We’ve all done it in some area of our lives or another. You know you need to get “it” done, you watch your time running out, you feel your stress build, and still...you don’t get “it” done. Not until the absolute last minute (if then).
Procrastinating is no stranger. But should you try to make it one?
I recently wrote about “Good Stress” versus “Bad Stress,” and I think of the procrastination issue like a cousin to that topic. It’s a universal phenomenon but a divisive issue, meaning almost everyone has an opinion on whether it’s “good” or “bad” for them personally.
Scientists have their own take. In what’s come to be considered a seminal article on the topic, a 1984 study from the University of Vermont’s Laura J. Solomon and Esther D. Rothblum defined it as “Procrastination, the act of needlessly delaying tasks to the point of experiencing subjective discomfort.” More recently, a 2016 German study of over 2,500 men and women of various ages found a few interesting things:
- “men procrastinate more than women”
- “procrastination was highest in the youngest cohort (14–29 years)”
- “employees in jobs with lower intrinsic value (e.g. recognition) and more restraints procrastinate more”
- “procrastinators tended to be single and less well educated”
- “people with the tendency to procrastinate seem to be less integrated in their social and professional lives (e.g. living more often without partner, unemployed, etc.)
But ultimately, all these studies noted that there is no objective, quantitative measure of what procrastination is and how it affects us humans.
Procrastination has been linked to “increased levels of stress, anxiety, depression and poor academic performance; lower income...shorter duration of employment and more unemployment;” and even “a risk factor for poor physical and mental well-being.” Have you ever put off going to the doctor, for example?
In spite of studies like these that point to the adverse effects of procrastination, still...we do it!
The Procrastination Loop
A yoga student of mine has a term: “when-itis.” She’s diagnosed herself (and most of the population) with this made up but very on-point disorder.
It goes like this: “When X changes at work, I’ll have more time,” or “when we’re on vacation we’ll get along better.” “When the kids move out of the house...when it’s summer...when it’s winter...when I make more money…” It keeps going and going. You know the drill?
All this is a form of procrastination. Pushing off—as that seminal article put it, “needlessly delaying”—your goal for some reason x, y, or z. The thing is, there will always be a reason. There will always be a “when” and there will always be other things on your to-do list that you could do first.
This procrastination loop can be like a black hole that feels nearly impossible to extract yourself from. It may even be genetic; some researchers found in a study of twins that procrastination seems to have a genetic component.
What could you do if you finally stopped putting “it” off?
We all have goals, hopes and dreams; and inevitably there are things standing in the way of those goals. If you are putting off tackling those obstacles, it will be hard to get to your goals on the other side. Even if you don’t consider yourself a procrastinator or always push things to the last minute, it’s almost inevitable that there are some tasks on your plate stopping you from achieving what you truly want.
So—how do we all pull ourselves out of “when-itis?”
In a study titled the “mega-trial,” researchers found hope.
To achieve your goals, overcome self-stagnation, and finally fulfill your dreams, the science here offers clear solutions: “the results showed that goal setting, interest enhancement and energy reduced procrastination. Lack of energy was most strongly associated with procrastination, mediating the effect of interest enhancement. Goal setting appeared to be particularly important, when interest in the task was low.”
- Interest enhancement
Those might seem painfully obvious but let’s look more closely.
Through the Lens of Emotional Intelligence
First, goals. In our series about setting goal-setting called Building Healthy Brain Habits, we talked about the importance of making huge goals achievable by breaking them down into actionable steps. This process is a powerful way to disempower the pull of procrastination! Making each small step manageable gives you good reason to do it now, rather than put it off. Once you start to build momentum, it only gets easier, setting you up to fulfill those dreams.
Second, interest enhancement. This is a science-y way of saying you need to care about what you’re doing. From the EQ perspective, this relates directly to mindfulness. If you are aware and fully invested in your actions, you will feel that much more connected to the outcomes and that much more inspired to achieve what you set out to do. It’s like the example from How to Boost your Joy, Career and Love Life by Mindfulness of standing in a grocery store and not realizing how you drove there. How could you “enhance your interest” in the things you need to achieve to realize your goal? It could be as tiny as writing it down, sharing it with a friend, or buying yourself an extra-big Starbucks after it’s complete.
Finally, energy. We know it’s easier to take on a big task when we have adequate energy. Whether that’s dinner with the in-laws or a huge project at work—taking care of yourself first helps you manage the task at hand. It may sound like a motherly thing to say: get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, feed your body nutritious food, and take breaks when you need rest. And it is all true!
I recently read this reflection from Rachel Hollis, author and host of the Rise Podcast:
“You can buy all the pretty coffee mugs in Anthro. You can screenshot every motivational quote you see. You can pin every inspiring quote card on Pinterest. You can do EVERYTHING motivational and still feel unmotivated. Motivation isn’t about wanting to do something... motivation is about having a WHY strong enough that you’ll do things you don’t feel like doing. Why THIS dream? Why do you NEED to get out of debt? Why do you NEED to reach a new revenue goal? Why do you NEED to grow your team? WHY? You have to know! Your goal is a fire in your belly...your WHY is the gasoline.”
Set your goals. Create manageable steps to reach them. Find a way to inspire yourself. Then fuel yourself up!
Definition of Procrastination
Procrastination is “the voluntary delay of an intended and necessary and/or (personally) important activity, despite expecting potential negative consequences that outweigh the positive consequences of the delay.”
We’ve all procrastinated in some area of our lives. You need to get “it” done, and you wait until the last minute even though you are altogether expecting negative consequences.
The question to ask is: Is that negative consequence me not fulfilling my dreams? And if so, is it time to break up with procrastination so I can finally achieve my goals?
Research has shown procrastination to be detrimental for everything from careers to health. In the end, we know that all the research in the world can not make up for you taking that first step. Why not now?
And to receive personalized support how to beat procrastination and cultivate greater emotional intelligence, contact us today at Heartmanity.