Procrastination is often considered to be the product of laziness; when you don’t have the motivation to do something, you simply don’t do it. The fact is, procrastination is considerably more complicated than this common preconception. After carefully researching this psychological phenomenon, experts concluded that procrastination is often the result of a lack of motivation, confidence, comprehension, or some combination of all these factors. There is a long list of complex human behaviors that contribute to these causes of procrastination that could take a lifetime to fully unpack. As such, for the purposes of this article, we will focus on six of the most common behaviors associated with procrastination and conclude with methods that could be used to mitigate these issues.
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Here are the six main causes of procrastination:
- Fear of lacking control
Like many other habits, fear of lacking control (micro-managing) is often virtuous and instinctual. Where it becomes a problem is when one begins to obsess over the intricacies of a project. These obsessions can devolve into avoiding simple actionable steps that could advance your work. Additionally, a need for control frequently renders small mistakes overwhelming; therefore provoking other habits causing procrastination.
Over the course of a large project, it’s impossible to have control over everything. In order to avoid feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, break down each task into small chunks so that you can focus your time and energy on one small task rather than trying to do the whole project all at once.
- Joy-seeking behavior
Oftentimes, procrastination can be explained simply by seeking immediate gratification rather than later benefits. It is part of human nature to be impatient. Even when we know that getting something done right away will lead to more gratification in the future, it is easier to want to find this gratification right now. In other words, people will procrastinate because it is easier to put off work and feel an immediate joy than spread out work for greater overall happiness. As stated by Dr. Fuschia Sirois, professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield, “people engage in this irrational cycle of chronic procrastination because of an inability to manage negative moods around a task.”
Begin to fight your joy-seeking tendencies by reminding yourself that in the future you will benefit from productivity now. Plan what you will do to reward yourself for getting the job done. Oftentimes, writing down your goals can help keep in mind the future benefits you’ll obtain from being productive now.
While it may seem counterintuitive, perfectionism can sometimes be a catalyst for procrastination. When working towards a goal or project, the pressure of feeling that your work needs to be perfect can stop you from submitting it in a timely manner.
If your work is for a teacher or employer, try to communicate closely with them throughout the duration of the project. Having their second opinion about when a task is or is not done can be reassuring – alleviating some of the pressure you put on yourself to be perfect. Checking in and getting feedback as you work through the project can help get validation that you are on the right track.
Additionally, self awareness about your strengths and weaknesses can help you feel less of a need to reach perfection. By knowing what you are good at and what you are not good at, you can have more control over your work and what is important for you to focus on.
- Fear of failure
Similar to perfectionism, fear of failure seems counterintuitive when considering the failures associated with procrastination. Sometimes when something is especially important, the fear of not being able to adequately complete the project or successfully reach your goals causes you to put off doing the work entirely.
Anxiety about failure may be the result of many different things including low self-esteem and fear of evaluation. Try asking yourself if what you’re fearing is as significant as it feels. Write down these fears and brainstorm ways to overcome what you are afraid of. Think about the pros and cons of doing this work. Will potential failure be worth a possible outcome of success? Will failing teach you valuable lessons to help you succeed in the future? Thinking about your fears is the first step to overcoming them and ultimately prevent them from being a barrier to productivity.
- Low self-confidence
Low self-confidence or self-efficacy appears very similarly to joy-seeking behavior in terms of procrastination. When you’re feeling down, you’re less likely to want to engage in productive behavior. Feeling incapable and undeserving of your work can cause you to not want to engage in the work at all. As a result, this behavior leads to procrastination.
A negative self-efficacy cycle is extremely hard to break because they function as self-fulfilling prophecies; one’s belief that they can’t focus can cause them to not focus, and thus confirm their belief. It’s important to challenge yourself to test other theories. Try setting a timer and proving to yourself you can work productively for five minutes, then ten, etc. Another way to counteract low self-esteem thoughts is to practice self affirmations. Even when you don’t believe it, telling yourself out loud that you are capable and deserving of the work you put in can help you to eventually feel that way about yourself. While you may be “tricking” yourself into believing in yourself at first, these practices have been proven to help self-esteem in the long run.
- Energy depletion
Another common cause of procrastination is depletion of energy. For those of us who live busy lives, procrastination can take the form of simply needing a break. In many cases, a break is okay and in fact, needed. Yet, frequent breaks can slowly turn into procrastination. When this happens, energy depletion turns into becoming reliant on joy-seeking behavior – this joy-seeking behavior being taking a break from responsibilities.
Much of managing procrastination has to do with managing your desires. Rest is very important and often can make you more productive, but understanding when you have to sleep or take a walk and when you need motivation to complete your work is important. Try scheduling your work ahead of time each day, adjusting your schedule based on how it went the day before. This way you have a more objective view on when you need to take a break and when you will be most productive.
To aid in figuring out what type of procrastinator you are, try filling out the behavior chain analysis worksheets, and for help with setting goals, try the SMART goal setting tips below.
Written by Tess Britton with contributions by Bryant Blackburn