Procrastination - two reasons why we do this and two tips on how to stop

Procrastination - two reasons why we do this and two tips on how to stop

Procrastination - two reasons why we do this and two tips on how to stop

Procrastination – the art of putting something off until later or maybe forever. Let’s face it, many of us can be guilty of doing this for one reason or another. But have you ever stopped and thought why you procrastinate? In this blog article we offer two reasons why we procrastinate and two top tips on how to stop.

Reason #1 - being spontaneous enabled our ancestors to survive

Firstly, let’s go back in time, a time when our ancestors were not planning this year’s annual results or even concerned about meeting this month's KPIs. They had no SMART goals set by their manager to achieve – it was hunting, eating and surviving on a day-to-day basis that mattered. In a world fraught with danger, being too routine could become dangerous. So those ancestors who spotted and acted upon a spontaneous opportunity survived longer.

This spontaneity gene has been passed down to us over thousands of years. Those who had it have survived to pass it on. It’s part of our evolution. So, when you feel you are being distracted away from completing that important task, maybe we need to acknowledge where it came from.

However, knowing this is not an excuse. We need to decide the opportunity cost of being distracted away from task ‘x’ by choosing to do task ‘y’ instead. For example, the trade-off of putting off your exercise session by watching TV instead may provide a short-term gain of relaxation but may damage your long-term gain of staying healthy. Buying that garden furniture rather than fixing that fence is probably not the best option either.

Top tip 1

Be aware of what choices you make, and ask yourself what will putting a task off give you and will what you do instead give you a better pay-off?

Reason #2 - fear of failing can hold us back

To explore another reason why we procrastinate, we need to reflect on our ancestors again and recognise we are hard-wired to want to feel good about ourselves too. And part of feeling good is succeeding. Achieving something puts dopamine into our system which gives us that feel good emotion of satisfaction and increased self esteem.

So, a second reason for us procrastinating can be our innate fear of failure. Very often we may put off a task because it is difficult or maybe we just don’t know where to start.

This means that we can be distracted from doing task ‘a’ because it's difficult and a much easier task ‘b’ has just popped into our inbox. Task 'b' is something we know how to do, is easier to achieve and/or takes less effort to complete. And when we do this alternative task, we get that all important dopamine hit which is far more palatable than experiencing the stress of dealing with something more difficult.

For example, responding to a series of simple email enquiries may well appear more attractive than making that call to resolve a tricky customer complaint.

Top tip 2

When faced with what appears to be a difficult task why not break it down into smaller tasks. Equip yourself with the knowledge, tools and support you need. Making a start will help, provide a sense a progress and help with your motivation. We’re back to that all important dopamine again.

In summary

Living with the fear of not doing something can be more painful than actually doing it. Ask yourself what’s stopping you from tackling the task. Equip yourself with the knowledge, skills, resources and support you need and then feel the fear and do it anyway (reference to Dr Susan Jeffers).

For more information on our Time Management training visit here

Paul Beesley
Director and senior consultant
Beyond Theory

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