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Why Do We Procrastinate So Often?

Why Do We Procrastinate So Often?

Remember how you were going to pay the bills yesterday? Or go the grocery store over the weekend to pick up some groceries? Or vacuum and dust the master bedroom last week? Remember how you didn’t get around to doing any of it?

No matter how strong your overall work ethic may be, all of us at least occasionally succumb to the urge to procrastinate. While putting things off for a few minutes (or hours, or days, or weeks) might not seem like a big deal, workplace procrastination extracts a heavy toll from the US economy, with one estimate putting the toll at a staggering $650 billion annually. And though delaying household chores and personal errands probably won’t affect your bank account, this habit can certainly cost you in terms of mental wellbeing and peace of mind.

So why do so many people procrastinate, even when it is far better to just get tedious activities over and done with? A number of observers have tried to answer this very question, and have come up with the following explanations.

  • People don’t look forward to performing boring, stressful and monotonous tasks because they are, well, boring, stressful and monotonous. For example, who gets psyched up to unload the dishwasher, or fold a load or two of laundry?
  • People may shy away from certain assignments if they feel they are simply not up to the task. Not having the needed skills to perform a certain activity makes failure (or at least a lackluster outcome) a much more likely scenario.
  • Even if an employee possess numerous skills and talents, he or she may hesitate from starting projects and other tasks if they are especially complex. Such assignments may appear overly imposing to the worker, and may carry a significant risk of failure (and severe consequences for poor performance).
  • Another reason why it’s often hard to get things done is the presence of surrounding distractions. Distractions, especially from TVs, MP3 players, laptops and other electronic devices are certainly much more appealing than, say, filling out a spreadsheet. Furthermore, some employees spend hours each week chatting with friends and coworkers, thereby ignoring their workload and lessening their output.
  • Whether in the workplace or in the confines of your home, a lack of organizational skills can prevent you from checking off many things on your to-do list. Some people jump back and forth between numerous tasks, and thus spend much more time completing them than is necessary.

Finally Dealing with Procrastination

While old habits tend to die hard, a procrastinating problem can be overcome with enough effort. If you would like to improve your work ethic and personal drive, don’t hesitate to check out the following tips (and pardon the obvious pun).

Break a Big Project Into Small Steps – Massive projects can be intimidating to all but the most iron-willed office workers. Many people dread jumping into such prolonged and convoluted undertakings, and put of doing so for as long as possible. To make such projects seem much more manageable, try breaking them into smaller steps with clearly defined objectives. With this done, devote your entire focus toward achieving each individual step before moving on to the next goal.

Remove Surrounding Distractions – If certain items at your workstation are making it hard for you to concentrate on your workload, a quick solution is to just remove them from the equation. This means setting your cell phone to vibrate (or shutting if off), closing internet tabs not related to work and avoiding excessive socializing with coworkers. This tactic can also be used on the home front; avoid trying to get things done in rooms that dissuade you from working, such as the room with the widescreen TV.

Stay on Target – As tempting as it may be to take a five minute break from work (a break that can easily turn into ten or twenty minutes if you’re not careful), try to stay focused on your various work and household tasks throughout the day.

Set Realistic Expectations – Some people set high expectations for themselves when undertaking certain activities, both in the workplace and at home. While there is nothing wrong with setting lofty personal goals, it is crucial to remember that you will not always be satisfied with your results. Don’t let these potential roadblocks prevent you from being productive.

Prioritize – On any given to-do list, some activities will be more important than others. Challenging as it may be, try and knock these tasks out first.

Just Get Started – This is the simplest piece of advice, though it also doubles as the most difficult to follow. Whenever you start to think that something can wait until later, immediately reverse course and get started on the task in questions. A simple guideline to be sure, but it is also one that requires quite a bit of willpower.

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