actively pushing tasks away—after all, you haven’t gone out or scheduled anything, time just got away from you—but this is a vital feature of procrastination.
This is a big differentiator between procrastination and poor time management. Certainly, there is a lot of crossover between the two, but someone who is a procrastinator is not necessarily bad at time management. In fact, you may have never missed a single deadline, and you complete your delayed tasks with the same level to detail and perfectionism as you always would, you just end up doing it all last minute.
This is a crucial realization of modern times—procrastination is not just laziness or an inability to be organized—it can point to mental health concerns. Dr Piers Steel goes so far as to call procrastination an act of self-harm. You know you have a task to complete, you know no good will come from not doing it, yet you pursue distraction anyway. Negative emotions such as anxiety, fear of failure and low self-esteem all feed your procrastination, the same way you want to avoid the stress of an intimidating job interview and stay up night before, even if you know showing up on five hours sleep is a terrible idea.
Take some time to really get your feelings aligned, enjoy some mindfulness, and assure yourself that you are capable of taking on the task at hand. Try to disarm your fear and see your work task just like any other. Even the most committed perfectionist has to admit that getting something done is far better than not doing anything at all.
This ties in with the above where you experience a sense of failure about your decrease in motivation and let it affect your whole approach to work. It’s perfectly natural to go through highs and lows of work motivation and again, a bit of self-care can help pep you back up. Try a change of scenery like working from a quiet meeting room instead of your desk in the middle in the office. If you work from home then try heading to a coffee shop. Being surrounded by people being busy and productive can help amp up your own motivation.
Another vital tie between procrastination and mental health is how it is often expressed through eating. “Procrastin-eating” refers to eating as a distraction. You may think leaving your desk to grab a snack in the kitchen and mingling with your co-workers is a positive thing, but ultimately you are only comfort eating to try and feel better about the negative feelings your impending task inspires.
No one avoids things they enjoy or do well. So if you’re putting off a task, ask yourself why. You may find the answer has little to do with your abilities, but rather with the way you’re approaching the task. Maybe you and your team don’t have the best tools for the job, leaving you feeling anxious not about doing something, but simply about being able to do it the right way.
As you can see, procrastination is mostly caused by negative emotions. It’s our misguided attempt at self-preservation, pushing bad and unpleasant tasks away and turning instead to instant gratification. But it only ends up harming us even more. So, to overcome these issues, you should put some measures in place that combat these bad feelings.
We’ve mentioned a few ways you can try and overcome those feelings that cause procrastination, but there are some more objective ways you can try and eliminate this time thief from your life.
Feelings of isolation and feeling alone with your impending task can be a huge factor in procrastination. Keep in touch with your team either through instant messengers, email or even a good old-fashioned phone call. Knowing you’re not in it alone can not only stop you from feeling anxiety but also hold you accountable for doing your part.
It’s not just scary tasks that can make us procrastinate, it’s also the method we’re expected to use. Not only this, but being expected to use a dozen different tools, programs and files can quickly become overwhelming. It’s only a matter of time before you decide you may as well click open one more tab and quickly check your social media. Dropbox lets you create one centralized place for you to collaborate on your work, helping you stay focused and free from distractions. Your documents, notifications, to-do lists, comments, and edits are all easily shared right in Dropbox, so you can progress rather than procrastinate.
Everyone works differently, and only you know what works for you best. So, take a good look at your work habits and see how you can optimize your work space and work day. Remember, no matter what, that you are in control as the driver of your own actions. From using productivity tools to ensure nothing stands between you, your team, and your goals, to splitting your day into manageable work periods like Pomodoros, empowering yourself takes back power from the allure of procrastination.