Graphic by Olivia Kahane ('22)
How often do you scroll through Instagram thinking “Wow, I have so much work I should do right now!” and then keep scrolling? Don’t worry; we’ve all done it. After all, it’s human nature to procrastinate. We know pushing off our responsibilities is harmful and foolish, yet we do it anyway. How can we explain this behavior? And how can we combat this innate desire?
Though procrastination is often associated with laziness, it actually results from a variety of psychological factors. According to a 2006 Harvard study, we often delay our work because our brains are wired to protect us from mental burnout. The thought of tackling several homework assignments, essays, and tests is overwhelming so our brains convince us to relax.
Dawdling also stems from perfectionism. Perfectionists place immense pressure on themselves to be flawless, which, of course, is a highly daunting goal. This leads perfectionists to neglect tasks they fear cannot be completed to their standards. Similarly, people who fear failure are more prone to procrastination. Their logic is that it is impossible to fail at something you do not even attempt.
So, how can we use this information to overcome procrastination?
Knowing the root of the problem allows us to find solutions. For example, after discovering that feeling overwhelmed induces procrastination, scientists learned that breaking down tasks into smaller, concrete units is an effective way to combat it. Though a heavy load of schoolwork on top of house chores may sound insurmountable, studying page by page or vacuuming one room at a time is far more achievable. Furthermore, conquering individual tasks motivates us to strive for more.
Many anti-procrastinators also espouse the five-minute rule: if a task takes under five minutes to complete, do it now. Whether it’s making our beds, putting dishes away, or finishing an assignment, we often push off small duties that later amass into frightening to-do lists. However, research shows that once you start something, you’re much more likely to finish it; therefore, by undertaking one chore at a time, you’ll become much more organized and, in the meantime, enjoy a cleaner room and more manageable workload.
An essential aspect of overcoming procrastination is changing your perspective on short and long-term benefits. Often, we’ll watch one more episode or make one more TikTok and tell ourselves we’ll begin working soon. Instead of prioritizing momentary satisfaction, we should use the present to position ourselves well for the future. Tomorrow, a week from now, or further down the line, you’ll be glad if you accomplished something instead of squandering time.
Lastly, eliminate all distractions. You’ll never get your work done if you constantly check your texts or reply to Snapchats.
Defeating procrastination is challenging. In fact, many people never quit the habit. But, with the right mindset and determination, it is undoubtedly possible.
Article by Ariella Gross ('21)