When down to the wire mere hours before a holiday break, I find myself in a familiar place: that of looming work deadlines and an energized work ethic fueled by coffee and a do-or-die mentality. While I can't necessarily say that I enjoy this place, I am struck by my habitual procrastination, both the good and the bad sides of it, as well as curious about the characteristics and motivations that belie this common "bad" habit.
Business Insider shares in this curiosity, speaking with Tim Pychyl, an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University, about how and why people put off important tasks. "First, you have to recognize it's about feeling good in the short term," explains Pychyl to BI. In fact, Pychyl has found that procrastination is more about a desire to avoid negative emotions and less about poor time-management skills or a lack of motivation. In other words, procrastinators want to avoid the uncomfortable or burdensome feelings that come with an unwanted task.
Others, like Pamela Wiegartz, Ph.D., have found that procrastinators enjoy the challenge (and adrenaline rush) of putting something off until the last minute. "These active procrastinators feel in control of their time and use it purposefully. They are less avoidant, have lower stress levels, and higher self-efficacy than passive procrastinators," writes Wiegartz in Psychology Today. "So while they may put things off, unlike passive procrastinators, they are not paralyzed by worry and indecision—and they get things done."
If, however, procrastination is causing you more harm than good, the solution is simple: Start small. "The most helpful way to approach cleaning that room or writing the paper is to determine your first action," explains BI. "Pick up one sock. Open a blank Word document. This makes the task seem more real." In doing so, you turn the hypothetical into the concrete; this chore or assignment is happening in the present moment, not sometime in the future. Pychyl also recommends setting hard but small deadlines, such as At 10 a.m., I'll start picking up clothes or I'll start outlining the paper at 6:30 p.m.
How have you overcome procrastination in your life? Share your tips with us below!