Procrastination

Procrastination is a major problem with a lot of people. A large number of my students wanted me to write on the subject to improve their understanding of procrastination and evolve strategies to overcome this problem. Putting off things for the future can have various reasons or a combination of reasons. It is thus a complex subject to understand. There are general procrastinators who would postpone anything and everything without any specific reason. Often there would be specific things that a person may postpone for a variety of reasons. For example my son had asked me to write on the subject and I was seeking an uninterrupted 3-4 hours of time to do so. I did not get that kind of time on Sunday and have done this work over a number of days in 40 to 60 min time slots. This is the manner in which I am able to get time in my present chosen lifestyle. I am not the usual procrastinator but this example is evidence of procrastination. Why did I wait till Sunday to start? Why I did not get on with the task as soon as I got it? Without wasting time let us get on to identifying the various reasons for procrastination and methods to stop doing so.

What is procrastination?

Procrastination is the act of unnecessarily postponing decisions or actions. The reasons can be numerous. Let us try to understand them in a systematic manner. I would request the reader to read my essays on “Motivation”, “Self-confidence”, “Delay Gratification”, “Attribution Theory” and “Will-power” from the website of No Frills Academy or the book, “The Practical Guide to Become an Officer” to understand this topic better and evolve effective strategies to overcome this complex problem.

Cycle for Completing Task or Taking Decision

To complete a task or take a decision the following is the cycle:

·       I should be adequately motivated.

·       I should have the required will-power.

·       I should have the required self-control or discipline.

·       I should not be distracted.

Since the underlying psychological reasons for procrastination can be in any of the above mentioned four aspects, grasping the root cause or causes of procrastination can often be a complex issue.

When and Why We Procrastinate?

As long as our motivation, will-power, discipline and self-control outweigh the effects of the demotivating factors we manage to get our work done timely. When the negative factors outweigh the positive ones we end up putting off our work/ decision either indefinitely, or till such time as the balance shifts in favour of taking action.

Reasons for Procrastination

General Procrastinators

People who postpone anything or everything invariably have weak will-power and discipline and may quite often be lacking a sense of purpose or focus in life. Lives of such people are controlled more by others and circumstances rather than they themselves. Such people will invariably be low achievers in life because since they do not know where to go they would not reach any significant destination. The reasons for procrastination for such people are a combination of general low motivation, low will-power and low level of discipline.

Weak/Weakened Willpower

A tired person will postpone a demanding task because he/she needs a break. A person with a weak willpower is more prone to procrastinate than a person with strong willpower.

Self-Confidence

A confident person is less prone to procrastination than a person with lower self-confidence because the former believes his/her ability to attain the goal while a diffident person does not do so. This issue is complex. I will explain this with an example. The protagonist in “3 Idiots” was very confident in handling academic issues and most other issues with alacrity but procrastinated in communicating his feelings to the girl he liked. His professional self-efficacy was high but his social efficacy was not so.

Self-Control/Discipline

A person with a high level of discipline and self-control will be less susceptible to procrastination. A person with greater “inner locus of control” will be less susceptible to procrastinate than a person with greater “external locus of control”. The person with higher inner locus of control feels that he/she is responsible for almost all the outcomes in his/her life rather than external factors, while a person with a greater external locus of control feels that external factors play a more significant role in the outcomes of his/her life. An example to illustrate the difference: Persons A & B grow up in exactly the same environment. A has a greater external locus of control while B has a greater inner locus of control. A attributes his poor command over English and understanding of Math to the environment at home and the school teacher, while B is competent at both because he decided that he is responsible to teach himself English and learn Math and was not waiting for the external conditions to become ideal. While A kept procrastinating in his daily efforts, B took charge of his life and in due course moved way ahead.

