Procrastination might start with a “pro,” but it definitely doesn’t end positively for those involved. It can range from mostly harmless to debilitating — and if you tend to fall on the latter, you’ll want to keep reading this article.
Chloe Lau, a clinical psychology PhD student at Western University, says procrastination can be anything that involves “making an intentional decision to delay or not complete a task or goal that you've committed yourself to … Or doing something of lesser importance, despite there being negative consequences to not following through on the original task or goal.”
The key idea is that procrastination has negative consequences. If you put off getting your car washed for five months but it doesn’t really affect anything other than your ability to smell a freshly-cleaned car, it isn’t really procrastinating.
It’s intentionally delegating to a less busy you.
Lau highlights that before you embark on your journey of self-betterment, you have to have an honest conversation with yourself.
“Before you can even make a change, you need to sort of assess whether you do need to change and also assess whether you want to change,” she explains. “For example, you might have to ask yourself, ‘How much do I want to change? Do I want to put in the effort required to make changes in my life? Do I want to start doing things differently?’”
Every year, clinical psychology students host a series of events at the London Public Library called Advocacy Through Action — making psychology and psychological findings accessible to the public.
Lau hosted an ATA event discussing procrastination where she broke it down to its sinister core with the purpose of helping others understand why they procrastinate. She explains there might be something deeper going on like negative self-judgement or anxiety.
“It could come from a variety of reasons like self doubt and [being] critical of ourselves and our abilities,” she says. “Like, what's the point if you won't succeed anyway, so [you] might as well do something you enjoy in the moment, because we have to believe in ourselves to work towards a greater goal.”
Asia Walczak, a fourth-year history student, feels some of her procrastination is related to anxiety.
“I was diagnosed recently with severe anxiety and they put me on this medication, which has been very helpful,” explains Walczak. “So before, I'd be super, super stressed about [schoolwork] to the point where my stomach would be all icky and I couldn't eat.”
Dealing with underlying issues is vital to overcoming your personal procrastination problems.
Lau typically sees two types of procrastinators: the avoider or the pseudo-productive procrastinator.
The avoider will watch television, do a face mask or kill time with absolutely any distraction they can find. A pseudo-productive procrastinator, on the other hand, is a little sneakier. They focus on smaller or easier tasks that seem productive, but in reality are still excuses not to study for the 50 per cent exam coming up in four days.
Walczak falls under the latter by getting caught up in smaller deadlines and ignoring the bigger ones looming ahead.
“I never forget a deadline — it's always constant in my head because I have one of those big wall calendars ... It's more so getting distracted or overwhelmed by the day-to-day things,” she says.
Walczak considers herself to be a pretty bad procrastinator especially when comparing herself to friends and classmates.
“It's always very tough talking to friends and other classmates or even roommates in different programs,” she says. “And they're like, ‘oh yeah, this assignment is due on Sunday’ and it's Thursday. I would probably start that Saturday.”
This self-judgement and comparison is also something that needs to be addressed if you want to change your ways.
“The important thing is to avoid negative judgments about yourself, because they aren't helpful — but to see what actions you can take to help yourself out of that situation,” Lau explains.
Lau gives a variety of techniques students can try. Many people function using a set of internal rules that are rigid and ultimately serve little purpose.
She suggests doing behavioural experiments.
“Test some of your unhelpful conclusions by conducting experiments about it. For example, we talked about the one where we might say, ‘I'm tired, I can't do work when I'm too tired,’” she says. “And maybe you can rate how tired you are on a scale of zero to 10. And then only spend five to 10 minutes doing the tasks you want to avoid. And then rate how tired you are again and see what you're able to achieve in that short time.”
Following this theme is another technique called “just five minutes.” You spend five minutes on a task and then reassess how you feel afterward.
At the end of the day, we all procrastinate. You need to be honest with yourself and decide how bad your problem is and how you want to change. If it seems overwhelming, you can always ask for help.
Most importantly, give yourself a fucking break — forgive, forget and move forward.