STRONGER TOGETHER: Time to work out why you procrastinate and how to stop

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Last updated: 04/04/2022

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya focuses on procrastination and how to reduce the tendency to procrastinate.

By Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services' Managing Director

Sometimes we as people can have all the reasons to complete a task, book an appointment or go to bed at a reasonable hour, but we simply don’t do it.

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director
Tanya OShea IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

We’ve heard things like ‘there’s no time like the present’, ‘strike while the iron is hot’ and ‘time and tide wait for no man’.

And yet at times we prefer to ‘take a raincheck’, choosing to procrastinate instead of completing important tasks. Why do we humans delay the inevitable? It might sound like an oxymoron, however knowingly choosing to do things that make us happy and that we enjoy at the time, distract us from doing essential things that are far less enjoyable however result in more pain as a consequence of delaying taking action.

No one is immune to a little procrastination, but some are more prone than most and it’s not that they’re lazy.

Understanding what you procrastinate on and why can play a big part in reducing the tendency to procrastinate, with the best part being that you will see an improvement in your overall wellbeing.

Understanding that there is benefit to our health should be enough for us to take action over procrastination, however the reality is that our biology and emotions will sometimes hijack our best intentions.

As suggested by researcher and psychologist Alexander Rozental, procrastination is aligned with an inability to self-regulate. In today’s society people have an affinity for immediacy and avoiding negativity, even if it means jeopardizing long-term positive outcomes.

If you aren’t motivated to do something or believe you will fail, it is easy to see why people delay tasks.

Rozental’s research highlights four states of procrastination: expectancy, time, value, and impulsivity.

In a 2018 article with TIME, he says people may procrastinate because there’s a lack of value associated with the task, a sense of failure, the task is too far away or because you’re impulsive.

In order to overcome your procrastination, you need to evaluate what you personally procrastinate on and why.

Are you searching for a hit of dopamine checking your likes on social media rather than completing an assignment? Are you putting off going to the gym or the doctor? Do you prioritise sleep or are you a night owl and an early bird all in one?

Procrastination may have serious health repercussions and impacts on your wellbeing.

Sleep deprivation coupled with procrastination can influence levels of stress and anxiety.

A term coined ‘revenge bedtime procrastination’, discusses the avoidance of sleep – whether it be to scroll on social media, watching a television show, or some other means of distraction – to enjoy leisure activities and have a sense of control.

Procrastination can often be traced back to a way of thinking and a belief system.

For example, putting off an assignment until deadlines loom because you work better under pressure. But do you really perform at your best under pressure or with minimal sleep?

Pressing pause to evaluate your procrastination habits and the effect that they are having on your stress, anxiety and sleep patterns can be life changing. Making small changes to the choices you make on a daily basis can reduce stress levels, thereby improving your sleep and overall mental and physical health.

Keen to get started?

Think about those mundane, yet essential tasks that you need to do yet continue to put off.

If they feel overwhelming, can you break the task into smaller, more manageable chunks? I once heard that someone who wanted to write a book, committed to writing 200 words a day. Each day, they would commit to writing those 200 words, yet once they started, they found that they would write for hours.

The key sometimes is just getting started. Starting might be writing 100 words, or walking to the mailbox, or sending a text to someone who you haven’t spoken to in a while.

Just starting is making a choice that stops procrastination in its tracks. A choice that aligns to an understanding that there is no right time to get started, and a belief that just starting is a positive decision that will make your life easier in the long run.

What choice do you need to make today that will better support your health and wellness?

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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