Specific Reasons for Procrastination

Problem of Motivation

Lack of motivation or demotivating factors can cause us to put off things. Let us enumerate them:

·       Lack of Purpose. The purpose of doing a task may not be energizing enough. Unfortunately most of the current generation students are not energized by the goal of acquiring the knowledge which they should have gained through 3-4 years of graduation. The goal of graduation was perceived as acquisition of degree, marks, satisfying the parents or rebelling against the parents and so on, which are all extrinsic goals and weak motivators. Remember what the protagonist in the popular movie, “3 Idiots” said was his motivation to study engineering: “love for machines and knowledge.”  80 percent of students struggle through graduation without enjoying the joy of learning and fail to gain the desired knowledge because of lack of motivation or weak motivation and hazy goals.

·       Intrinsic and Altruistic Motivation. When I am writing this essay I feel that the research and thinking that I do will clarify my mind on the subject better (intrinsic motivation) and it will also help my students (altruistic motive). This is a strong motivating force. If I would feel that writing this essay will neither improve my knowledge nor would it be beneficial to my students then my motivation would be weak and chances of procrastination high.

·       Laziness. A person may not do a task primarily due to laziness. Often we feel that the reason for procrastination is motivation but sometimes a person who is motivated enough may not be able to do so timely. I will explain with an example: In NDA our Boxing competition was held after about two months of the commencement of the summer term which began after a 3 week term break. Almost all the Boxers did not train for it till the summer term started. I started my training from the second day of the commencement of the term break and gained an edge over my opponents.

·       Disconnect with Future. When a person has taken a membership of a gym from the first of next month and today is the 20th, then he/she is quite likely to not exercise at all for the coming ten days because the plan of starting to exercise from the next month is comforting. If the person had begun exercising at home from the 20th onward then he/she would have definitely been better off.

·       Fear of Failure. When we do not believe that we can attain the desired goal we procrastinate. Our inner thoughts go somewhat like this: “I do not believe that I can clear the competitive exam. I also do not want to accept the reality that I was not competent enough”. Hence I do not work hard enough and waste time so that I can blame paucity of time, lack of effort and numerous other reasons for my failure.

·       Abstract Goals. When goals are unclearly defined they are weak motivators. I should have good English or be able to run fast are goals which will not be strong motivators and cause us to procrastinate. Goals like, being able to address a group for ten minutes without fumbling or using any notes in English or be able to run 400 m in 55 sec are much clearer goals and will energise us better and reduce procrastination. Remember how Milkha Singh had kept the 400 m world record as a target to beat. Note as to how it is easier for the follower to catch the leader but difficult for the leader to continue to lead, because the follower has a clear goal while the leader does not have such a clear goal.

·       Distant Reward. When students join the first year of engineering college they feel that there is time to enjoy and the exam is quite some time away. Moreover, the syllabus is more or less what had already been studied in 12th. The distant reward is a weak motivator. Just recollect as to how good a motivator the impending exam of next morning is in the evening.

·       Distant Punishment. Punishment can be a big or bigger motivator than reward. Example: A large number of Infantry officers push themselves to complete the Commando Course because they know that if they fail they will have to repeat the course (punishment). A large number of criminals are not deterred from committing crime in India because they know that they will be able to evade punishment for long. Thus these criminals have little incentive or pressure to mend their ways and they continue with their behaviour (procrastinate).

·       Possibility of Future Options. You were about to join a gym located six km away when a friend informed you that next month a great gym would open 400 m from where you stay. Upon hearing this possibility you may postpone the decision to start exercising to the next month. There could be several such reasons due to which people procrastinate actions.

·       Optimism about Future. I took about three months to prepare for an important competitive exam which normally people take seven months to one year to clear. This success may tempt me to waste six-seven months even if I had one year to prepare. I would, however, do no such thing, but know that most units in the Indian Army prepare for inspection, not throughout the year but in the last one month.

·       Indecisiveness. A person might delay starting a diet, because he cannot decide which diet plan to follow. Similarly, a person might delay getting started on his research paper, because he cannot decide which topic to write about.

§  Large Number of Options. The greater the number of decision options a person has the greater is the reason to procrastinate.

