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Why do we procrastinate?

Why do we procrastinate?


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As the title says. What is the cognitive reason for procrastination? I feel there is a component of uncertainty about the path to be taken. I feel like if I know exactly how to reach my goal and I want to reach it, I take the path and follow through until the end. On the other hand, if I have the feeling I don't know how to solve my problem, I get uninterested, lose track and never deliver.

Our brain is somehow always curious but also very lazy: if knowledge is at hand, it works. If not, it watches TV ;)


Procrastination is deep and complex subject and its not "Hey you are just lazy man" thing.

People procrastinate for wide variety of reasons here are few ideas:

  • Procrastination can be a symptom of deeper inner meaning problems or mindset problems.
  • Procrastination can be due to fear of failure, fear of success (!)
  • Procrastination can be due to be overwhelmed by size and nature of task.
  • Procrastination can be due to uncertainty and analysis paralysis.
  • ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) creates brain that is myopic to time perception, which in turn creates procrastination behavior. People with ADD/ADHD often heavily discount the importance of an event if it's sufficiently far away from the current time. Only thing that gets done is events screaming "Your house is on fire, do it NOW". They live in perpetual now discounting the future, everything far away in time is simply a blur until it comes too close within their range of time perception which is 'now'.
  • Procrastination can be due to inability to focus and distraction issues.

The list is only partial, you can google out following terms to learn more:

Growth verses fixed mindset, Distraction and Continuous Partial Attention, ADHD Russell Barkley


Two Harvard Professors Reveal One Reason Our Brains Love to Procrastinate

Sometime around 2006, two Harvard professors began to study why we procrastinate. Why do we avoid doing the things we know we should do, even when it’s clear that they are good for us?

To answer this question, the two professors — Todd Rogers and Max Bazerman — conducted a study where participants were asked whether they would agree to enroll in a savings plan that automatically placed two percent of their paycheck in a savings account.

Nearly every participant agreed that saving money was a good idea, but their behavior said otherwise:

  • One version of the question asked participants to enroll in the savings plan as soon as possible. In this scenario, only 30 percent of people said they would agree to enroll in the plan.
  • In another version of the question, participants were asked to enroll in a savings plan in the distant future (like a year from today). In this scenario, 77 percent of people said they would agree to enroll in the plan.

Why did the timeline alter their responses so much?

As it turns out, this little experiment can tell us a lot about why we procrastinate on behaviors that we know we should do.


Takeaway

The procrastination equation is a useful framework to help us understand why we procrastinate.

In a nutshell, if you want to beat procrastination in relation to any task, you need to raise your levels of confidence to achieve it, make the task more enjoyable, reduce distractions and the time to deadline.

Even though I’ve briefly outlined some strategies to beat procrastination—stakes, pre-commitments, shift in energy levels— the truth is ultimately we must make the decision to take action, regardless of how we feel right now.

We may never be able to completely eliminate procrastination, but we can strive everyday to live a better life with a clear motto: “Semper pergendum sine timore”—to always move forward without fear.


Why Wait? The Science Behind Procrastination

Believe it or not, the Internet did not give rise to procrastination. People have struggled with habitual hesitation going back to ancient civilizations. The Greek poet Hesiod, writing around 800 B.C., cautioned not to “put your work off till tomorrow and the day after.” The Roman consul Cicero called procrastination “hateful” in the conduct of affairs. (He was looking at you, Marcus Antonius.) And those are just examples from recorded history. For all we know, the dinosaurs saw the meteorite coming and went back to their game of Angry Pterodactyls.

What’s become quite clear since the days of Cicero is that procrastination isn’t just hateful, it’s downright harmful. In research settings, people who procrastinate have higher levels of stress and lower well-being. In the real world, undesired delay is often associated with inadequate retirement savings and missed medical visits. Considering the season, it would be remiss not to mention past surveys by H&R Block, which found that people cost themselves hundreds of dollars by rushing to prepare income taxes near the April 15 deadline.

In the past 20 years, the peculiar behavior of procrastination has received a burst of empirical interest. With apologies to Hesiod, psychological researchers now recognize that there’s far more to it than simply putting something off until tomorrow. True procrastination is a complicated failure of self-regulation: experts define it as the voluntary delay of some important task that we intend to do, despite knowing that we’ll suffer as a result. A poor concept of time may exacerbate the problem, but an inability to manage emotions seems to be its very foundation.

“What I’ve found is that while everybody may procrastinate, not everyone is a procrastinator,” says APS Fellow Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University. He is a pioneer of modern research on the subject, and his work has found that as many as 20 percent of people may be chronic procrastinators.

“It really has nothing to do with time-management,” he says. “As I tell people, to tell the chronic procrastinator to just do it would be like saying to a clinically depressed person, cheer up.”

Suffering More, Performing Worse

A major misperception about procrastination is that it’s an innocuous habit at worst, and maybe even a helpful one at best. Sympathizers of procrastination often say it doesn’t matter when a task gets done, so long as it’s eventually finished. Some even believe they work best under pressure. Stanford philosopher John Perry, author of the book The Art of Procrastination, has argued that people can dawdle to their advantage by restructuring their to-do lists so that they’re always accomplishing something of value. Psychological scientists have a serious problem with this view. They argue that it conflates beneficial, proactive behaviors like pondering (which attempts to solve a problem) or prioritizing (which organizes a series of problems) with the detrimental, self-defeating habit of genuine procrastination. If progress on a task can take many forms, procrastination is the absence of progress.

“If I have a dozen things to do, obviously #10, #11, and #12 have to wait,” says Ferrari. “The real procrastinator has those 12 things, maybe does one or two of them, then rewrites the list, then shuffles it around, then makes an extra copy of it. That’s procrastinating. That’s different.”

One of the first studies to document the pernicious nature of procrastination was published in Psychological Science back in 1997. APS Fellow Dianne Tice and APS William James Fellow Roy Baumeister, then at Case Western Reserve University, rated college students on an established scale of procrastination, then tracked their academic performance, stress, and general health throughout the semester. Initially there seemed to be a benefit to procrastination, as these students had lower levels of stress compared to others, presumably as a result of putting off their work to pursue more pleasurable activities. In the end, however, the costs of procrastination far outweighed the temporary benefits. Procrastinators earned lower grades than other students and reported higher cumulative amounts of stress and illness. True procrastinators didn’t just finish their work later — the quality of it suffered, as did their own well-being.

“Thus, despite its apologists and its short-term benefits, procrastination cannot be regarded as either adaptive or innocuous,” concluded Tice and Baumeister (now both at Florida State University). “Procrastinators end up suffering more and performing worse than other people.”

A little later, Tice and Ferrari teamed up to do a study that put the ill effects of procrastination into context. They brought students into a lab and told them at the end of the session they’d be engaging in a math puzzle. Some were told the task was a meaningful test of their cognitive abilities, while others were told that it was designed to be meaningless and fun. Before doing the puzzle, the students had an interim period during which they could prepare for the task or mess around with games like Tetris. As it happened, chronic procrastinators only delayed practice on the puzzle when it was described as a cognitive evaluation. When it was described as fun, they behaved no differently from non-procrastinators. In an issue of the Journal of Research in Personality from 2000, Tice and Ferrari concluded that procrastination is really a self-defeating behavior — with procrastinators trying to undermine their own best efforts.

“The chronic procrastinator, the person who does this as a lifestyle, would rather have other people think that they lack effort than lacking ability,” says Ferrari. “It’s a maladaptive lifestyle.”

