Say no to procrastination!
I hereby issue a call to arms…
To defeat this silent but deadly dream killer.
We know well what it is, but many of us seem completely powerless to prevent it.
Why is that?
Laziness, stress and sub-standard work
Growing up, I was a master procrastinator, deferring what could easily have been done on the day to an unspecified future date.
In reality, it was normally on the train ride to school pre-deadline.
Many a rushed essay amendment and exam revision occurred in that locomotive; mad, panicked scrambles to complete work I’d had plenty of time to prepare.
Likewise, late-night printing sessions are potent memories, where I (and my mother) was one paper jam away from ruin.
On reflection, these almost seem like nostalgic moments, a procrastinator’s right of passage.
But in the reality, I know they involved extreme stress and likely sub-standard work.
Even now, years later I feel the same familiar tug to delay what I could do today until tomorrow, and despite my best intentions, including writing articles on the topic, I sometimes succumb to the siren call of laziness and sloth.
Why do I procrastinate?
So what are the causes of procrastination?
Well, the phenomenon is deeply entwined in our relationship to time.
Those biased towards comfort in the present may well delay the immediate pain of taking action.
In this article, Tynan talks about time horizons and an old girlfriend who hoarded her money, subconsciously optimising her life for a day which would never come.
This is much like the procrastinator, who would likely push back their responsibilities into eternity if it weren’t for externally imposed deadlines demanding attention.
This altered relationship to time has far-reaching effects, influencing our ability to action habits which yield a happy and fulfilling life.
Doing something right now is uncomfortable, after all.
Take exercise, for example.
We all know that a daily workout would improve our physical health and overall enjoyment of life.
But the benefits can only be experienced after months of daily discipline.
And we’re generally only willing to endure such discomfort if the benefits meet certain criteria.
In this way, the reward system itself dictates our willingness to take advanced action.
There are three main influencing factors:
- The duration we must wait for the reward – the further in the future, the less tangible the benefits, increasing the likelihood of inaction
- The certainty of the reward – a reward devoid of a guarantee loses significant present-moment motivation
- The clarity of the reward – we like well-defined, easily visualised benefits
- An uninspiring reward – if the eventual outcome doesn’t elicit desire, our ability to endure discomfort today is largely diminished
If the benefits for starting sooner don’t satisfy the conditions above, we require more activation energy to conquer our natural prediliction for procrastination.
And so what happens?
We pick the path of least resistance and choose a reward within easy reach.
In other words, procrastinating on our new exercise routine to stay in a warm in bed for another hour.
This phenomenon has become so prevalent that we label it instant gratification.
In a world made ever-more comfortable by design, where we can sit in our pants and order our wildest desires for next-day delivery, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to prevent procrastination and counter the urge for instant satisfaction.
So how do we do it?
How to say no to procrastination
If we’re largely influenced by impending rewards, there are a couple of potential enhancements to reduce procrastination and although it’s not my favourite, the first is to simply reverse engineer its triggers.
- An uninspiring reward? For me, this might be doing my taxes – no real reward there. To fight off procrastination, I must imagine my inevitable relief after completing the task for another year.
- Adding clarity to the reward – where an outcome is uncertain, you must uncover a new approach. Take my writing, for example. I have no idea how many people will encounter this article on our infinite digital ocean. However, supposing that even one person somehow stumbles across these pixels and finds them helpful, I add fuel to the fire
- The clarity of the reward – making your reward feel more concrete is key. Postulating over the potential benefits of taking action, whether through visualisation or journaling, will infuse your current actions with inspiration.
As I said above, utilising reward-based mind-trickery is just one weapon in your arsenal to say no to procrastination, but it’s not my preferred means of attack.
The trick to taking concerted, sustainable action lies in shifting our experience of rewards from the result to process, allowing us not only endure discomfort, but actually enjoy it!
Like most things in life, it means developing the kind of autotelic personality where you set aside outcomes entirely and rather do things for their own sake.
If you really want to say no to procrastination, this is an essential mindset shift.
It’s a simple concept to understand, but not easy to embody, requiring a level of attentiveness and presence which can only be developed through practice.
Ultimately, if you can find joy in the most mundane activities, from washing the dishes to paying the bills, there’s no longer any reason to procrastinate.
The core revelation here is that all activities, at their essence, are created equal.
It’s only our mind-made aspersions which classify some as hard and others as boring, tainting our relationship to whatever we seek to accomplish in the present.
By paying close enough attention to our reactions, we can see these illusions for what they are and instead, explore the activity with a renewed sense of curiosity.
Not only does this fundamental shift in approach allow us to say no to procrastination, but also redefines our entire relationship with this little jig called life.