§  Similarity of Options. The greater the similarity in the options available the greater are the reasons to procrastinate.

§  Importance of Decision. The greater the importance of a decision to our lives, greater are the chances of delaying the decision.

§  Depletion of Decisiveness. For a person prone to indecision, having taken a decision after considerable deliberation, taking another decision would be even more time consuming because the energy for taking decisions has been depleted. Decisional procrastination is considered as different from behavioural procrastination.

·       Feeling Overwhelmed. A person may feel overwhelmed by a single task that is complex or a number of small tasks that add up. The second Covid wave has overwhelmed the Indian government and it is not taking any action. The guilt of having taken several bad policy decisions in the past would also be contributing to the feeling (fear of failure). Sometimes a simple domestic task of cleaning the home can overwhelm a person because of the various aspects involved and thus lead to procrastination.

·       Anxiety. A person may avoid checking his bill or weight even though the avoidance will not make the problem go away because of the anxiety the knowledge will cause.

·       Task Aversion. In college you sometimes avoided discussing some important issue with a nasty teacher and you tended to put off the issue. Some of us delay disclosing our college result to our father due to obvious reasons.

·       Perfectionism. Fear of making a mistake or criticism makes people procrastinate. I may keep delaying writing a blog on a subject because of such reasons.

·       Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). A person with ADHD cannot focus on one task for long and hence would not be able to finish it.

·       Depression. A person suffering from depression lacks the energy, motivation and ability to focus well on the task to be done as a result he/she tends to postpone the task.

·       Focus on Urgent and Important Issues. Procrastinators focus on urgent and important issues but neglect important but not urgent issues. For example I know of so many of the Defence Services officers who focus on reducing their weight and getting fit only two months prior to their annual medical examination. If they had maintained their weight and fitness throughout the year then they would have been better off but they procrastinated till such time as the issue became urgent.

·       Impulsivity. An impulsive person might end up procrastinating on an assignment that he is currently working on, by suddenly deciding to go out with friends, even though the assignment is due soon and he needs to work on it.

·       Distractibility. Distractibility is the inability to focus attention on one thing at a time or to stay focused for long in general.  It renders a person prone to procrastination. For example, a person who is studying for a test might end up procrastinating because he is constantly distracted by the notifications on his phone. Similarly, someone might delay finishing various projects he started working on, because he keeps getting distracted by ideas for exciting new projects or other thoughts.

·       Rebellion. Sometimes people procrastinate as an act of rebellion, generally against an authority by postponing a task that they resent having been given. For example, an office worker might procrastinate on an assignment that he got, because he dislikes his boss, and the fact that his boss sets his deadlines for him.

How to Stop Procrastination?

Understanding and acceptance of a problem is the first step in the resolution of the problem. After reading the above the reader should be able to identify as to the reason/reasons for procrastination. It becomes difficult for any person to start improving intangible qualities like motivation, self-confidence, self-control, discipline and will-power. The intangible qualities will get improved when we start working on things which are quite tangible and apparently easy to achieve.

Establish Significant, Concrete Goals 

We should establish significant and concrete goals. Examples of concrete goals have been discussed above. These goals provide good motivation to work towards. The goals should be valuable and appear achievable to provide adequate motivation. In case the goals appear to be overwhelming then it would be better to break them down into smaller parts.

Daily Action Plan

We should create a daily action plan to accomplish our significant measurable goals. It may happen that we are not able to accomplish the goals set for the day. Please do not get demoralised and give up the plan. For the next day either push yourself to achieve all the goals and if the goals were too tough to attain then reduce the degree or quantity of the goals. Once you achieve them, then reward yourself with a break or whatever else that you like.

Weekly Action Plan

Once we are in a position to accomplish over 90 percent of our goals for the day, it is time to evolve a weekly plan to accomplish goals. Please keep it flexible as also keep reasonable breaks and almost one day as totally free to cater for unforeseen events.

Monthly/Longer Action Plan

Once we are in a position to follow a daily/ weekly action plan well, we are in a good position to establish monthly or longer term goals.