A Gap Between Intention and Action

There’s no single type of procrastinator, but several general impressions have emerged over years of research. Chronic procrastinators have perpetual problems finishing tasks, while situational ones delay based on the task itself. A perfect storm of procrastination occurs when an unpleasant task meets a person who’s high in impulsivity and low in self-discipline. (The behavior is strongly linked with the Big Five personality trait of conscientiousness.) Most delayers betray a tendency for self-defeat, but they can arrive at this point from either a negative state (fear of failure, for instance, or perfectionism) or a positive one (the joy of temptation). All told, these qualities have led researchers to call procrastination the “quintessential” breakdown of self-control.

“I think the basic notion of procrastination as self-regulation failure is pretty clear,” says Timothy Pychyl of Carleton University, in Canada. “You know what you ought to do and you’re not able to bring yourself to do it. It’s that gap between intention and action.”

Social scientists debate whether the existence of this gap can be better explained by the inability to manage time or the inability to regulate moods and emotions. Generally speaking, economists tend to favor the former theory. Many espouse a formula for procrastination put forth in a paper published by the business scholar Piers Steel, a professor at the University of Calgary, in a 2007 issue of Psychological Bulletin. The idea is that procrastinators calculate the fluctuating utility of certain activities: pleasurable ones have more value early on, and tough tasks become more important as a deadline approaches.

Psychologists like Ferrari and Pychyl, on the other hand, see flaws in such a strictly temporal view of procrastination. For one thing, if delay were really as rational as this utility equation suggests, there would be no need to call the behavior procrastination — on the contrary, time-management would fit better. Beyond that, studies have found that procrastinators carry accompanying feelings of guilt, shame, or anxiety with their decision to delay. This emotional element suggests there’s much more to the story than time-management alone. Pychyl noticed the role of mood and emotions on procrastination with his very first work on the subject, back in the mid-1990s, and solidified that concept with a study published in the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality in 2000. His research team gave 45 students a pager and tracked them for five days leading up to a school deadline. Eight times a day, when beeped, the test participants reported their level of procrastination as well as their emotional state. As the preparatory tasks became more difficult and stressful, the students put them off for more pleasant activities. When they did so, however, they reported high levels of guilt — a sign that beneath the veneer of relief there was a lingering dread about the work set aside. The result made Pychyl realize that procrastinators recognize the temporal harm in what they’re doing, but can’t overcome the emotional urge toward a diversion.

A subsequent study, led by Tice, reinforced the dominant role played by mood in procrastination. In a 2001 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Tice and colleagues reported that students didn’t procrastinate before an intelligence test when primed to believe their mood was fixed. In contrast, when they thought their mood could change (and particularly when they were in a bad mood), they delayed practice until about the final minute. The findings suggested that self-control only succumbs to temptation when present emotions can be improved as a result.

“Emotional regulation, to me, is the real story around procrastination, because to the extent that I can deal with my emotions, I can stay on task,” says Pychyl. “When you say task-aversiveness, that’s another word for lack of enjoyment. Those are feeling states — those aren’t states of which [task] has more utility.”

Frustrating the Future Self

In general, people learn from their mistakes and reassess their approach to certain problems. For chronic procrastinators, that feedback loop seems continually out of service. The damage suffered as a result of delay doesn’t teach them to start earlier the next time around. An explanation for this behavioral paradox seems to lie in the emotional component of procrastination. Ironically, the very quest to relieve stress in the moment might prevent procrastinators from figuring out how to relieve it in the long run.

“I think the mood regulation piece is a huge part of procrastination,” says Fuschia Sirois of Bishop’s University, in Canada. “If you’re focused just on trying to get yourself to feel good now, there’s a lot you can miss out on in terms of learning how to correct behavior and avoiding similar problems in the future.”

A few years ago, Sirois recruited about 80 students and assessed them for procrastination. The participants then read descriptions of stressful events, with some of the anxiety caused by unnecessary delay. In one scenario, a person returned from a sunny vacation to notice a suspicious mole, but put off going to the doctor for a long time, creating a worrisome situation.

Afterward, Sirois asked the test participants what they thought about the scenario. She found that procrastinators tended to say things like, “At least I went to the doctor before it really got worse.” This response, known as a downward counterfactual, reflects a desire to improve mood in the short term. At the same time, the procrastinators rarely made statements like, “If only I had gone to the doctor sooner.” That type of response, known as an upward counterfactual, embraces the tension of the moment in an attempt to learn something for the future. Simply put, procrastinators focused on how to make themselves feel better at the expense of drawing insight from what made them feel bad.

Recently, Sirois and Pychyl tried to unify the emotional side of procrastination with the temporal side that isn’t so satisfying on its own. In the February issue of Social and Personality Psychology Compass, they propose a two-part theory on procrastination that braids short-term, mood-related improvements with long-term, time-related damage. The idea is that procrastinators comfort themselves in the present with the false belief that they’ll be more emotionally equipped to handle a task in the future.

“The future self becomes the beast of burden for procrastination,” says Sirois. “We’re trying to regulate our current mood and thinking our future self will be in a better state. They’ll be better able to handle feelings of insecurity or frustration with the task. That somehow we’ll develop these miraculous coping skills to deal with these emotions that we just can’t deal with right now.”

The Neuropsychology of Procrastination

Recently the behavioral research into procrastination has ventured beyond cognition, emotion, and personality, into the realm of neuropsychology. The frontal systems of the brain are known to be involved in a number of processes that overlap with self-regulation. These behaviors — problem-solving, planning, self-control, and the like — fall under the domain of executive functioning. Oddly enough, no one had ever examined a connection between this part of the brain and procrastination, says Laura Rabin of Brooklyn College.

“Given the role of executive functioning in the initiation and completion of complex behaviors, it was surprising to me that previous research had not systematically examined the relationship between aspects of executive functioning and academic procrastination — a behavior I see regularly in students but have yet to fully understand, and by extension help remediate,” says Rabin.

To address this gap in the literature, Rabin and colleagues gathered a sample of 212 students and assessed them first for procrastination, then on the nine clinical subscales of executive functioning: impulsivity, self-monitoring, planning and organization, activity shifting, task initiation, task monitoring, emotional control, working memory, and general orderliness. The researchers expected to find a link between procrastination and a few of the subscales (namely, the first four in the list above). As it happened, procrastinators showed significant associations with all nine, Rabin’s team reported in a 2011 issue of the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology.

Rabin stresses the limitations of the work. For one thing, the findings were correlative, meaning it’s not quite clear those elements of executive functioning caused procrastination directly. The assessments also relied on self-reports in the future, functional imaging might be used to confirm or expand the brain’s delay centers in real time. Still, says Rabin, the study suggests that procrastination might be an “expression of subtle executive dysfunction” in people who are otherwise neuropsychologically healthy.

“This has direct implications for how we understand the behavior and possibly intervene,” she says.

Possible Interventions

As the basic understanding of procrastination advances, many researchers hope to see a payoff in better interventions. Rabin’s work on executive functioning suggests a number of remedies for unwanted delay. Procrastinators might chop up tasks into smaller pieces so they can work through a more manageable series of assignments. Counseling might help them recognize that they’re compromising long-term aims for quick bursts of pleasure. The idea of setting personal deadlines harmonizes with previous work done by behavioral researchers Dan Ariely and Klaus Wertenbroch on “precommitment.” In a 2002 issue of Psychological Science, Ariely and Wertenbroch reported that procrastinators were willing to set meaningful deadlines for themselves, and that the deadlines did in fact improve their ability to complete a task. These self-imposed deadlines aren’t as effective as external ones, but they’re better than nothing.

The emotional aspects of procrastination pose a tougher problem. Direct strategies to counter temptation include blocking access to desirable distraction, but to a large extent that effort requires the type of self-regulation procrastinators lack in the first place. Sirois believes the best way to eliminate the need for short-term mood fixes is to find something positive or worthwhile about the task itself. “You’ve got to dig a little deeper and find some personal meaning in that task,” she says. “That’s what our data is suggesting.”

