Pesky Procrastination


Procrastination… definitely the bane of my existence. There have been times in my life when I’ve managed to kick this beast out of my life… and wow have I experienced just rewards for my efforts! But why is it so hard to stop procrastinating? Further… why once you start does it only seem to get worse?

… Wait a tic, while I check my facebook… watch a new episode, YouTube a cat… and another cat…. check facebook again. I should really walk the dog…

Before you know it, half the day is gone! I don’t know about you but I don’t have the time to be waste and life only seems to be getting busier. Also the problem is that it effects us negatively in a number of ways: “restless nights, high levels of stress, regret, and panic, withdrawal due to the lack of time or unsatisfactory fulfilment” (1). We know this happens… so why do we do it??

There are a few theories…

Early research mainly suggested that it is a personality trait and that procrastination doesn’t change, not even depending on what the task is. I assume that these researchers hadn’t procrastinated much themselves, perhaps there use to be less to get distracted by?

More recently though scientists recognises the obvious: that if and how much you procrastinate is dependent on the situation and task (that it’s not a personality trait). So the harder the task – the more we procrastinate.

To be honest… it sounds a bit like fear to me. There is evidence to support this!

When you make that decision to avoid a task you know you should do… its like an argument. I feel like I’m having a fight with myself, and the responsible, organised side does not always win. Well your brain is actually having a little argument! The argument is between your prefrontal cortex (wants to work) and the limbic system (wants to play and watch another episode of The Big Bang Thoery before studying).

Why does the limbic system win??? It’s that pesky Amygdala!!! The Amygdala controls your fear and anxiety and determines your flight response to a threat. Well think of your 3000 word essay as your threat. The tiger to your deer.

Essentially the pre-frontal cortex turns off in a threatening situation: if you were being chased by a tiger… would you want your prefrontal cortex reminding you to do your homework?? Think not.

Though that essay may not be a tiger, you still experience some anxiety (perhaps less than if it were a tiger). We fear the essay!

We might fear:

  • Not knowing where to start because it feels overwhelming
  • Failure! (procrastination is an excuse for failure – rather than it being our best effort that has failed, its because we did it the night before!

BUT I don’t think we should use these things as a further excuse! We need to face our fears kids and find ways to control our Amygdala and stop that Prefrontal Cortex from switching off.

There are some obvious things you can do that I’m sure many of you have heard before.

  • Set goals
  • Break a big assignment into smaller, more easily accomplishable tasks (and tick them off as you go!)
  • Plan your time for study
  • Have a nice working space with everything you could need in front of you
  • Take real planned breaks – not facebook breaks
  • Think about how you will do it. (This is a great trick… if you think about the process of doing the assignment then your brain thinks you’ve already done it. Therefore it’s already easier! Haha)
  • Stick through the hard times! It’s important to teach yourself not to give up so easily!
  • Don’t use the “I study better at home / library / on the weekend” excuses… Perhaps its good to set yourself up in a good study environment but don’t let that be the excuse to put things off until the weekend (for example)
  • Only reward yourself AFTER you’ve accomplished a goal

Some useful references:

(1) Kagan, M; Cakir, O, Ilhan, T & Kandemir, M (2010). The explanation of the academic procrastination behaviour of university students with perfectionism, obsessive- compulsive and five factor personality traits.
(2) Moon, SM & Illingworth, AJ (2005). Exploring the dynamic nature of procrastination: A latent growth curve analysis of academic procrastination. Elsevier. 38; 297-309
(3) Schouwenburg, HC (1992). Procrastination and fear of failure – an exploration of reasons for procrastination. European Journal of Personality. 6(3); 225-236

2 Responses to “Pesky Procrastination”

  1. Pat Bonney says:

    So, what your saying is that I shouldn’t have opened this beer before I finish my last blog post? Hmm.

  2. Scott Lillie says:

    Cool post. Very timely too! It’s wonderful how a scientific understanding of everyday experiences can empower you to over come them.