Resolution of Miscellaneous Problems of Procrastination.

Once we are in a position to consistently accomplish our daily/weekly/monthly targets, our actions improve our will-power, self-control and discipline and reduces our tendency to get distracted from our goals. This improves our self-confidence as well. Thus we become a more competent person.

Reference: Why People Procrastinate: The Psychology and Causes of Procrastination – Solving Procrastination

What is procrastination?

Procrastination is the act of unnecessarily postponing decisions or actions. The reasons can be numerous. Let us try to understand them in a systematic manner. I would request the reader to read my essays on “Motivation”, “Self-confidence”, “Delay Gratification”, “Attribution Theory” and “Will-power” from the website of No Frills Academy or the book, “The Practical Guide to Become an Officer” to understand this topic better and evolve effective strategies to overcome this complex problem.

Cycle for Completing Task or Taking Decision

To complete a task or take a decision the following is the cycle:

·       I should be adequately motivated.

·       I should have the required will-power.

·       I should have the required self-control or discipline.

·       I should not be distracted.

Since the underlying psychological reasons for procrastination can be in any of the above mentioned four aspects, grasping the root cause or causes of procrastination can often be a complex issue.

When and Why We Procrastinate?

As long as our motivation, will-power, discipline and self-control outweigh the effects of the demotivating factors we manage to get our work done timely. When the negative factors outweigh the positive ones we end up putting off our work/ decision either indefinitely, or till such time as the balance shifts in favour of taking action.

Reasons for Procrastination

General Procrastinators

People who postpone anything or everything invariably have weak will-power and discipline and may quite often be lacking a sense of purpose or focus in life. Lives of such people are controlled more by others and circumstances rather than they themselves. Such people will invariably be low achievers in life because since they do not know where to go they would not reach any significant destination. The reasons for procrastination for such people are a combination of general low motivation, low will-power and low level of discipline.

Weak/Weakened Willpower

A tired person will postpone a demanding task because he/she needs a break. A person with a weak willpower is more prone to procrastinate than a person with strong willpower.

Self-Confidence

A confident person is less prone to procrastination than a person with lower self-confidence because the former believes his/her ability to attain the goal while a diffident person does not do so. This issue is complex. I will explain this with an example. The protagonist in “3 Idiots” was very confident in handling academic issues and most other issues with alacrity but procrastinated in communicating his feelings to the girl he liked. His professional self-efficacy was high but his social efficacy was not so.

Self-Control/Discipline

A person with a high level of discipline and self-control will be less susceptible to procrastination. A person with greater “inner locus of control” will be less susceptible to procrastinate than a person with greater “external locus of control”. The person with higher inner locus of control feels that he/she is responsible for almost all the outcomes in his/her life rather than external factors, while a person with a greater external locus of control feels that external factors play a more significant role in the outcomes of his/her life. An example to illustrate the difference: Persons A & B grow up in exactly the same environment. A has a greater external locus of control while B has a greater inner locus of control. A attributes his poor command over English and understanding of Math to the environment at home and the school teacher, while B is competent at both because he decided that he is responsible to teach himself English and learn Math and was not waiting for the external conditions to become ideal. While A kept procrastinating in his daily efforts, B took charge of his life and in due course moved way ahead.

Specific Reasons for Procrastination

Problem of Motivation

Lack of motivation or demotivating factors can cause us to put off things. Let us enumerate them:

·       Lack of Purpose. The purpose of doing a task may not be energizing enough. Unfortunately most of the current generation students are not energized by the goal of acquiring the knowledge which they should have gained through 3-4 years of graduation. The goal of graduation was perceived as acquisition of degree, marks, satisfying the parents or rebelling against the parents and so on, which are all extrinsic goals and weak motivators. Remember what the protagonist in the popular movie, “3 Idiots” said was his motivation to study engineering: “love for machines and knowledge.”  80 percent of students struggle through graduation without enjoying the joy of learning and fail to gain the desired knowledge because of lack of motivation or weak motivation and hazy goals.