Ferrari, who offers a number of interventions in his 2010 book Still Procrastinating? The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done, would like to see a general cultural shift from punishing lateness to rewarding the early bird. He’s proposed, among other things, that the federal government incentivize early tax filing by giving people a small break if they file by, say, February or March 15. He also suggests we stop enabling procrastination in our personal relationships.

“Let the dishes pile up, let the fridge go empty, let the car stall out,” says Ferrari. “Don’t bail them out.” (Recent work suggests he’s onto something. In a 2011 paper in Psychological Science, Gráinne Fitzsimons and Eli Finkel report that people who think their relationship partner will help them with a task are more likely to procrastinate on it.)

But while the tough love approach might work for couples, the best personal remedy for procrastination might actually be self-forgiveness. A couple years ago, Pychyl joined two Carleton University colleagues and surveyed 119 students on procrastination before their midterm exams. The research team, led by Michael Wohl, reported in a 2010 issue of Personality and Individual Differences that students who forgave themselves after procrastinating on the first exam were less likely to delay studying for the second one.

Pychyl says he likes to close talks and chapters with that hopeful prospect of forgiveness. He sees the study as a reminder that procrastination is really a self-inflicted wound that gradually chips away at the most valuable resource in the world: time.

“It’s an existentially relevant problem, because it’s not getting on with life itself,” he says. “You only get a certain number of years. What are you doing?”


Bedtime Psychology: Why We Procrastinate About Going to Bed

Picture this: It’s getting late, you’ve got a pile of working sitting on your desk, and you have to go in early the next day. You know you get cranky when you don’t get enough sleep and honestly, you should’ve went to bed an hour ago, and yet here you are binge-watching Netflix.

We’ve all been there. We keep reading, scrolling through memes, and checking our email. We’d rather do anything except go to sleep. Why is it easier to hit “play next episode” than get up and go to bed? We need our rest. If we don’t get adequate REM, we wind up cranky and underproductive. So why do we procrastinate about hitting the pillow?

The problem is so common that bedtime procrastination has become an area of study.

The term “bedtime procrastination” was coined only a few years ago, as psychologists began to study this phenomenon. As humans, we need sleep. When we wake up in the morning, usually our first thought is: “I want to go back to bed.” But we still procrastinate about going to sleep at night.

Psychologists still don’t understand why we do this, but they’ve begun research into two specific areas. Our body clock and self-control both play a role in bedtime procrastination.

Looking at Self-Control

Bedtime procrastination was first (seriously) studied in 2014, when Floor Kroese, PhD, began research with her colleagues at Utrecht University. Dr. Kroese, who is an assistant professor of psychology, writes, “We knew that a lack of sleep was bad for people, but it was mostly studied in the context of sleeping problems.”

Some people suffer from serious sleeping disorders, such as sleep apnea, that keeps them from getting enough rest. Bedtime procrastinators fail to get enough sleep, as well… but not because they’re unable to sleep. They simply didn’t go to bed on time.

It’s not a serious health concern, just a puzzling problem. Dr. Kroese and her colleagues ran a study in the Netherlands, surveying more than 2,400 people. The survey showed that 53 percent of their survey participants went to bed late at least twice a week, even when they wanted to go to bed earlier. The survey also revealed that bedtime procrastinators tend to procrastinate in other areas of life. They end up tired and exhibit a lack of self-control.

Bedtime procrastination is defined as “needlessly and voluntarily delaying going to bed, despite foreseeably being worse off as a result.” The team of researchers at Utrecht University had proof that this was happening regularly to most survey respondents. They then began to look for explanations.

One possible cause of bedtime procrastination is a lack of relaxation. When we overwork, our bodies know we need to slow down. If we work long hours and push our relaxation into the evening, we may stay up later to get more of that relaxation clocked in.

Studies show that vacations reduce stress and improve productivity later on. If a weekend at Mackinac island resorts can help you go to bed earlier during the workweek, it’s probably worth it. The catch in the vacation-health correlation, though, is that the trip has to be stress-free. You’re better off finding places to see on Florida’s Gulf Coast than exploring the wilds of Africa. And if you’re financially strained, spending a lot of money on a trip probably won’t lower your cortisol levels. RV Parks in North Bend, OR , a camping trip, or a brief B&B stay would be better for a stress-free venture. It may not work in every case, but leaving work to surf Hawaii could improve your bedtime self-control.

Another potential cause of bedtime procrastination is the chores we do before bed. The average person’s bedtime routine can get pretty lengthy, from removing makeup, to flossing, to showering, to tucking their contacts lenses into bed for the night. Even 10 minutes of before-bed chores can make us less enthusiastic about going to sleep. Watching Netflix is more fun than brushing your teeth.

Researchers also found that we’re more susceptible to bedtime procrastination after we’ve resisted temptation during the day. In other words, we have a set amount of self-control. If we use it up during the workday, resisting chocolate cupcakes at the meeting, ignoring the allure of Facebook or YouTube — then we might end up with zero self control by bedtime. Our resources are depleted , and we no longer have the energy to resist.

Looking at Our Body Clock

Self-control seems to play a key role in our bedtime procrastination. Some researchers believe our body clock also plays a role in sleep-delay.

Most of us have to get up sooner than we’d like. Our bodies prefer a certain sleep cycle “early bird” and “night owl” aren’t just slang terms for “productive” and “lazy.” Certain people are on a later clock. They prefer the evening hours, and getting up early is a miserable experience. When our bodies want to sleep at a certain time, persuading them to do otherwise can be difficult.

German psychologist Jana Kühnel, PhD,l of Ulm University knows that bedtime procrastination is a problem, but she believes it’s more than self-control issues. She argues that for night owls, the procrastination may be a biological force keeping them from going to sleep. Their body clock refuses to settle down in time. It’s not just a problem of self-control it’s a struggle against biology.

Research shows that body clocks are real. Dr. Kühnel is convinced they’re the enemy of an 8-to-5 schedule. She says: “The intention to go to bed earlier is not enough. Biological processes need to support this intention.”

Dr. Kühnel continues to research the body clock side of bedtime procrastination, and her research might provide more evidence in the near future.

While the research is coming from two different directions, chances are they’re both right. Even if our body clocks are keeping us from getting to bed, better self-control might be enough to silence them.

As Dr. Kroese says of early birds: “You have no problem going to bed on time, so then your self-control doesn’t play a role because you don’t need it. But if you are an evening person, then you need your self-control to go to bed on time.”

It’s harder for someone with a sugar craving to resist a doughnut, but that doesn’t mean they can’t avoid eating one. When night owls feel an urge to stay up, a powerful dose of self-control should be enough to defeat bedtime procrastination.

Nearly 30 percent of Americans don’t get more than six hours of sleep, and that’s not enough for the average adult. Sleep and health are powerfully linked, so that extra Netflix episode isn’t a trivial matter.

At the end of the day, the research seems to indicate we have power over our bedtime procrastination. Our need for self-control may vary based on our biological clock, but we can resist sleep-delay in the same way we resist doughnuts or being rude to the boss.

Research so far seems to suggest what we already knew: Bedtime is just as boring as our five-year-old selves suspected.


9. Being Lazy

This is a common reason that most of us procrastinate. We just don&rsquot feel like doing whatever it is we&rsquore putting off. This could also be translated as a lack of motivation

Being lazy doesn&rsquot always have to be a bad thing. It&rsquos totally okay for you to lounge around and watch TV rather than mow the lawn sometimes. Just don&rsquot let that behavior become habitual.

What to Try

If you know you need to get something done but just simply feel lazy, try doing light exercise to get your brain working. This may stimulate the energy you need to tackle a task. This can be as easy as taking a walk around the block or doing ten jumping jacks. Find what works for you.


My three main areas of procrastination revolve around studying, working, and cleaning my house. These tasks are tedious to me but once I begin, I actually enjoy them.

