Procrastination is the task of telling one that the task is right but end up doing the other or doing something from which one derives enjoyment, and thus putting off important tasks to a later time. In accordance with Freud, the Pleasure principle may be responsible for procrastination; humans do not prefer negative emotions, and handing off a stressful task until a further date is enjoyable. The concept that humans work best under pressure provides additional enjoyment and motivation to postponing a task. Some psychologists cite such behavior as a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision. Other psychologists indicate that anxiety is just as likely to get people to start working early as late and the focus should be impulsiveness. That is, anxiety will cause people to delay only if they are impulsive.
Most people who write about procrastination write about how to cure it. But this is, strictly speaking, impossible. There are an infinite number of things you could be doing. No matter what you work on, you’re not working on everything else. So the question is not how to avoid procrastination, but how to procrastinate well.
There are three variants of procrastination, depending on what you do instead of working on something: you could work on
(b) something less important
(c) something more important. That last type, I’d argue, is good procrastination.
Structured procrastination means shaping the structure of the tasks one has to do in a way that exploits this fact. The list of tasks one has in mind will be ordered by importance. Tasks that seem most urgent and important are on top. But there are also worthwhile tasks to perform lower down on the list. Doing these tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher up on the list. With this sort of appropriate task structure, the procrastinator becomes a useful citizen. Indeed, the procrastinator can even acquire a reputation for getting a lot done.
Here are some suggestions to help you get started:
- Accept that there is no magic wand: you will have to do the task!
- The words that we use to ourselves in thinking or talking about the task matter! They have feelings attached to them which color our anticipation and experience of the work. Try changing the words “have to” and “can’t” to “choose to” and “choose not to” – this won’t always be true, but it will probably be more honest most of the time. After all, you don’t have to do this work – you probably chose to come and do this course, research or job, and you could choose to leave it!
- Recognize self-defeating behavior and its associated thinking. Try to work out why you procrastinate: what do you gain from it? Find out how to overcome such behavior. You might choose to sort it out yourself, to refer to a self-help book or leaflet, or to consult the appropriate person, such as your tutor, supervisor, director of studies, manager, colleague or a counselor.
- Ensure that you have the right equipment, information etc. to help in tackling the task. Some time spent in preparation and planning is vital – but not to the extents that no real work gets done. So set a time limit for the planning stage(s). Plan a (small) section and then work on it.
- Whilst spending time planning is very useful, here’s a word of warning to those who make very detailed plans which go wrong within an hour and are then ripped up in disgust – plans need to be flexible! Don’t plan all the hours in the day; leave plenty of unplanned times and spaces – to allow for things taking longer than expected, and for you to have extra time for relaxation when they don’t!
- Break down tasks into manageable bits. Set yourself small goals – to read one chapter; to write 1 page; to work for 45 minutes, take a 15 minute break and then do another 45 minutes work.
- Boost your motivation. Dwell on your strengths, on tasks you have accomplished and feel good about, in order to remind yourself that you can be successful.
- Give yourself rewards when you accomplish something.
- When you are getting stuck, rather than just stopping work, try a different strategy – take a pencil and an old, half-used piece of paper out of the bin, and scribble unplanned and unstructured notes and ideas to yourself for the task in hand. Or start on a different section of the piece (you don’t have to work from the beginning to the end), picking the least demanding in thought or creativity