• Anna Dallavalle

Why do we put things off?

Hamlet may well be one of the most famous procrastinators in history but he is certainly not the only one! All of us put things off at times but procrastination is always frustrating because ultimately it results in lost opportunities and generally feeling bad about yourself. We tend to put off things we do not want to do: difficult conversations, challenging tasks or simply things we do not like to do.

Why do we procrastinate? Wanting to avoid pain makes lots of people shift into procrastination mode. However, the longer we delay, the worse the uncomfortable problem usually becomes. Some people strive for perfection and, as a result, a project will never be good enough to declare complete and deadlines are likely to be missed. Fear of failure and self-doubt are also reasons why some of us put thing off. We miss out on opportunities which could show us that we are worth more than we think and where we could learn new skills.

If procrastination is overall only producing negative outcomes why don’t we just change our behaviour? The reason is that procrastination reinforces itself. For most of us it is harder to start change than to keep it going. We avoid getting started by cleverly diverting our attention from the things we really should be doing and do something else instead or tell ourselves why now it’s not a good time to do what we know we should be doing.

How do we stop procrastinating? Becoming aware of how we procrastinate is normally a good place to start. Below are some useful strategies:

  • Set specific goals – make them specific, measurable and achievable.

  • Prioritise – write down all the things you need to do and place them in order of importance with the most urgent at the top.

  • Break daunting tasks down into manageable chunks – at times a project may appear overwhelming. By subdividing it into smaller parts you can achieve a sense of accomplishment without feeling overwhelmed.

  • Schedule a small amount of time – tell yourself you will only spend ten minutes on the task right now. After that, choose whether to continue for ten more minutes.

  • Ward off self-defeating thoughts – telling yourself that you are going to do a poor job can seriously undermine your ability to function. Keep the focus on the present moment and the positive steps you can take towards accomplishing your goals.

  • Reward yourself! Once you complete a task, be sure to acknowledge what you have achieved. Positive reinforcement is a very effective way to motivate yourself.