To give me that initial push, I use timers. By knowing how long a task will actually take, I’m more likely to do it. I started by timing myself to see how long it would take me to pack the dishwasher.

After seeing that I could do it in just under 10 minutes every night, my procrastination dissipated because I know 10 minutes is not that long.

When studying or working, I use the Pomodoro Technique. Using this method, I give myself exactly 25 times to do a task and then reward myself with a 5-minute break.

Breaking down the tasks allows me to see the end without driving myself crazy about how long I’m going to have to study for.

These timing techniques are effective life-hacks that allowed me to forget about procrastination and they became the incentive I needed to begin.


The Psychology Behind Why We Procrastinate (And How You Can Beat It)

Procrastination—we’ve all done it. Some of us are repeat offenders and some of us find ourselves backed into a corner because of stress .

If you’re anything like me, you’ve read book after book, told yourself you would get better at time management, and worked hard to set clearer goals. But despite all the effort, discipline, and cranking down, nothing seems to work.

For me, it wasn’t until I met a woman on my travels in Bali that I discovered I’d been going about trying to beat procrastination all wrong.

You see, despite what you may have been told, the fight against procrastination isn’t a mental one. No amount of reasoning and willpower will make any difference—in fact, they’ll leave you feeling burned out and worse off than before.

The key player in defeating procrastination is actually a behavior pattern you can program yourself to do in just a few short weeks.

Sound too good to be true?

Don’t take my word for it—meet the productivity expert I met in Bali, Carey Gjokaj. She’s the founder of Lifehack Bootcamp , an 8-week online program that teaches you how to end the vicious cycle of procrastination and become an expert at time management. Through Lifehack Bootcamp, Gjokaj has helped thousands of people worldwide to become immediate action-takers who optimize what they get done in a day.

This week on the Unconventional Life Podcast , Gjokaj shares her tips for making procrastination a thing of the past and embracing productivity.

“We try to reason our brains into productivity but it doesn’t work,” Gjokaj says. “‘Wake up, let’s do this today, let’s get stuff done,” we tell ourselves. We have to realize that productivity is controlled by a completely different part of our brain. It’s not an intellectual concept. It’s a habit run by the animal part of our brain and we’re the animal trainer.”

Are you ready to train your brain to make a habit out of productivity?

Studies show the average person can form a new habit in just 66 days . Reclaim your time and peace of mind by applying Gjokaj’s method for maxing out your productivity below.

Distraction-Proof Your Work Space

Referencing research by Gallup , Gjokaj says, “some type of distraction is getting us off of our workflow every three minutes and five seconds. But it also takes our brain time after we’re distracted to ramp back up to the level of productivity we were at before—so you’re not just losing the time it took to answer that text message. It’s that time plus the amount of time it takes you to ramp back up."

You can reclaim lost time by making your work space a distraction-free zone. Gjokaj recommends setting your phone and computer to “do not disturb” mode, working in a small room with the door shut, and decluttering your desktop by dragging scattered files into folders. You can also set your desktop background to an inspirational quote that reminds you of your larger mission and keeps you committed to focus.

If “getting in the zone” and cranking down for long periods of time is how you work, you’re actually being less effective. Studies show if we break down our work time into smaller blocks followed by short breaks, we actually get more done because we allow our brain to replenish energy and focus.

“It’s the difference between a sprinter and a marathon runner,” Gjokaj says. For maximum productivity, she advises breaking down your work into smaller tasks and taking a short break every thirty minutes or so.

Work Towards A Weekly Goal

Identify one goal each week that would be a cause for celebration if you attained it. Gjokaj calls these goals “champagne moments” because they call for opening a bottle of champagne when they’re completed.

Make sure this goal is attainable but also requires you to challenge yourself. Break down the goal into daily action steps that will keep you on track to finish by the end of the week.

You can turn each day into a game by racing against the clock and trying to beat your best time on each of your tasks. When you’ve completed each day’s tasks, let yourself be done with work for the day and feel a sense of accomplishment.

Science shows that when we reward ourselves for doing a particular behavior, we become more motivated to do that behavior and are more productive at it. Essentially, the reward triggers the pleasure neurotransmitter dopamine to flow into our brains, so we associate the behavior with pleasure. You can use your biology to your advantage by programming your brain to associate work with pleasure.

Each time you complete a small work task, reward yourself with something small, like an m&m or a few minutes of free time.

“We need to reward our brain for doing good work,” Gjokaj says. “It doesn’t have to be big—just something big enough that it gives your brain a jolt of pleasure that burns those cognitive patterns deeper and deeper each time. That’s how you create habits that are gonna be there for you 24/7, especially when it’s really hard.”

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O.K. How do we get to the root cause of procrastination?

We must realize that, at its core, procrastination is about emotions, not productivity. The solution doesn’t involve downloading a time management app or learning new strategies for self-control. It has to do with managing our emotions in a new way.

“Our brains are always looking for relative rewards. If we have a habit loop around procrastination but we haven’t found a better reward, our brain is just going to keep doing it over and over until we give it something better to do,” said psychiatrist and neuroscientist Dr. Judson Brewer, Director of Research and Innovation at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center.

To rewire any habit, we have to give our brains what Dr. Brewer called the “Bigger Better Offer” or “B.B.O.”

In the case of procrastination, we have to find a better reward than avoidance — one that can relieve our challenging feelings in the present moment without causing harm to our future selves. The difficulty with breaking the addiction to procrastination in particular is that there is an infinite number of potential substitute actions that would still be forms of procrastination, Dr. Brewer said. That’s why the solution must therefore be internal, and not dependent on anything but ourselves.

One option is to forgive yourself in the moments you procrastinate. In a 2010 study, researchers found that students who were able to forgive themselves for procrastinating when studying for a first exam ended up procrastinating less when studying for their next exam. They concluded that self-forgiveness supported productivity by allowing “the individual to move past their maladaptive behavior and focus on the upcoming examination without the burden of past acts.”

Another tactic is the related practice of self-compassion, which is treating ourselves with kindness and understanding in the face of our mistakes and failures. In a 2012 study examining the relationship between stress, self-compassion and procrastination, Dr. Sirois found that procrastinators tend to have high stress and low self-compassion, suggesting that self-compassion provides “a buffer against negative reactions to self-relevant events.”

In fact, several studies show that self-compassion supports motivation and personal growth. Not only does it decrease psychological distress, which we now know is a primary culprit for procrastination, it also actively boosts motivation, enhances feelings of self-worth and fosters positive emotions like optimism, wisdom, curiosity and personal initiative. Best of all, self-compassion doesn’t require anything external — just a commitment to meeting your challenges with greater acceptance and kindness rather than rumination and regret.

That may be easier said than done, but try to reframe the task by considering a positive aspect of it. Perhaps you remind yourself of a time you did something similar and it turned out O.K. Or maybe you think about the beneficial outcome of completing the task. What might your boss or partner say when you show them your finished work? How will you feel about yourself?


Causes of Procrastination

In addition to documenting the consequences of procrastination, psychologists have investigated the possible reasons why people procrastinate. One explanation is that people procrastinate to protect their self-images from the negative consequences that accompany poor performance. From this perspective, placing a barrier in the way of completing a task (by procrastinating) can allow the person to explain the causes of their behavior in a positive or negative manner. If the person procrastinates and performs well on a task, then the person can explain the causes of the successful performance as having the ability to overcome an obstacle. If the person procrastinates and performs poorly, in contrast, then the person can explain his or her performance by the procrastinating behavior that caused the person to perform at a suboptimal level. Some research has shown that behavioral procrastination is related to the extent to which people place barriers in the way of completing activities to manipulate whether their performance can be explained positively or negatively. Joseph Ferrari and Dianne Tice showed that chronic procrastinators engaged in procrastination when an upcoming task was evaluative and potentially threatening. Thus, one possible cause of procrastination is that people place barriers in the way of their goal to minimize the negative impact of possible poor performance.

