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Health and Wellbeing

05 Jun 2018

Procrastination – why do we do it?

How many of us have put off meetings, booking appointments and engaging in important activities in favour of something that seems much less important – and yet we keep repeating this cycle?

Before I go into the reasons, I want to say: you are NOT being unproductive, you are NOT lazy, and you are like many of us who engage in some form of procrastinate on a daily basis.

The brain and procrastination

To understand procrastination, we must first understand the two parts of our brain that are constantly at odds with each other: The limbic system, which doesn’t like when we engage in complex tasks that have no short-term reward, and our prefrontal cortex, which is constantly thinking about what’s best for long-term gain.

Our limbic system pulls us away from something complex with long-term benefits, toward something more emotionally rewarding with short-term benefits while our prefrontal cortex wants us to engage in tasks that have long-term reward. The result? You procrastinate and put off something complex, in favour of something with long-term benefits!

Using procrastination to our advantage

Next time you find yourself procrastinating, ask yourself the following questions to see where the procrastination is really coming from:

1.What are the long-term benefits of the task I’m putting off?

2. Can I do without those benefits?

3. Can I achieve the same benefits through some other task?

4. Can I replace those benefits with equally-valued benefits that are achieved some other way? And;

5. Can I delegate or outsource the activity and receive the same benefits?

If you answered yes to any of 2-5, consider eliminating the task from your life and getting the benefits some other way.

Use these questions to your advantage – stop wasting time on tasks that are not meaningful or beneficial and do what truly matters!

Now, procrastination is not always a bad thing: taking time to collect your thoughts/or scheduling something later because you will have prepared better is a good thing.

Knowing that putting something off will lead to a negative result and doing it anyway? That’s a no-no, so keep reading to help manage your daily procrastination habits.

Tips to manage procrastination on a daily basis

Instead of browsing aimlessly through Instagram/Facebook/YouTube, watch your favourite really funny video.

Research shows that the best breaks are “easy to engage and disengage from” so giving yourself free-reign to browse social media is a recipe for a long unproductive browse-session.

Humour, however, has been shown to increase feel good hormones and productivity. So, watch a single funny video and return to your task.

Start your day with the hardest tasks.

Make yourself a plan in the morning and pick the hardest task first. Most people have the greatest mental energy in the morning. Do not spend your precious morning hours on emails – do tasks that really require cognitive energy.

Instead of eating at your desk, take a real lunch.

How many of us are actually productive when typing with one hand and are eating with the other? In fact, eating at your desk has been found to drain you of energy and decrease productivity. So, take a few minutes to recharge away from your desk. Breathe, observe your surroundings and eat mindfully without looking at a screen. This can also be a great way to reward yourself for the hard work you have done!

Instead of watching TV, take a nap.

On the weekend. If you’re looking to really zone out, you might be tempted to in front of a screen. Screens are stimulating for the brain, and thus do not provide your brain with calm and relaxation. Get the same mental check-out with a quick nap. Don’t snooze for more than 30 minutes, and you’ll wake up feeling refreshed.

Still procrastinating?

Find out why. Are you experiencing anxiety, low mood or fear when thinking about engaging in the task you are procrastinating? Are you concerned about the tasks impact on your relationships, your reputation or your physical body/mental health? Consider speaking to someone you trust about this, as there is likely something deeper going on.

Rajna Bogdanovic 

Clinical Psychologist

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