The importance of staying on task and being productive is more relevant today than ever before. With offices and workplaces closing down all around the world because of the pandemic, it's important to learn how to work as effectively as possible. Oxford Dictionary's definition of procrastination is short and simple:
"The action of delaying or postponing something."
Humans have been procrastinating for centuries. Even the ancient Greek philosophers Socrates and Aristotle's were at home with the problem. So at-home with it that they created a word to describe the behaviour: Akrasia. They defined it as the state of acting against your better judgement. Why is it such a common problem?
Behavioural psychology has revealed that there is a phenomenon called "time inconsistency." This can help explain why procrastination has a tendency to get hold of us. It is the human brain's habit of valuing immediate rewards higher than future rewards.
Imagine for a second that you are split into two halves, your Present and Future. By setting a goal, whether it be finishing the book you're reading or learning a new language, you're in fact, setting a goal for your Future Self. You're envisioning what you would like your life to look like in the future. Researchers know that when we think of our Future Self, it is easier to see the value in taking actions with long-term benefits. Like taking that language course in English or going to the gym for the day. Our Future Self values long term rewards. Whilst the Future Self can set goals, only the Present Self can take action. As soon as a decision comes around for you to make, you no longer have your Future Self in mind. You are in the present, making choices for your Present Self. Just as much as your Future Self enjoys long-term rewards, your present prefers instant gratification.
So how do you avoid procrastinating? First of all, forgive yourself for procrastinating in the past. This is guaranteed to not help any future progress. Positive thinking and moving forward is proven to help make you feel better about yourself. It will also help make you work better to avoid procrastination in the future. Another way is by rephrasing your inner dialogue and switching out the phrases "need to" and "have to" with "I choose to." This is an easy trick to fool your brain and make tasks seem more achievable. But the easiest step is to act on tasks as soon as they arise. By letting them build up throughout the week, you will find yourself burdened with a pile of work instead of clearing them off as you go. Commit to the tasks and focus on doing, not avoiding.
Procrastination is human, and it's easy to fall back into old habits. Remember that nothing comes for free, and with a small, daily amount of work, you will soon reach your goals!