·       Intrinsic and Altruistic Motivation. When I am writing this essay I feel that the research and thinking that I do will clarify my mind on the subject better (intrinsic motivation) and it will also help my students (altruistic motive). This is a strong motivating force. If I would feel that writing this essay will neither improve my knowledge nor would it be beneficial to my students then my motivation would be weak and chances of procrastination high.

·       Laziness. A person may not do a task primarily due to laziness. Often we feel that the reason for procrastination is motivation but sometimes a person who is motivated enough may not be able to do so timely. I will explain with an example: In NDA our Boxing competition was held after about two months of the commencement of the summer term which began after a 3 week term break. Almost all the Boxers did not train for it till the summer term started. I started my training from the second day of the commencement of the term break and gained an edge over my opponents.

·       Disconnect with Future. When a person has taken a membership of a gym from the first of next month and today is the 20th, then he/she is quite likely to not exercise at all for the coming ten days because the plan of starting to exercise from the next month is comforting. If the person had begun exercising at home from the 20th onward then he/she would have definitely been better off.

·       Fear of Failure. When we do not believe that we can attain the desired goal we procrastinate. Our inner thoughts go somewhat like this: “I do not believe that I can clear the competitive exam. I also do not want to accept the reality that I was not competent enough”. Hence I do not work hard enough and waste time so that I can blame paucity of time, lack of effort and numerous other reasons for my failure.

·       Abstract Goals. When goals are unclearly defined they are weak motivators. I should have good English or be able to run fast are goals which will not be strong motivators and cause us to procrastinate. Goals like, being able to address a group for ten minutes without fumbling or using any notes in English or be able to run 400 m in 55 sec are much clearer goals and will energise us better and reduce procrastination. Remember how Milkha Singh had kept the 400 m world record as a target to beat. Note as to how it is easier for the follower to catch the leader but difficult for the leader to continue to lead, because the follower has a clear goal while the leader does not have such a clear goal.

·       Distant Reward. When students join the first year of engineering college they feel that there is time to enjoy and the exam is quite some time away. Moreover, the syllabus is more or less what had already been studied in 12th. The distant reward is a weak motivator. Just recollect as to how good a motivator the impending exam of next morning is in the evening.

·       Distant Punishment. Punishment can be a big or bigger motivator than reward. Example: A large number of Infantry officers push themselves to complete the Commando Course because they know that if they fail they will have to repeat the course (punishment). A large number of criminals are not deterred from committing crime in India because they know that they will be able to evade punishment for long. Thus these criminals have little incentive or pressure to mend their ways and they continue with their behaviour (procrastinate).

·       Possibility of Future Options. You were about to join a gym located six km away when a friend informed you that next month a great gym would open 400 m from where you stay. Upon hearing this possibility you may postpone the decision to start exercising to the next month. There could be several such reasons due to which people procrastinate actions.

·       Optimism about Future. I took about three months to prepare for an important competitive exam which normally people take seven months to one year to clear. This success may tempt me to waste six-seven months even if I had one year to prepare. I would, however, do no such thing, but know that most units in the Indian Army prepare for inspection, not throughout the year but in the last one month.

·       Indecisiveness. A person might delay starting a diet, because he cannot decide which diet plan to follow. Similarly, a person might delay getting started on his research paper, because he cannot decide which topic to write about.

§  Large Number of Options. The greater the number of decision options a person has the greater is the reason to procrastinate.

§  Similarity of Options. The greater the similarity in the options available the greater are the reasons to procrastinate.

§  Importance of Decision. The greater the importance of a decision to our lives, greater are the chances of delaying the decision.

§  Depletion of Decisiveness. For a person prone to indecision, having taken a decision after considerable deliberation, taking another decision would be even more time consuming because the energy for taking decisions has been depleted. Decisional procrastination is considered as different from behavioural procrastination.