Another possible cause of procrastination is a sense of self-uncertainty early in life. According to this perspective, the bonds that people form with their primary caregiver from an early age can influence the degree to which people procrastinate later in life. People who grow up knowing that their caregiver is loving and responsive are less likely to procrastinate later in life, whereas people with a less secure attachment to their primary caregiver are more likely to procrastinate later in life. Other research has demonstrated that children raised by overcontrolling parents are more likely to procrastinate later in life than are children who were raised by noncontrolling parents. These findings suggest that insecure attachment to primary caregivers at an early age is associated with a tendency to procrastinate later in life.


Two Harvard Professors Reveal One Reason Our Brains Love to Procrastinate

Sometime around 2006, two Harvard professors began to study why we procrastinate. Why do we avoid doing the things we know we should do, even when it’s clear that they are good for us?

To answer this question, the two professors — Todd Rogers and Max Bazerman — conducted a study where participants were asked whether they would agree to enroll in a savings plan that automatically placed two percent of their paycheck in a savings account.

Nearly every participant agreed that saving money was a good idea, but their behavior said otherwise:

  • One version of the question asked participants to enroll in the savings plan as soon as possible. In this scenario, only 30 percent of people said they would agree to enroll in the plan.
  • In another version of the question, participants were asked to enroll in a savings plan in the distant future (like a year from today). In this scenario, 77 percent of people said they would agree to enroll in the plan.

Why did the timeline alter their responses so much?

As it turns out, this little experiment can tell us a lot about why we procrastinate on behaviors that we know we should do.


9. Being Lazy

This is a common reason that most of us procrastinate. We just don&rsquot feel like doing whatever it is we&rsquore putting off. This could also be translated as a lack of motivation

Being lazy doesn&rsquot always have to be a bad thing. It&rsquos totally okay for you to lounge around and watch TV rather than mow the lawn sometimes. Just don&rsquot let that behavior become habitual.

What to Try

If you know you need to get something done but just simply feel lazy, try doing light exercise to get your brain working. This may stimulate the energy you need to tackle a task. This can be as easy as taking a walk around the block or doing ten jumping jacks. Find what works for you.


Bedtime Psychology: Why We Procrastinate About Going to Bed

Picture this: It’s getting late, you’ve got a pile of working sitting on your desk, and you have to go in early the next day. You know you get cranky when you don’t get enough sleep and honestly, you should’ve went to bed an hour ago, and yet here you are binge-watching Netflix.

We’ve all been there. We keep reading, scrolling through memes, and checking our email. We’d rather do anything except go to sleep. Why is it easier to hit “play next episode” than get up and go to bed? We need our rest. If we don’t get adequate REM, we wind up cranky and underproductive. So why do we procrastinate about hitting the pillow?

The problem is so common that bedtime procrastination has become an area of study.

The term “bedtime procrastination” was coined only a few years ago, as psychologists began to study this phenomenon. As humans, we need sleep. When we wake up in the morning, usually our first thought is: “I want to go back to bed.” But we still procrastinate about going to sleep at night.

Psychologists still don’t understand why we do this, but they’ve begun research into two specific areas. Our body clock and self-control both play a role in bedtime procrastination.

Looking at Self-Control

Bedtime procrastination was first (seriously) studied in 2014, when Floor Kroese, PhD, began research with her colleagues at Utrecht University. Dr. Kroese, who is an assistant professor of psychology, writes, “We knew that a lack of sleep was bad for people, but it was mostly studied in the context of sleeping problems.”

Some people suffer from serious sleeping disorders, such as sleep apnea, that keeps them from getting enough rest. Bedtime procrastinators fail to get enough sleep, as well… but not because they’re unable to sleep. They simply didn’t go to bed on time.

It’s not a serious health concern, just a puzzling problem. Dr. Kroese and her colleagues ran a study in the Netherlands, surveying more than 2,400 people. The survey showed that 53 percent of their survey participants went to bed late at least twice a week, even when they wanted to go to bed earlier. The survey also revealed that bedtime procrastinators tend to procrastinate in other areas of life. They end up tired and exhibit a lack of self-control.

Bedtime procrastination is defined as “needlessly and voluntarily delaying going to bed, despite foreseeably being worse off as a result.” The team of researchers at Utrecht University had proof that this was happening regularly to most survey respondents. They then began to look for explanations.

One possible cause of bedtime procrastination is a lack of relaxation. When we overwork, our bodies know we need to slow down. If we work long hours and push our relaxation into the evening, we may stay up later to get more of that relaxation clocked in.

Studies show that vacations reduce stress and improve productivity later on. If a weekend at Mackinac island resorts can help you go to bed earlier during the workweek, it’s probably worth it. The catch in the vacation-health correlation, though, is that the trip has to be stress-free. You’re better off finding places to see on Florida’s Gulf Coast than exploring the wilds of Africa. And if you’re financially strained, spending a lot of money on a trip probably won’t lower your cortisol levels. RV Parks in North Bend, OR , a camping trip, or a brief B&B stay would be better for a stress-free venture. It may not work in every case, but leaving work to surf Hawaii could improve your bedtime self-control.

Another potential cause of bedtime procrastination is the chores we do before bed. The average person’s bedtime routine can get pretty lengthy, from removing makeup, to flossing, to showering, to tucking their contacts lenses into bed for the night. Even 10 minutes of before-bed chores can make us less enthusiastic about going to sleep. Watching Netflix is more fun than brushing your teeth.

Researchers also found that we’re more susceptible to bedtime procrastination after we’ve resisted temptation during the day. In other words, we have a set amount of self-control. If we use it up during the workday, resisting chocolate cupcakes at the meeting, ignoring the allure of Facebook or YouTube — then we might end up with zero self control by bedtime. Our resources are depleted , and we no longer have the energy to resist.

Looking at Our Body Clock

Self-control seems to play a key role in our bedtime procrastination. Some researchers believe our body clock also plays a role in sleep-delay.

Most of us have to get up sooner than we’d like. Our bodies prefer a certain sleep cycle “early bird” and “night owl” aren’t just slang terms for “productive” and “lazy.” Certain people are on a later clock. They prefer the evening hours, and getting up early is a miserable experience. When our bodies want to sleep at a certain time, persuading them to do otherwise can be difficult.

German psychologist Jana Kühnel, PhD,l of Ulm University knows that bedtime procrastination is a problem, but she believes it’s more than self-control issues. She argues that for night owls, the procrastination may be a biological force keeping them from going to sleep. Their body clock refuses to settle down in time. It’s not just a problem of self-control it’s a struggle against biology.

Research shows that body clocks are real. Dr. Kühnel is convinced they’re the enemy of an 8-to-5 schedule. She says: “The intention to go to bed earlier is not enough. Biological processes need to support this intention.”

Dr. Kühnel continues to research the body clock side of bedtime procrastination, and her research might provide more evidence in the near future.

While the research is coming from two different directions, chances are they’re both right. Even if our body clocks are keeping us from getting to bed, better self-control might be enough to silence them.

As Dr. Kroese says of early birds: “You have no problem going to bed on time, so then your self-control doesn’t play a role because you don’t need it. But if you are an evening person, then you need your self-control to go to bed on time.”

It’s harder for someone with a sugar craving to resist a doughnut, but that doesn’t mean they can’t avoid eating one. When night owls feel an urge to stay up, a powerful dose of self-control should be enough to defeat bedtime procrastination.

Nearly 30 percent of Americans don’t get more than six hours of sleep, and that’s not enough for the average adult. Sleep and health are powerfully linked, so that extra Netflix episode isn’t a trivial matter.

