Have you ever had a pile of untouched tasks stacked up in your agenda, along with the deadline creeping up each day? Even so, you feel comfortably chill as you tell yourself, "I'll get to that LATER" or "I'll work on it LATER when I'm in the right mood." Well, welcome to the club! I have been there and done that numerous times. Frustrated, I sometimes feel like walking up to the mirror and asking, "Why do you procrastinate?" But then, my reflection will probably reply to me, "I don't know why I do. But I will google or read about it LATER." So now, I will not drag you on any longer and will get right into the psychology of procrastination.
By definition (according to experts), procrastination is "the voluntary delay of some important task that we intend to do, despite knowing that we'll suffer as a result." (Jaffe, 2013) It is far more than just simply putting something off until the deadline because we are lazy. Psychological researchers have stated procrastination as "a complicated failure of self-regulation." (Jaffe, 2013) Although time mismanagement is a contributing factor, failure in managing our emotions lays the groundwork for procrastination. (Jaffe, 2013) A procrastinator may justify, "I work best under pressure" or argue, "It doesn't matter when I do the task, as long as I get it done by the deadline." While this may be true to a certain degree depending on each individual's capability, let's be real – we're not diamonds. Putting ourselves under pressure may sometimes bring about advantages (perhaps improve the quality of our work) but it is not healthy for us to consistently deal with stress and pressure every time we have a task or a project.
According to the psychologists, our tendency to procrastinate is derived from a "gap between intention and action" – we are aware that we should work on the task but cannot bring ourselves to do so. (Jaffe, 2013) Let's picture the mechanism of procrastination as a tug of war between the two dominant parts of the brain: the limbic system (which controls our behavioral and emotional responses – "the instant mood repairer") and the prefrontal cortex (which implicates in planning and decision-making – "the internal planner"). (Rampton, 2019) As the limbic system takes over, we give in more towards what gives us pleasure. And, this pinpoints where procrastination kicks in as we postpone our outstanding tasks and do other things, most preferably recreational, instead. For instance, our limbic system (which is our "pleasure center" and creates the impulse to do things that make us feel good) may signal us to go on Netflix and binge-watch that TV show we've been addicted to while studying for a dangerously-nearing test if it recognizes "studying" as an emotionally unappealing action. Or even, urge us to stare at the wall and daydream – do anything except studying.
The irony of procrastination is, regardless of how much we regret it or despise the overwhelming stress and exhaustion endured when finishing something at the last minute, we still do it again and again. This is because procrastination subtly provides us with the "short-term boost"; it consists of a small dose of dopamine flowing through our brain (we receive a dose of dopamine when we engage in something enjoyable). (Hall, 2014) As a result, it activates the modification of neurons in our brain, stimulating us to repeat this behavior. (Hall, 2014) Although being fully aware of the unfavorable effects and outcomes of procrastination, its short-term boost comes off as addictive and makes us come back for more. However, by regaining our self-control, we can overcome this temptation.
There are various reasons why we procrastinate, depending on our behaviors and characteristics. Nevertheless, procrastination has seemingly augmented its familiarity nowadays, all thanks to our buzzing technology for glorying us with never-ending distractions – relatable memes, funny tik-tok videos, celebrity news, you name it – that invade our cognitive control. Anyhow, I would like to single out the five most common types of procrastinators. A perfectionist procrastinator strives for the best and ends up delaying things in an attempt to make them perfect. The opposite is an imposter procrastinator who fears that his or her finished work will expose them as unqualified or fraud and hence, tries to delay it as much as possible. A dread-filled procrastinator just can't find the motivation to get started with the tasks, while an overwhelmed procrastinator begins to back off after seeing a stack of unfinished work. Lastly, a lucky one procrastinator thrives for the uncanny need to work under pressure so that he or she can amp up the energy. (Rampton, 2019)
Now it leaves us with the question, "How can we overcome procrastination"? It is not something we can snap out of; it will surely require our time, effort and most importantly, regulation of our habits and self-discipline. Firstly, we need to identify the core reason of why we procrastinate. Reflect ourselves with questions like, "Why do I want to avoid this task? Am I unmotivated? Is the task tedious or overwhelming? Am I worried that my work will not be perfect?" Afterward, I would further like to recommend these two tips (which I find personally useful). "Do the worst thing first" rule is trying to take down the most challenging tasks first when our willpower and energy are higher. For example, if ironing the clothes is a demanding task that we have been postponing, we can encourage ourselves to finish it the first thing in the morning instead of dragging it later on the day or waiting for the right mood. Next is the "Five-Minute Rule" – this is quoted by Kevin Systrom (Instagram co-founder) "If you don't want to do something, make a deal with yourself to do at least five minutes of it. After five minutes, you'll end up doing the whole thing." Simply, this is dividing large and arduous work into smaller and more manageable segments so that we will not be put off by a massive workload and will become more encouraged to carry it out. After all, we are humans and we are not perfect. However, by trying to change our habits little by little, we can all make use of our time more productively and efficiently without having to suffer unnecessary stress or anxiety. Still, we cannot be too hard on ourselves all the time so it is okay to procrastinate sometimes, just like how I put off writing this article for days and finish it at the last-ditch. Just kidding, I did not!
Hall, A. (2014, July 15). The Science Behind Our Urge To Procrastinate. Retrieved from HUFFPOST: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/science-of-procrastination_n_5585440
Jaffe, E. (2013, March 29). Why wait? The Science Behind Procrastination. Retrieved from Association for Psychological Science: https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/why-wait-the-science-behind-procrastination
Rampton, J. (2019, September 24). The Science Behind Procrastination and How You'll Beat It. Retrieved from Entrepreneur Asia Pacific : https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/339801