If you tend to procrastinate until the last minute, you might think you’re just lazy, but it’s usually something else completely. Odds are, you’re not being lazy at all. The reasons why you procrastinate are often a combination of psychological factors hindering your self control. The good news is you can usually fight back once you understand the root cause.
It’s All About Mood
Dr. Sirois and Dr. Pychyl found the reasons why you procrastinate has much more to do with the way you regulate negative emotions than any real issue with time management. It’s important to note that they defined procrastination as being fully aware that you’re putting off tasks versus just not having enough time to accomplish them.
Their study, along with several others, prove that procrastination can be simplified into how you’re geared to deal with a bad mood. A bad mood can include any negative connotation about a task, such as boredom, anxiety, doubt, poor self esteem, frustration, and so on.
Your mind associates a task with a negative emotion. To avoid the bad mood and feelings, you procrastinate by doing something else. Often, it’s something productive but just not what you should be doing at the time.
The worst problem is procrastinating leads to more negative emotions because you feel guilty, anxious, and angry that you can’t seem to control what’s happening. Experts call procrastination a form of self harm as a result. However, the studies showed that our minds don’t think about the future while procrastinating. Instead, people think about the present, which means procrastination is a way of protecting yourself from what you perceive to be a bad task.
People Need Value
David Ballard, of the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organization Excellence, and Alexander Rozental, who works as a clinical psychologist and procrastination researcher at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet, say procrastination is counterproductive and irrational. It also stems from not seeing value in a task.
Finding value could mean you want a more immediate reward (aka the task takes too long) or it doesn’t offer enough engagement (aka it’s boring). The problem is people tend to want value when it comes to performing a task. For instance, if you enjoy organizing your kitchen cabinets, you feel pride in the task, especially when you see the final result.
Boring data entry for a project is tedious, and you may struggle to see any value in it for yourself. As a result, you procrastinate. Rushing to finish it at the last minute gives you a rush, which seems more valuable. Yet, you then feel anxious and stressed because of the tighter deadline.
Top Reasons Why You Procrastinate
According to Psychology Today, there are nine common reasons why you procrastinate. Most of these align with studies surrounding procrastination. The top reasons include:
- You lack self compassion, which means you’re naturally more negative.
- It’s a learned behavior from others.
- You doubt you’ll excel at the task.
- You feel a bias due to a previous experience or seeing others struggle.
- Simple time management issues, such as underestimating the time you’ll need.
- Focusing on the present versus the future, meaning procrastination sounds great because it’s hard to see the consequences during the present.
- You’re a perfectionist.
- You suffer from mental illnesses, such as anxiety or depression.
- You avoid discomfort at all costs, including any negative feelings about a task.
While these aren’t all the reasons you procrastinate, they are some of the most common. Two others that may affect you include feeling overwhelmed and not being sure where to start.
First, remember it’s not about being lazy. It’s usually psychological. It’s important to remember this, or you’ll let yourself be overwhelmed by negative feelings that you’re too lazy or just not good enough to get the job done.
The key is to figure out exactly why you procrastinate. It won’t be the same for every person. For instance, my main block is I tend to procrastinate on tasks that I find boring or don’t think I’ll be good at. I push myself when it comes to boredom by rewarding myself with a task I enjoy but only after finishing the boring task. When I’m feeling insecure, I write a list of recent accomplishments and hard tasks I’ve completed to motivate me. I also try to start small and break the task into smaller, more manageable chunks.
A simple process to help with procrastination is:
- Identify your exact trigger(s) – write down what task you’re procrastinating and why.
- Plan a way to deal with each type of trigger – this can be rewards, taking breaks to refocus, breaking tasks up, getting the bad task out of the way first, or reminding yourself of the future consequences.
- List at least one value in every task.
- Take it slow – you won’t overcome procrastination in a day. Give yourself a pep talk to congratulate yourself for each victory. Associating negative tasks with a positive end-result helps you procrastinate less.
If you’re dealing with depression, anxiety, or another issue that prevents you from focusing on tasks, seek professional help. Also, if you deal with chronic procrastination, seeing a therapist can help you better identify triggers and a possible underlying problem.
Procrastination is harmful to your productivity and health. It leads to chronic stress and anxiety. Tackle it one step at a time and see just how much you can accomplish.