CIWM’s Professional Development Manager, Claire Poole, investigates what procrastination is, why we do it and what we can do to change our behaviour.
I suspect we have all been here; why do today what you could leave until tomorrow?! Seriously, I am sure we have all put a task off when we know we should be doing it and instead opted to do something else. Sometimes the ‘something’ else can be important and sometimes it can be trivial. It can apply to both our professional and personal lives.
What is procrastination? According to Wikipedia, procrastination is the action of delaying or postponing something, stemming from the Latin procrastinatus which is made up of pro – forward and crastinus – of tomorrow. Tim Urban relays his experience with procrastination in his hilarious and insightful TED Talk (above), and encourages us to think harder about what we’re really procrastinating on, before we run out of time.
So, is it just about poor time management? According to a recent article by the BBC on ‘Worklife’, procrastination is not about managing time but about managing emotions. The article by Christian Jarrett considers the thinking from psychologies that it is more about whether we are putting something off because of how the task makes us feel. Whether that is about it being boring, too difficult or you are worried about failing and that doing “something else” helps us to feel better at that moment in time! Studies have shown that low mood increases procrastination. Interestingly the article refers to a study where they identified that procrastination didn’t occur where it was perceived that the ‘other activities’ often used as a distraction, would not lift their mood.
Procrastination is about avoidance of discomfort, but this often only leads to short term relief and may compound the discomfort in the medium to long term and may also be linked to poor mental and physical health e.g. anxiety and depression , colds and flu etc.
Motivation can also impact on our ability to excel in procrastination. Too much reliance on extrinsic or goal based motivation can be problematic. Intrinsic motivation (our personal vision, goals, needs etc) is considered more beneficial to limiting procrastination especially where aligned with organisation goals etc.
What can we do to understand more about procrastination and to change our behaviour? Firstly I would suggest self-care, looking after your mental and physical health as a priority. Other suggestions I have found include:
- Be compassionate towards yourself, take a break even if you think you don’t have time. Time to recharge, fresh air even for a few minutes can rebuild energy and focus.
- Be honest with yourself – what are you really avoiding? Understand what really motivates you.
- Restrict to do lists to ‘to do today’ lists
- Learn new habits
- Learn to recognise when you are actually procrastinating – call it out so you can choose to change what you are doing.
- Minimise distractions when necessary – turn off email etc
- Know when you focus best during the day/week and work to these strengths.
There are many more strategies and ideas, these are just a few to get you thinking about it.
Sirois, F.M. Is procrastination a vulnerability factor for hypertension and cardiovascular disease? Testing an extension of the procrastination–health model. J Behav Med 38, 578–589 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-015-9629-2