At the end of the day, the research seems to indicate we have power over our bedtime procrastination. Our need for self-control may vary based on our biological clock, but we can resist sleep-delay in the same way we resist doughnuts or being rude to the boss.

Research so far seems to suggest what we already knew: Bedtime is just as boring as our five-year-old selves suspected.


Why Wait? The Science Behind Procrastination

Believe it or not, the Internet did not give rise to procrastination. People have struggled with habitual hesitation going back to ancient civilizations. The Greek poet Hesiod, writing around 800 B.C., cautioned not to “put your work off till tomorrow and the day after.” The Roman consul Cicero called procrastination “hateful” in the conduct of affairs. (He was looking at you, Marcus Antonius.) And those are just examples from recorded history. For all we know, the dinosaurs saw the meteorite coming and went back to their game of Angry Pterodactyls.

What’s become quite clear since the days of Cicero is that procrastination isn’t just hateful, it’s downright harmful. In research settings, people who procrastinate have higher levels of stress and lower well-being. In the real world, undesired delay is often associated with inadequate retirement savings and missed medical visits. Considering the season, it would be remiss not to mention past surveys by H&R Block, which found that people cost themselves hundreds of dollars by rushing to prepare income taxes near the April 15 deadline.

In the past 20 years, the peculiar behavior of procrastination has received a burst of empirical interest. With apologies to Hesiod, psychological researchers now recognize that there’s far more to it than simply putting something off until tomorrow. True procrastination is a complicated failure of self-regulation: experts define it as the voluntary delay of some important task that we intend to do, despite knowing that we’ll suffer as a result. A poor concept of time may exacerbate the problem, but an inability to manage emotions seems to be its very foundation.

“What I’ve found is that while everybody may procrastinate, not everyone is a procrastinator,” says APS Fellow Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University. He is a pioneer of modern research on the subject, and his work has found that as many as 20 percent of people may be chronic procrastinators.

“It really has nothing to do with time-management,” he says. “As I tell people, to tell the chronic procrastinator to just do it would be like saying to a clinically depressed person, cheer up.”

Suffering More, Performing Worse

A major misperception about procrastination is that it’s an innocuous habit at worst, and maybe even a helpful one at best. Sympathizers of procrastination often say it doesn’t matter when a task gets done, so long as it’s eventually finished. Some even believe they work best under pressure. Stanford philosopher John Perry, author of the book The Art of Procrastination, has argued that people can dawdle to their advantage by restructuring their to-do lists so that they’re always accomplishing something of value. Psychological scientists have a serious problem with this view. They argue that it conflates beneficial, proactive behaviors like pondering (which attempts to solve a problem) or prioritizing (which organizes a series of problems) with the detrimental, self-defeating habit of genuine procrastination. If progress on a task can take many forms, procrastination is the absence of progress.

“If I have a dozen things to do, obviously #10, #11, and #12 have to wait,” says Ferrari. “The real procrastinator has those 12 things, maybe does one or two of them, then rewrites the list, then shuffles it around, then makes an extra copy of it. That’s procrastinating. That’s different.”

One of the first studies to document the pernicious nature of procrastination was published in Psychological Science back in 1997. APS Fellow Dianne Tice and APS William James Fellow Roy Baumeister, then at Case Western Reserve University, rated college students on an established scale of procrastination, then tracked their academic performance, stress, and general health throughout the semester. Initially there seemed to be a benefit to procrastination, as these students had lower levels of stress compared to others, presumably as a result of putting off their work to pursue more pleasurable activities. In the end, however, the costs of procrastination far outweighed the temporary benefits. Procrastinators earned lower grades than other students and reported higher cumulative amounts of stress and illness. True procrastinators didn’t just finish their work later — the quality of it suffered, as did their own well-being.

“Thus, despite its apologists and its short-term benefits, procrastination cannot be regarded as either adaptive or innocuous,” concluded Tice and Baumeister (now both at Florida State University). “Procrastinators end up suffering more and performing worse than other people.”

A little later, Tice and Ferrari teamed up to do a study that put the ill effects of procrastination into context. They brought students into a lab and told them at the end of the session they’d be engaging in a math puzzle. Some were told the task was a meaningful test of their cognitive abilities, while others were told that it was designed to be meaningless and fun. Before doing the puzzle, the students had an interim period during which they could prepare for the task or mess around with games like Tetris. As it happened, chronic procrastinators only delayed practice on the puzzle when it was described as a cognitive evaluation. When it was described as fun, they behaved no differently from non-procrastinators. In an issue of the Journal of Research in Personality from 2000, Tice and Ferrari concluded that procrastination is really a self-defeating behavior — with procrastinators trying to undermine their own best efforts.

“The chronic procrastinator, the person who does this as a lifestyle, would rather have other people think that they lack effort than lacking ability,” says Ferrari. “It’s a maladaptive lifestyle.”

A Gap Between Intention and Action

There’s no single type of procrastinator, but several general impressions have emerged over years of research. Chronic procrastinators have perpetual problems finishing tasks, while situational ones delay based on the task itself. A perfect storm of procrastination occurs when an unpleasant task meets a person who’s high in impulsivity and low in self-discipline. (The behavior is strongly linked with the Big Five personality trait of conscientiousness.) Most delayers betray a tendency for self-defeat, but they can arrive at this point from either a negative state (fear of failure, for instance, or perfectionism) or a positive one (the joy of temptation). All told, these qualities have led researchers to call procrastination the “quintessential” breakdown of self-control.

“I think the basic notion of procrastination as self-regulation failure is pretty clear,” says Timothy Pychyl of Carleton University, in Canada. “You know what you ought to do and you’re not able to bring yourself to do it. It’s that gap between intention and action.”

Social scientists debate whether the existence of this gap can be better explained by the inability to manage time or the inability to regulate moods and emotions. Generally speaking, economists tend to favor the former theory. Many espouse a formula for procrastination put forth in a paper published by the business scholar Piers Steel, a professor at the University of Calgary, in a 2007 issue of Psychological Bulletin. The idea is that procrastinators calculate the fluctuating utility of certain activities: pleasurable ones have more value early on, and tough tasks become more important as a deadline approaches.

Psychologists like Ferrari and Pychyl, on the other hand, see flaws in such a strictly temporal view of procrastination. For one thing, if delay were really as rational as this utility equation suggests, there would be no need to call the behavior procrastination — on the contrary, time-management would fit better. Beyond that, studies have found that procrastinators carry accompanying feelings of guilt, shame, or anxiety with their decision to delay. This emotional element suggests there’s much more to the story than time-management alone. Pychyl noticed the role of mood and emotions on procrastination with his very first work on the subject, back in the mid-1990s, and solidified that concept with a study published in the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality in 2000. His research team gave 45 students a pager and tracked them for five days leading up to a school deadline. Eight times a day, when beeped, the test participants reported their level of procrastination as well as their emotional state. As the preparatory tasks became more difficult and stressful, the students put them off for more pleasant activities. When they did so, however, they reported high levels of guilt — a sign that beneath the veneer of relief there was a lingering dread about the work set aside. The result made Pychyl realize that procrastinators recognize the temporal harm in what they’re doing, but can’t overcome the emotional urge toward a diversion.

A subsequent study, led by Tice, reinforced the dominant role played by mood in procrastination. In a 2001 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Tice and colleagues reported that students didn’t procrastinate before an intelligence test when primed to believe their mood was fixed. In contrast, when they thought their mood could change (and particularly when they were in a bad mood), they delayed practice until about the final minute. The findings suggested that self-control only succumbs to temptation when present emotions can be improved as a result.

“Emotional regulation, to me, is the real story around procrastination, because to the extent that I can deal with my emotions, I can stay on task,” says Pychyl. “When you say task-aversiveness, that’s another word for lack of enjoyment. Those are feeling states — those aren’t states of which [task] has more utility.”

