Act Now, Procrastinate Tomorrow

Posted by Fitz Villafuerte under Productivity on February 17, 2008

Procrastination simply refers to the habit of putting off doing something for a later time.

Filipinos are more familiar to the term mañana habit, which is often translated to Tagalog as “mamaya na” (much later). Aside from the definition, it is also necessary to learn why we often choose to procrastinate.

Is it simply because we are too lazy to act or is it something much deeper? More importantly, how do we get rid of this bad habit? What is the best way to really overcome procrastination?

“It’s not urgent anyway, I can do that tomorrow.”

Psychologists often attribute procrastination as a coping mechanism against the anxiety we experience when faced with a difficult or unwanted task.

Think about the times when you needlessly delayed doing something. Chances are, those tasks were either hard to do, will take a long time to finish or something you simply don’t like doing. To excuse ourselves, we find distractions to make ourselves “busy” and rationalize that these tasks aren’t time-critical and can be done tomorrow or much later.

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If you find yourself making such an excuse, then ask yourself, which situation would you rather be in?

  • Do what I like to do now while my mind nags me not to forget to do my important task tomorrow.
  • Do my important task now, then do what I like tomorrow, worry free from my nagging conscience.

It is obvious that the last one is the better answer to the question. So how do we stop ourselves from making such foolish excuses? I suggest doing these simple things:

Do the task for five minutes.
I personally find this technique really effective. Take a few seconds to breath and then tell yourself, “Okay, I’ll give it five minutes. After that, if I really don’t feel like doing this task, I can stop and schedule it for later.”

More often than not, I would find myself doing more than just five minutes and setting my mind to completing the task. At times, I discover that I’m done even before the time limit. I just smile and say how silly of me not to do something that takes so little time to accomplish.

Set a reward for a job well done.
Another good way to overcome procrastination is to motivate yourself with a reward. “If I finish this, I would have time to go out and have fun with my friends tomorrow.”

You can likewise integrate compensation within the activity. “For every five minutes I spend doing this, I can allow myself ten minutes of guilt-free television watching later.”

The key here is not to see the task as depriving yourself but rather as a way to give yourself some guaranteed fun and relaxation. Furthermore, a strong belief in delayed gratification is one key to overcoming procrastination.

Eliminate distractions.
When we are doing something we dislike, distractions tend to be much powerful at getting our attention. Specially if the task at hand is boring or already a routine, our mind tends to wander off and be more susceptible to interruptions.

Avoiding such temptations can be rather simple and easy to do. Turn your phone to silent and keep it away from you. Sign out of your instant messaging service or better yet, unplug the internet connection. Turn off the television while working or simply tell your friends that you’ll be busy with something important and you’d appreciate it if they give you some time to finish your work.

“But I work better under pressure.”

This is another excuse we make when we want to procrastinate. It’s probably more accurate to say that you tend to finish your tasks when working under pressure but this does not necessarily mean that your results are better than if it was given ample thought and execution.

Sometimes, we choose to work under pressure simply because we need to feel that adrenaline rush to jumpstart ourselves. When there is a fast approaching deadline, our mind goes into “panic” mode and we are more likely to end up with make-do solutions and half-baked ideas.

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Furthermore, procrastination leads to unnecessary stress, feelings of guilt, lost opportunities, problems and disapproval from people who expected us to fulfill those duties.

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When you hear yourself using such an excuse, stop for a moment and try to see what is the deep-seated reason why you are procrastinating.

  • Is it because you feel overwhelmed by the task at hand and you don’t know where to begin?
  • Is the task very difficult and you don’t have an idea how to do it?

When faced with such an enormous task, it helps to condition ourselves and approach the problem with a healthy mindset with these techniques:

Play with semantics.
Instead of saying, “I have to do my laundry” or “I need to finish my report” why not tell yourself instead that “I want to do my laundry” and “I will start doing my report.”

Eliminate negative phrases and replace it with more active and positive terms. Do not burden yourself with your tasks and be more optimistic about your responsibilities.

Furthermore, setting your mind to finishing a lengthy task can be discouraging, simply focus on the beginning and when you can start doing it and the task won’t be as overwhelming.

How do you eat an elephant?
The answer is one bite at a time. Okay that wasn’t really appetizing, but I know you get my point.

Breaking down complicated tasks into simple ones is one way to effectively accomplish things and manage your time.

Furthermore, I suggest doing away with imposing goals such as “I will start exercising” or “I will start saving money” and break it down into simpler and more concrete steps such as “I will start walking one mile everyday” and “I will start paying myself 10% of my salary.”

Ambitious to-do lists have a tendency to set us up for failure, when making the list can simply become a project unto itself. “We trick ourselves into thinking our planning is actually doing, but it’s really just part of the procrastination,” says Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., a psychologist at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. “Planning substitutes for real action.”

Believe in yourself.
One reason why we procrastinate is because we don’t have the confidence to accomplish the task at hand. Believe in yourself and confront these mental roadblocks.

For example, if you are finding yourself producing mediocre ideas for a big presentation, just continue and finish the task. Doing so will relieve you of some pressure and will hopefully trigger a better idea.

In some cases, you might actually find ways to improve your finished work. If this doesn’t happen, do not beat yourself up about it. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Your boss will be disappointed or you won’t get that promotion?

It’s okay, we all have our bad days and the important thing to remember is that we tried and did our best and came up with a result which is definitely better than making excuses the next day for failing to produce anything concrete. By facing your fears, you can stop worrying and be able to finally start working.

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Works Cited:
Psychl, Timothy A. “Procrastination Research Group“. February 6, 2006.
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. “Procrastination“. February 15, 2008.

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Cartoons courtesy of Carpe Diem


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