·       Feeling Overwhelmed. A person may feel overwhelmed by a single task that is complex or a number of small tasks that add up. The second Covid wave has overwhelmed the Indian government and it is not taking any action. The guilt of having taken several bad policy decisions in the past would also be contributing to the feeling (fear of failure). Sometimes a simple domestic task of cleaning the home can overwhelm a person because of the various aspects involved and thus lead to procrastination.

·       Anxiety. A person may avoid checking his bill or weight even though the avoidance will not make the problem go away because of the anxiety the knowledge will cause.

·       Task Aversion. In college you sometimes avoided discussing some important issue with a nasty teacher and you tended to put off the issue. Some of us delay disclosing our college result to our father due to obvious reasons.

·       Perfectionism. Fear of making a mistake or criticism makes people procrastinate. I may keep delaying writing a blog on a subject because of such reasons.

·       Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). A person with ADHD cannot focus on one task for long and hence would not be able to finish it.

·       Depression. A person suffering from depression lacks the energy, motivation and ability to focus well on the task to be done as a result he/she tends to postpone the task.

·       Focus on Urgent and Important Issues. Procrastinators focus on urgent and important issues but neglect important but not urgent issues. For example I know of so many of the Defence Services officers who focus on reducing their weight and getting fit only two months prior to their annual medical examination. If they had maintained their weight and fitness throughout the year then they would have been better off but they procrastinated till such time as the issue became urgent.

·       Impulsivity. An impulsive person might end up procrastinating on an assignment that he is currently working on, by suddenly deciding to go out with friends, even though the assignment is due soon and he needs to work on it.

·       Distractibility. Distractibility is the inability to focus attention on one thing at a time or to stay focused for long in general.  It renders a person prone to procrastination. For example, a person who is studying for a test might end up procrastinating because he is constantly distracted by the notifications on his phone. Similarly, someone might delay finishing various projects he started working on, because he keeps getting distracted by ideas for exciting new projects or other thoughts.

·       Rebellion. Sometimes people procrastinate as an act of rebellion, generally against an authority by postponing a task that they resent having been given. For example, an office worker might procrastinate on an assignment that he got, because he dislikes his boss, and the fact that his boss sets his deadlines for him.

How to Stop Procrastination?

Understanding and acceptance of a problem is the first step in the resolution of the problem. After reading the above the reader should be able to identify as to the reason/reasons for procrastination. It becomes difficult for any person to start improving intangible qualities like motivation, self-confidence, self-control, discipline and will-power. The intangible qualities will get improved when we start working on things which are quite tangible and apparently easy to achieve.

Establish Significant, Concrete Goals 

We should establish significant and concrete goals. Examples of concrete goals have been discussed above. These goals provide good motivation to work towards. The goals should be valuable and appear achievable to provide adequate motivation. In case the goals appear to be overwhelming then it would be better to break them down into smaller parts.

Daily Action Plan

We should create a daily action plan to accomplish our significant measurable goals. It may happen that we are not able to accomplish the goals set for the day. Please do not get demoralised and give up the plan. For the next day either push yourself to achieve all the goals and if the goals were too tough to attain then reduce the degree or quantity of the goals. Once you achieve them, then reward yourself with a break or whatever else that you like.

Weekly Action Plan

Once we are in a position to accomplish over 90 percent of our goals for the day, it is time to evolve a weekly plan to accomplish goals. Please keep it flexible as also keep reasonable breaks and almost one day as totally free to cater for unforeseen events.

Monthly/Longer Action Plan

Once we are in a position to follow a daily/ weekly action plan well, we are in a good position to establish monthly or longer term goals.

Resolution of Miscellaneous Problems of Procrastination.

Once we are in a position to consistently accomplish our daily/weekly/monthly targets, our actions improve our will-power, self-control and discipline and reduces our tendency to get distracted from our goals. This improves our self-confidence as well. Thus we become a more competent person.

Reference: Why People Procrastinate: The Psychology and Causes of Procrastination – Solving Procrastination

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment