Procrastination- A Bane to your Batman
I don’t catch your drift and I don’t catch your plan
Need to get my thoughts down but it’s getting late
Need to get up now, get my feet on the ground
But the show is so unprepared now
– “Procrastination” by Amy Winehouse
Procrastination is defined as “the practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference to more urgent ones, or doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones, and thus putting off impending tasks to a later time, before the deadline”. In simpler words, despite spending all that time in the shower deciding how to plan for your presentation at work tomorrow, when you walk out of the bathroom door, you remember that the new episode of Game of Thrones is out and you run to your laptop to download it.
(Image sourced from http://people.ucalgary.ca/~steel/procrastinus/images/flowchart.jpg)
The word procrastination comes from the Latin pro, which means “forward, forth, in favor of,” and crastinus, which means “of tomorrow.” So procrastinators are in favor of tomorrow. We have all procrastinated at some point in time, and researchers suggest that the problem is particularly pronounced among students. An estimated 25-75% of college students procrastinate on academic work. A 1997 survey found that procrastination was one of the top reasons why Ph.D. candidates failed to complete their dissertations.
According to Ferrari, Johnson, and McCown, there are some major cognitive distortions that lead to academic procrastination. Students tend to:
- Overestimate how much time they have left to perform tasks
- Overestimate how motivated they will be in the future
- Underestimate how long certain activities will take to complete
- Mistakenly assume that they need to be in the right frame of mind to work on a project
The Temporal Motivation Theory given by Piers Steel and Cornelius J. Konig states that time acts as an important motivational factor where “the perceived utility of a given activity increases exponentially as the deadline nears.” The theory states an individual’s motivation for a task can be derived with the following formula:
Motivation= Expectancy * Value of the task
1 + Impulsiveness * Delay
Where Motivation is the desire for a particular outcome, Expectancy is the probability of success, Value is the reward associated with the outcome, Impulsiveness is the individual’s sensitivity to delay and Delay is the time to realization. For example, consider that Batman is asked to repair one of Mr. Fox’s creations within a month. He is faced with two options- fight crime or fix the machine. Bruce Wayne enjoys his outdoor activities more but this machine could release electromagnetic waves that repel bullets, and hence help the Gotham police force. The reward of the machine is not immediate in the beginning of that month and the motivation to fix it is lower than the motivation to fight crime. However, as the month goes by from several weeks to several days, the motivation to examine the machine will surpass the motivation to encounter criminals.
Also, Procrastination is about 50% genetically influenced, so we can actually blame our parents if we got a low grade on that Maths assignment.
In addition to the reasons why we procrastinate, we often come up with a number of excuses to justify our behavior illustrated by Tuckman, Abry, and Smith as:
- Not knowing what needs to be done
- Not knowing how to do something
- Not wanting to do something
- Not caring if it gets done or not
- Not caring when something gets done
- Not feeling in the mood to do it
- Being in the habit of waiting until the last minute
- Believing that you work better under pressure
- Thinking that you can finish it at the last minute
- Lacking the initiative to get started
- Blaming sickness or poor health
- Waiting for the right moment
- Needing time to think about the task
- Delaying one task in favor of working on another
How to fight Bane
Procrastination can have a serious impact in many life areas, including one’s mental health. In a 2007 study, researchers found that at the beginning of the semester, students who were procrastinators reported less illness and lower stress levels than non-procrastinators. This changed dramatically by the end of the term, when procrastinators reported higher levels of stress and illness. Also, procrastination can harm your social relationships. By putting things off, you are placing a burden on the people around you. If you habitually turn in projects late or dawdle until the last minute, the people who depend on you such as your friends, family, co-workers, and fellow students can become resentful.
So here are a few ways to control procrastination:
- Admit you are procrastinating- Admission to guilt is the first step to recovery. Sit down and try to examine why you are delaying your work on a particular task.
- Create a To Do list- List your tasks for the day and divide them into simpler tasks if possible. Then, as you work through the day check off each of the items on your list. You will feel a growing sense of pride as you visually monitor your diminishing list of projects.
- Make up your own rewards- For example, promise yourself a piece of chocolate at lunchtime if you’ve completed a certain task.
- Ask someone else to check up on you- Peer pressure actually benefits here. In fact, you and your friends can check up on each other and help each other finish tasks.
- Identify the unpleasant consequences of not doing the task- When you feel the laziness gaining on you, breathe deeply and think of the negative impact of a potential delay. You will get yelled at, you will face possible extra wok which in turn will cut down on your leisure activities and on your time with friends and cause further stress. Avoid this vicious circle.
- Give yourself breaks- If you can’t seem to focus and are working half-heartedly at your tasks, give yourself a brief break. Set a timer for ten minutes and do whatever it is you’ve been daydreaming about so that the temptation is removed once you get back to work. Just be sure to follow through with your deadline rather than ignoring it when you alarm finally goes off.
Subsequently when you finally sit down after you are done with your tasks for the day, you can relax with a cup of coffee and listen to a different song this time.
It’s a very simple place
You can do what the birdies can
At least it’s worth a try
You can fly! You can fly!
You can fly! You can fly!
– “You Can Fly”, Peter Pan
Sometimes procrastination over a long period of time may be a sign of unhappiness in what you are doing. And in these situations, even the best time management tools may not help. If you are struggling with procrastination, consider talking it over with a trained professional who can help you get to the root of the problem.