Monthly Archives: August 2010

Thoughts on Procrastination

It’s an epidemic, or at least it seems to be. One simply waits until the last minute to act on something, even when given ample time to complete the task. Why is that?

I think the answer is simple: lack of motivation.

Motivation is key to getting something done. If you have little to no motivation, it’s going to take you longer to accomplish something–that is, if you accomplish it at all. In today’s society it seems to be okay to let things slide with a promise that “we’ll make up for it later,” only to have “later” never come, someone else pick up the slack, and the issue dropped or forgotten.

But it’s not okay to procrastinate. This isn’t a clinical study or anything, but I have noticed that when I procrastinate, it’s stressful. I don’t forget about what I have to do. It’s still there, each day, reminding me that I need to get it done. It slowly stresses me out, and if I keep thinking “I’ll do it tomorrow” or “I’ll do it next week” and so on, I often end up scrambling to get it done right before it’s due. Or, if there is no deadline, the project just hangs over me for days…weeks…months… You get the picture. Procrastinating is a stressful thing, and not only is it bad for you because of that, it’s also bad because of the obvious: you’re putting off what you need to do right now. And yet, every day, people nonchalantly decide to themselves “I’ll do it later”…

So why do we procrastinate? Because of a lack of motivation. Maybe it seems “too hard” to do or we’re “too tired” or “not prepared” to do it now. But most of the time those are just excuses.

How do we get motivated?

Getting motivated to do something requires different tactics for different people. For some, simply having a “do-or-die” kind of deadline (where you must get it done or else) is enough. They can get motivated and stay motivated by just having that deadline. But others need a different method to get motivated, often a source of inspiration, and they need encouragement, organization, schedules/routines, etc. in order to stay motivated. For me, being organized and having a routine helps me get things done.

The biggest step in conquering the habit of procrastination is probably making the first move. It might seem like a huge effort to sit down and actually start working on whatever needs to be done, but if you never start, you’ll never finish. Think of it like making your favorite meal from scratch. You can spend all day thinking about making it, but at the end of the day, you’ll never get to enjoy the meal if you don’t start preparing it. In the same way, you have to take that first step in starting on the task in order to have a chance at completing it.

But what if I really don’t want to do it?

If you have to do something that you don’t want to do (for example, an essay on a book you aren’t interested in or a presentation on a subject you’re not good at; even something small like cleaning your room), the same principle still applies. Start. Once you build up your momentum, it will be easier for you to keep going.

Take cleaning your room, for example. Something like this would be best handled by going through sections at a time. Instead of shoving things into closets and under beds, divide the room into sections and clean up one section each day. When you get bored or get tired of going through papers, change what you’re looking at by going through a different stack instead of getting up and watching TV. If you keep it up, your room should be clean by the end of the week. (Very messy rooms could take longer, of course.) But the point is you have to start.

So how do I stay motivated when I’m dealing with a large project?

That’s been my hardest battle with procrastination too! The procrastination circle goes -motivation-rapid productivity-crash (run out of energy)-procrastinate, and it’s like that because the motivation is short-lived. As soon as you start to get tired or stop seeing immediate results, you move on to something else that will deliver you immediate results. The trick to staying motivated while working on a large project is to pace yourself. Don’t try to do it all in one stretch. Again, change what you’re looking at from time to time by switching to another area of the project to keep you from getting bored. If you get tired, take a little break, but keep it short! I’ve had “little break” turn into “hiatus” multiple times, and that can become frustrating when you’re seriously trying to get something done.

  • Encouragement
    Getting encouragement from others is definitely beneficial in maintaining a high level of motivation. Even looking over motivating quotes is a good way to keep yourself going.
  • Organization
    Being organized is almost essential to getting things done. It starts with your mind and is transferred to everything else. Get your priorities in order and write them down, along with your goals. Clean up the area in which you work and live. Being in clutter-free spaces increase productivity. Make use of organization systems, even if it’s just something simple like a folder.
  • Schedules and Routines
    Most people have a schedule they have to follow anyway, such as those at work and school. But everybody has a routine. It’s what you typically do every day after you wake up. By changing things in your routine, or developing a new routine inside your existing routine, you can add to your productivity because the motivation will come easier to you.

Procrastination may be a normal thing to deal with, but it’s not a good habit to have. Like the bad habit of biting your fingernails, it’s just something you have to break yourself of. So don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today. It’s time to stop procrastinating… NOW–not later.