Charles Dickens once famously remarked: “My advice is to never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time.”; pertinent advice for all that are listening, one must agree. The reasonable person within us tends to agree with this sentiment, it is after all only logical to not postpone important work until tomorrow when it can just as easily be finished today. Alas, if only life was as easy as following the reasonable voices within us. Instead, although we instinctively agree with the aforementioned quote, often we tend to act in agreement with another quote.
This time uttered by Mark Twain, who quipped: “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well”. A lighthearted joke, I am sure. Unfortunately, from experience I think we can both agree, seeing as you´re currently reading this, that this lighthearted quote has defined much of our existence.
Enough is enough! In this guide, we will discuss how to overcome procrastination and offer a few possible solutions to slay that dragon once and for all. That being said, before we proceed, it might be prudent to shed some light on some of the possible reasons for procrastination.
Common Reasons for Procrastinating
There are various reasons for which people begin procrastinating. Below, you’ll find some of the more common ones. The best way to begin treating this problem of yours is to first acknowledge it, then understand it and finally face it.
The task seems too big.
I need not remind you that all great things started out simple. If the task is very large, instead of putting it off into the future (and thus make it ‘bigger’); deal with it today by breaking it up into smaller, more manageable tasks.
The lack of motivation
If you’re putting of the work because your lacking motivation, then you’re in deep waters. You need to remind yourself of the importance of this endeavor, not the importance of the task itself which may be small in magnitude but rather the importance of the mission itself. This brings me back to the old tale of the two construction workers. Once upon a time, as the tale goes, these two workers were standing side by side constructing what to the naked eye seemed like a wall. A passer-by asked one of the gentlemen what he was doing to which he responded: “I am building a wall”. The onlooker then turned to this colleague who choose to give the answer “I am building a hospital”. Now, even though the men were working on the same project, the construction of a new hospital, only one of these two individuals had his mind set on the greater goal. Although the task might have been putting up a few bricks, the overall endeavor was much greater than that.
Likewise, you will need to understand and properly value the greater picture. Do not let whimsical desires obfuscate your vision and make you loose sight on the things that are truly important.
How common is it?
The short answer: too common. According to a study by Steel (2007)1, a staggering 80-95 percent of college students procrastinate, particularly when it comes to writing assignments and other forms of course work. In an earlier study published in 1997 by Green et al2, procrastination was identified as the main culprit responsible for failed PhD studies. One would figure that academics who have pursued this line of work would be better apt to combat procrastination but reality says otherwise. This gives us even more reason to avoid procrastinating.
Like most complex problems, you won’t find any quick fixes to procrastination. However, there are many potential solutions that can be tried.
- Establish a routine
- Develop the urgency of now
This is in my opinion, the best way to combat procrastination. Learn to create positive habits and sustain these habits until they become so intricate in your life, that you do not think about performing those tasks, you merely perform them. This is similar to how you visit the bathroom every morning when you wake up regardless of anything else. It has become an unshakable habit. If you can manage to turn those tasks which make you procrastinate and learn to deal with them the same way you deal with all your other habits, you will no longer procrastinate. And the way to accomplish this is through sheer force.
Let us say for example that you need to finish writing a report. From the very get-go when this assignment or job task is announced, you need to get on top of it. This will undoubtedly feel contrived initially, much akin to the swallowing of bitter medicine with the hope of improved long term health. Do not let the laziness of today rob you from the successes of tomorrow.
Once you’ve forced yourself to start working on this project of yours, it will immediately start to get easier. The real obstacle, you see, is actually inside your head. No matter the size of the task at hand, if you simply begin working on it, you will notice that as you start to get more things done, the “O, I really don’t want to do this” feeling will start to dissipate like a biscuit dipped in hot tea. The biggest part of the battle is forcing yourself to sit down and face your task.
This phrase, popularized by Dr. Martin Luther King in his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech, speaks to those of us who procrastinate. The time for now is never tomorrow. In all of your affairs, understand that if you do not get things done now, these things may never be done at all. Do not overestimate your capabilities in the future whilst denying your present capabilities their right due. The Scottish say that things that can be done at any time will be done at no time. This has a lot of truth to it. To respond to this, make sure that each of your tasks have their respected deadline to which you must strictly adhere.
Finally, I would like to conclude this article by reminding you that if you do not deal with your issues today when they are the most pressing; you will most likely regret it in the future. Imagine all of those times when you had wished that you had started earlier. Well, today you have the chance of a life time. You have the chance to start ‘earlier’ – today – so that tomorrow or next week or next month, you will be able to look back and not feel the slightest regret as a result of procrastination.
- Steel, P. (2007). The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure. Psychological Bulletin, 133(1), 65-94. ↩
- Green, K. E. (1997). Psychosocial factors affecting dissertation completion. In Goodchild, L. F., Green, K. E., Katz, E. L., & Kluever, R. C. (Eds.), Rethinking the dissertation process: Tackling personal and institutional obstacles. New Directions for Higher Education, 99,. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 57-64. ↩