Frustrating the Future Self

In general, people learn from their mistakes and reassess their approach to certain problems. For chronic procrastinators, that feedback loop seems continually out of service. The damage suffered as a result of delay doesn’t teach them to start earlier the next time around. An explanation for this behavioral paradox seems to lie in the emotional component of procrastination. Ironically, the very quest to relieve stress in the moment might prevent procrastinators from figuring out how to relieve it in the long run.

“I think the mood regulation piece is a huge part of procrastination,” says Fuschia Sirois of Bishop’s University, in Canada. “If you’re focused just on trying to get yourself to feel good now, there’s a lot you can miss out on in terms of learning how to correct behavior and avoiding similar problems in the future.”

A few years ago, Sirois recruited about 80 students and assessed them for procrastination. The participants then read descriptions of stressful events, with some of the anxiety caused by unnecessary delay. In one scenario, a person returned from a sunny vacation to notice a suspicious mole, but put off going to the doctor for a long time, creating a worrisome situation.

Afterward, Sirois asked the test participants what they thought about the scenario. She found that procrastinators tended to say things like, “At least I went to the doctor before it really got worse.” This response, known as a downward counterfactual, reflects a desire to improve mood in the short term. At the same time, the procrastinators rarely made statements like, “If only I had gone to the doctor sooner.” That type of response, known as an upward counterfactual, embraces the tension of the moment in an attempt to learn something for the future. Simply put, procrastinators focused on how to make themselves feel better at the expense of drawing insight from what made them feel bad.

Recently, Sirois and Pychyl tried to unify the emotional side of procrastination with the temporal side that isn’t so satisfying on its own. In the February issue of Social and Personality Psychology Compass, they propose a two-part theory on procrastination that braids short-term, mood-related improvements with long-term, time-related damage. The idea is that procrastinators comfort themselves in the present with the false belief that they’ll be more emotionally equipped to handle a task in the future.

“The future self becomes the beast of burden for procrastination,” says Sirois. “We’re trying to regulate our current mood and thinking our future self will be in a better state. They’ll be better able to handle feelings of insecurity or frustration with the task. That somehow we’ll develop these miraculous coping skills to deal with these emotions that we just can’t deal with right now.”

The Neuropsychology of Procrastination

Recently the behavioral research into procrastination has ventured beyond cognition, emotion, and personality, into the realm of neuropsychology. The frontal systems of the brain are known to be involved in a number of processes that overlap with self-regulation. These behaviors — problem-solving, planning, self-control, and the like — fall under the domain of executive functioning. Oddly enough, no one had ever examined a connection between this part of the brain and procrastination, says Laura Rabin of Brooklyn College.

“Given the role of executive functioning in the initiation and completion of complex behaviors, it was surprising to me that previous research had not systematically examined the relationship between aspects of executive functioning and academic procrastination — a behavior I see regularly in students but have yet to fully understand, and by extension help remediate,” says Rabin.

To address this gap in the literature, Rabin and colleagues gathered a sample of 212 students and assessed them first for procrastination, then on the nine clinical subscales of executive functioning: impulsivity, self-monitoring, planning and organization, activity shifting, task initiation, task monitoring, emotional control, working memory, and general orderliness. The researchers expected to find a link between procrastination and a few of the subscales (namely, the first four in the list above). As it happened, procrastinators showed significant associations with all nine, Rabin’s team reported in a 2011 issue of the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology.

Rabin stresses the limitations of the work. For one thing, the findings were correlative, meaning it’s not quite clear those elements of executive functioning caused procrastination directly. The assessments also relied on self-reports in the future, functional imaging might be used to confirm or expand the brain’s delay centers in real time. Still, says Rabin, the study suggests that procrastination might be an “expression of subtle executive dysfunction” in people who are otherwise neuropsychologically healthy.

“This has direct implications for how we understand the behavior and possibly intervene,” she says.

Possible Interventions

As the basic understanding of procrastination advances, many researchers hope to see a payoff in better interventions. Rabin’s work on executive functioning suggests a number of remedies for unwanted delay. Procrastinators might chop up tasks into smaller pieces so they can work through a more manageable series of assignments. Counseling might help them recognize that they’re compromising long-term aims for quick bursts of pleasure. The idea of setting personal deadlines harmonizes with previous work done by behavioral researchers Dan Ariely and Klaus Wertenbroch on “precommitment.” In a 2002 issue of Psychological Science, Ariely and Wertenbroch reported that procrastinators were willing to set meaningful deadlines for themselves, and that the deadlines did in fact improve their ability to complete a task. These self-imposed deadlines aren’t as effective as external ones, but they’re better than nothing.

The emotional aspects of procrastination pose a tougher problem. Direct strategies to counter temptation include blocking access to desirable distraction, but to a large extent that effort requires the type of self-regulation procrastinators lack in the first place. Sirois believes the best way to eliminate the need for short-term mood fixes is to find something positive or worthwhile about the task itself. “You’ve got to dig a little deeper and find some personal meaning in that task,” she says. “That’s what our data is suggesting.”

Ferrari, who offers a number of interventions in his 2010 book Still Procrastinating? The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done, would like to see a general cultural shift from punishing lateness to rewarding the early bird. He’s proposed, among other things, that the federal government incentivize early tax filing by giving people a small break if they file by, say, February or March 15. He also suggests we stop enabling procrastination in our personal relationships.

“Let the dishes pile up, let the fridge go empty, let the car stall out,” says Ferrari. “Don’t bail them out.” (Recent work suggests he’s onto something. In a 2011 paper in Psychological Science, Gráinne Fitzsimons and Eli Finkel report that people who think their relationship partner will help them with a task are more likely to procrastinate on it.)

But while the tough love approach might work for couples, the best personal remedy for procrastination might actually be self-forgiveness. A couple years ago, Pychyl joined two Carleton University colleagues and surveyed 119 students on procrastination before their midterm exams. The research team, led by Michael Wohl, reported in a 2010 issue of Personality and Individual Differences that students who forgave themselves after procrastinating on the first exam were less likely to delay studying for the second one.

Pychyl says he likes to close talks and chapters with that hopeful prospect of forgiveness. He sees the study as a reminder that procrastination is really a self-inflicted wound that gradually chips away at the most valuable resource in the world: time.

“It’s an existentially relevant problem, because it’s not getting on with life itself,” he says. “You only get a certain number of years. What are you doing?”


The Psychology Behind Why We Procrastinate (And How You Can Beat It)

Procrastination—we’ve all done it. Some of us are repeat offenders and some of us find ourselves backed into a corner because of stress .

If you’re anything like me, you’ve read book after book, told yourself you would get better at time management, and worked hard to set clearer goals. But despite all the effort, discipline, and cranking down, nothing seems to work.

For me, it wasn’t until I met a woman on my travels in Bali that I discovered I’d been going about trying to beat procrastination all wrong.

You see, despite what you may have been told, the fight against procrastination isn’t a mental one. No amount of reasoning and willpower will make any difference—in fact, they’ll leave you feeling burned out and worse off than before.

The key player in defeating procrastination is actually a behavior pattern you can program yourself to do in just a few short weeks.

Sound too good to be true?

Don’t take my word for it—meet the productivity expert I met in Bali, Carey Gjokaj. She’s the founder of Lifehack Bootcamp , an 8-week online program that teaches you how to end the vicious cycle of procrastination and become an expert at time management. Through Lifehack Bootcamp, Gjokaj has helped thousands of people worldwide to become immediate action-takers who optimize what they get done in a day.

This week on the Unconventional Life Podcast , Gjokaj shares her tips for making procrastination a thing of the past and embracing productivity.

“We try to reason our brains into productivity but it doesn’t work,” Gjokaj says. “‘Wake up, let’s do this today, let’s get stuff done,” we tell ourselves. We have to realize that productivity is controlled by a completely different part of our brain. It’s not an intellectual concept. It’s a habit run by the animal part of our brain and we’re the animal trainer.”

