Jan 24

Procrastination: End It–You Won’t Regret It Later

Some thoughts from experts and other thinkers on the quest to end procrastination follow.

Psychologist Timothy A. Pychyl, on his procrastination-themed blog Don’t Delay, notes the response writer Caitlin Moran once gave when asked how she accomplishes so much. Her answer: “Caffeine, alcohol, and fear.” Pychyl: “Although we might all recognize and find amusement in Caitlin’s response…it’s not a recipe for health or well-being if it’s the only route to success. The long-term costs, or the potential costs (because predicting the future is not an exact science), are too high.”

How, then, does one actually end the problem of procrastination?

One of the top-rated books on this topic is actually Pychyl’s The Procrastinator’s Digest: A Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle (2010). How can we change our tendency to put things off until an indefinite later? Use Pychyl’s test, taken from one of his posts:

The next time you put off a task until tomorrow, telling yourself tomorrow (later) is better, then simply note the next day whether you now believe that tomorrow is better.  Chances are, it’s not. If anything you may feel more guilt and pressure related to the task at hand and yet not have any more motivation to do the task.

So, if the time to act is now, how do we find the motivation? One of my favorite quotes pertinent to this topic is David Campbell‘s “Discipline is remembering what you want.” When you remember what you truly want, the doing will follow.

Oliver Burkeman points out (“This Column Will Change Your Life“) that most ending-procrastination advisors put less emphasis on the doing part and more on creating the mood for accomplishing things. “Even in the depths of serious depression, as the author Julie Fast notes, being ‘unable to get out of bed’ in the morning really means, to get technical about it, being unable to feel like getting out of bed…” 

But what if you’re unable to feel like doing whatever it is you think you want to do? And what if that’s your pattern in general? And you’re so terrible at feeling like doing things, actually, that you believe you’re beyond help? Burkeman quotes Shoma Morita, the late Japanese therapist, who basically advises: stop the excuses and self-name-calling already.

‘Give up on yourself. Begin taking action now, while being neurotic or imperfect, or a procrastinator, or unhealthy, or lazy, or any other label by which you inaccurately describe yourself. Go ahead and be the best imperfect person you can be and get started on those things you want to accomplish before you die.’

When you get a chance– and/or feel like it– let me know how this works out.

Jan 04

“The Procrastination Equation” By Piers Steel

In short, as Norcross wrote, “Successful resolvers were also found to report employing significantly more behavioral strategies and less self-blame and wishful thinking than unsuccessful resolvers.” Piers Steel, The Procrastination Equation

Resolutions are made to be broken, they say. What do we give up on? According to Goskills.com, the most common annual resolutions are the following:

  1. Exercise more
  2. Lose weight
  3. Get organized
  4. Learn a new skill or hobby
  5. Live life to the fullest
  6. Save more money / spend less money
  7. Quit smoking
  8. Spend more time with family and friends
  9. Travel more
  10. Read more

Although this year 8 and 9 may be out of reach for most of us due to COVID-19, the others will still pertain.

What’s one of the main reasons we give up, though? It’s procrastination. Oh, we meant well. We just weren’t ready for the follow-through. Which could also be why this year we had the same old resolutions as last year and the year before and….

Psychologist Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation (2010), knows a thing or two about putting things off—he apparently began early in life. But he got over it, and now he’s extensively studied the subject and has expertise of a different kind.

What do reviewers think of Steel’s book? A couple examples:

Kirkus Reviews: “Everything you ever wanted to know about procrastination but never got around to reading.”

David Pitt, Booklist: “A useful, eye-opening book. Now, if only the people who most need to read it could find the time to do so.”

They jest, of course.

What is procrastination, as defined by Steel? Irrational delay.

So, as Steel says right there in the title of the book, he has an equation, which, according to Kirkus Reviews, is Expectancy x Value / Impulsiveness x Delay = Motivation. “Simply put, the equation means that the motivation to perform a particular task declines when the expectancy or value of a task’s reward declines or when there is an increase in impulsivity or in the delay of the task’s reward.”

Or not so simply put. More simply is something like, we’re not as committed as we’d like to be, it feels hard, we want what we want now, and besides, other stuff gets in the way. (If my paraphrasing is lacking, my apologies to Steel.)

Steel believes about 95 percent of us procrastinate, though not as many do it chronically—maybe 25 percent fall into this category.

Want to take the procrastination survey developed by Steel? Go to his site, procrastinus.com. (Go right now if you really want to do get it done.) (Well, finish reading this first.) (One of our problems? Too many distractions.)

Procrastination is actually a brain thing, having to do with the limbic system overruling the prefrontal cortex. Evolution has played a part, and in today’s world, computers and TV are two of the main things that distract us a lot from the tasks at hand and thus contribute to procrastination in a big way.

For future reference, Steel reports (Psychology Today) that making a New Year’s resolution does help toward achieving wanted change. In other words, at least it’s more effective than not resolving.

What works best, then, toward keeping those resolutions next time around?

What turns out to be the most useful is a combination of ‘inside/outside’ strategies. Use your willpower, your sense of agency and choice. Focus on how this is your life and you choose how to live it. However, don’t rely on willpower exclusively; you need to change your environment as well. Try to engineer a world for yourself where you rely on your willpower as little as possible by keeping temptation at a distance and keeping reminders of why you should not give in.