Why you REALLY procrastinate

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Let's talk about procrastination. You know that thing that you're maybe doing right now?

Don't go away!

I promise this will be worth your while if you procrastinate with me just a little bit longer.

Why we procrastinate

Research shows that you are likely to procrastinate when:

  1.  The time required to complete the task is long.
  2. You're feeling especially distractible (like when you're tired, or you've got a lot on your mind and your brain keeps going to other places).
  3. The rewards for completing the task are low.

On the other hand, you're less likely to procrastinate when:

  1. The task is enjoyable.
  2. You're confident in your ability to do it well.
  3. The rewards for completing the task are high.

Sometimes when we're excited about those long term rewards, this helps to motivate us to do the things that we really know that we need to do. But at other times when we're not as confident that we'll do a good job, or when the rewards are a long way away, we end up scrolling memes on the internet for hours on end or just turning on Netflix.

At any point in time we are going to choose to do the activity that will give us the highest reward, that we can get the soonest, for the lowest amount of effort right now.

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In other words at any point in time we are going to choose to do the activity that will give us the highest reward, that we can get the soonest, for the lowest amount of effort right now.

Essentially, we procrastinate to avoid feelings like boredom and frustration when we're doing tasks that we don't find fun or that we're not so sure we can do well.

What we can do about it

Happily, even though these things might feel outside of our control, they often are within our control just by making small tweaks to how we approach our work.

We can control how distractible we are on any given day by learning how to truly focus. We can control how enjoyable a task is by bringing a different mindset to it. And we can control our self confidence in our ability to get things done.

One of my favourite tricks for beating procrastination is to break big projects down into tiny, tiny, tiny steps.

Now, I know that you have heard this advice before, but here's why it works for procrastination:

Read more

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Firstly, when you're doing just one small step, it becomes much more enjoyable because you don't have time to get bored. You're doing one small step, and then you're done. That's it. Secondly, when you break something down into small steps, you get more instant gratification, the reward happens straightaway, because you've done a small step and then you get the rush of having completed what you meant to do. And thirdly, our self confidence that we can achieve what we set out to achieve goes up when we break things down into small steps, because it's much easier to complete the small step than it is to complete a huge project.

So say for example, I was procrastinating on scheduling my social media posts for the next couple of weeks. I've got to admit, that is something I do sometimes procrastinate on. If I wanted to stop procrastinating and just move on rather than telling myself: "Okay, I have to schedule all of these posts today." I would tell myself: "I just need to schedule one post today."

Suddenly, I don't have time to get bored. That's very achievable. I get instant gratification when I complete it. And now that I've got started, it's much much easier to pick up and keep going when I next am prepared to approach this task.

So what task have you been procrastinating on, and how can you break it down into tiny steps?

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