Are you ready to train your brain to make a habit out of productivity?

Studies show the average person can form a new habit in just 66 days . Reclaim your time and peace of mind by applying Gjokaj’s method for maxing out your productivity below.

Distraction-Proof Your Work Space

Referencing research by Gallup , Gjokaj says, “some type of distraction is getting us off of our workflow every three minutes and five seconds. But it also takes our brain time after we’re distracted to ramp back up to the level of productivity we were at before—so you’re not just losing the time it took to answer that text message. It’s that time plus the amount of time it takes you to ramp back up."

You can reclaim lost time by making your work space a distraction-free zone. Gjokaj recommends setting your phone and computer to “do not disturb” mode, working in a small room with the door shut, and decluttering your desktop by dragging scattered files into folders. You can also set your desktop background to an inspirational quote that reminds you of your larger mission and keeps you committed to focus.

If “getting in the zone” and cranking down for long periods of time is how you work, you’re actually being less effective. Studies show if we break down our work time into smaller blocks followed by short breaks, we actually get more done because we allow our brain to replenish energy and focus.

“It’s the difference between a sprinter and a marathon runner,” Gjokaj says. For maximum productivity, she advises breaking down your work into smaller tasks and taking a short break every thirty minutes or so.

Work Towards A Weekly Goal

Identify one goal each week that would be a cause for celebration if you attained it. Gjokaj calls these goals “champagne moments” because they call for opening a bottle of champagne when they’re completed.

Make sure this goal is attainable but also requires you to challenge yourself. Break down the goal into daily action steps that will keep you on track to finish by the end of the week.

You can turn each day into a game by racing against the clock and trying to beat your best time on each of your tasks. When you’ve completed each day’s tasks, let yourself be done with work for the day and feel a sense of accomplishment.

Science shows that when we reward ourselves for doing a particular behavior, we become more motivated to do that behavior and are more productive at it. Essentially, the reward triggers the pleasure neurotransmitter dopamine to flow into our brains, so we associate the behavior with pleasure. You can use your biology to your advantage by programming your brain to associate work with pleasure.

Each time you complete a small work task, reward yourself with something small, like an m&m or a few minutes of free time.

“We need to reward our brain for doing good work,” Gjokaj says. “It doesn’t have to be big—just something big enough that it gives your brain a jolt of pleasure that burns those cognitive patterns deeper and deeper each time. That’s how you create habits that are gonna be there for you 24/7, especially when it’s really hard.”

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My three main areas of procrastination revolve around studying, working, and cleaning my house. These tasks are tedious to me but once I begin, I actually enjoy them.

To give me that initial push, I use timers. By knowing how long a task will actually take, I’m more likely to do it. I started by timing myself to see how long it would take me to pack the dishwasher.

After seeing that I could do it in just under 10 minutes every night, my procrastination dissipated because I know 10 minutes is not that long.

When studying or working, I use the Pomodoro Technique. Using this method, I give myself exactly 25 times to do a task and then reward myself with a 5-minute break.

Breaking down the tasks allows me to see the end without driving myself crazy about how long I’m going to have to study for.

These timing techniques are effective life-hacks that allowed me to forget about procrastination and they became the incentive I needed to begin.


Causes of Procrastination

In addition to documenting the consequences of procrastination, psychologists have investigated the possible reasons why people procrastinate. One explanation is that people procrastinate to protect their self-images from the negative consequences that accompany poor performance. From this perspective, placing a barrier in the way of completing a task (by procrastinating) can allow the person to explain the causes of their behavior in a positive or negative manner. If the person procrastinates and performs well on a task, then the person can explain the causes of the successful performance as having the ability to overcome an obstacle. If the person procrastinates and performs poorly, in contrast, then the person can explain his or her performance by the procrastinating behavior that caused the person to perform at a suboptimal level. Some research has shown that behavioral procrastination is related to the extent to which people place barriers in the way of completing activities to manipulate whether their performance can be explained positively or negatively. Joseph Ferrari and Dianne Tice showed that chronic procrastinators engaged in procrastination when an upcoming task was evaluative and potentially threatening. Thus, one possible cause of procrastination is that people place barriers in the way of their goal to minimize the negative impact of possible poor performance.

Another possible cause of procrastination is a sense of self-uncertainty early in life. According to this perspective, the bonds that people form with their primary caregiver from an early age can influence the degree to which people procrastinate later in life. People who grow up knowing that their caregiver is loving and responsive are less likely to procrastinate later in life, whereas people with a less secure attachment to their primary caregiver are more likely to procrastinate later in life. Other research has demonstrated that children raised by overcontrolling parents are more likely to procrastinate later in life than are children who were raised by noncontrolling parents. These findings suggest that insecure attachment to primary caregivers at an early age is associated with a tendency to procrastinate later in life.


Takeaway

The procrastination equation is a useful framework to help us understand why we procrastinate.

In a nutshell, if you want to beat procrastination in relation to any task, you need to raise your levels of confidence to achieve it, make the task more enjoyable, reduce distractions and the time to deadline.

Even though I’ve briefly outlined some strategies to beat procrastination—stakes, pre-commitments, shift in energy levels— the truth is ultimately we must make the decision to take action, regardless of how we feel right now.

We may never be able to completely eliminate procrastination, but we can strive everyday to live a better life with a clear motto: “Semper pergendum sine timore”—to always move forward without fear.


O.K. How do we get to the root cause of procrastination?

We must realize that, at its core, procrastination is about emotions, not productivity. The solution doesn’t involve downloading a time management app or learning new strategies for self-control. It has to do with managing our emotions in a new way.

“Our brains are always looking for relative rewards. If we have a habit loop around procrastination but we haven’t found a better reward, our brain is just going to keep doing it over and over until we give it something better to do,” said psychiatrist and neuroscientist Dr. Judson Brewer, Director of Research and Innovation at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center.

To rewire any habit, we have to give our brains what Dr. Brewer called the “Bigger Better Offer” or “B.B.O.”

In the case of procrastination, we have to find a better reward than avoidance — one that can relieve our challenging feelings in the present moment without causing harm to our future selves. The difficulty with breaking the addiction to procrastination in particular is that there is an infinite number of potential substitute actions that would still be forms of procrastination, Dr. Brewer said. That’s why the solution must therefore be internal, and not dependent on anything but ourselves.

One option is to forgive yourself in the moments you procrastinate. In a 2010 study, researchers found that students who were able to forgive themselves for procrastinating when studying for a first exam ended up procrastinating less when studying for their next exam. They concluded that self-forgiveness supported productivity by allowing “the individual to move past their maladaptive behavior and focus on the upcoming examination without the burden of past acts.”

Another tactic is the related practice of self-compassion, which is treating ourselves with kindness and understanding in the face of our mistakes and failures. In a 2012 study examining the relationship between stress, self-compassion and procrastination, Dr. Sirois found that procrastinators tend to have high stress and low self-compassion, suggesting that self-compassion provides “a buffer against negative reactions to self-relevant events.”

In fact, several studies show that self-compassion supports motivation and personal growth. Not only does it decrease psychological distress, which we now know is a primary culprit for procrastination, it also actively boosts motivation, enhances feelings of self-worth and fosters positive emotions like optimism, wisdom, curiosity and personal initiative. Best of all, self-compassion doesn’t require anything external — just a commitment to meeting your challenges with greater acceptance and kindness rather than rumination and regret.

That may be easier said than done, but try to reframe the task by considering a positive aspect of it. Perhaps you remind yourself of a time you did something similar and it turned out O.K. Or maybe you think about the beneficial outcome of completing the task. What might your boss or partner say when you show them your finished work? How will you feel about yourself?