Procrastination is the self-sabotage irrational behaviour where you put off taking action, completing a task or making a decision even though you know you’ll be worse off for it in the long run.
Early recordings of the action (inaction) dates back over 9 000 years to the agricultural age. Sowing seeds in autumn to enjoy your harvest in spring was a deadline that civilisation was not yet ready
We fast forward to 1755 when the word first appeared in influential English dictionaries, to today’s technological age of instant gratification and constant distraction; procrastination is more prevalent than ever. And it’s here to stay.
Why we procrastinate poses an interesting dilemma to productivity specialists like myself. Why, when we know the results of procrastination have a negative impact on bottom line performance, productivity and staff morale, do we do nothing about it?
When organisation and optimisation focuses on making things easier, it’s ironic that procrastination, our greatest thief of time, has us studying neuroscience.
Why we procrastinate
Dr Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation, explains that through a brain scan and a series of simple test questions, scientists have been able to prove that
procrastination involves the integration of two systems:
- System 1 is developed at birth and known as the limbic system. It is responsible for irrational, spur of the moment, sensory-driven actions.
- System 2 resides in the prefrontal cortex and allows us to focus, strategise and plan. When we procrastinate, System 1 is in conflict with System 2 and as System 1 is more developed, it usually wins. Therefore, while you might not be fully responsible for procrastinating, you do have to deal with the consequences.
Here are some sure-fire solutions for how you and your team can maximise your self-discipline so you may move forward without
procrastination holding you back:
1. Turn off technology and focus
While this might be the best solution it’s certainly not the easiest. For starters, turn your mobile to silent, deactivate your email automatic send and receive, and ban Internet surfing during core office hours. If you can commit to focusing on your high-focus and high-value tasks early in your day you will be more inclined to stay focused and resist temptation.
2. Be aware of the time
Its human nature to underestimate the time it takes you to complete a task. Place a clock in a prominent position in your office space and use it to focus on time as a tangible commodity to help stop the wastage. The challenge of beating the clock acts as a further motivation to get things done and move on.
3. Set a timer
If you are feeling stuck on a high-value task but still can’t get off the starting blocks, set a timer for 10 minutes and just get started. If the timer sounds before you are done and you are feeling inspired, set it again and keep going. However, if your 10 minutes are up and you can’t bear to go on, simply stop what you are doing and move on to the next high-value task on your list. While this may be slow, it is at
4. Set a reward
If you find you are blaming boredom or feeling overwhelmed as the reason for your procrastination, set yourself a meaningful
reward to help you move from ‘to-do’ to ‘done’. Take a five minute body break at the end of every 25 minute work cycle to help you stay alert, enthusiastic and productive.