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The word procrastination comes from the Latin “pro crastinus”. Rather than the name of some positive gladiator, this means “forward” or “of tomorrow”.
So, to procrastinate is to delay. To put things off. Until tomorrow, next week. Any time but now.
We all do it. And while this can feel as though it reduces pressure, in the back of our mind we still know that, at some point, we’re gonna have to get this thing done.
But what is procrastination, and how do we beat it?
Almost a quarter of people consider themselves chronic procrastinators. And many will admit to this with a kind of wry amusement, as if it’s some kind of guilty pleasure. Like snaffling chocolate biscuits from the tin when no one’s looking.
But procrastination is a problem, because putting things off undermines our ability to achieve our goals.
If you’re a student, you’ve worked to get where you are. And at the end of it all, you want that mark, that degree, that high-flying job.
Procrastination can reduce your chances of success.
We can study hard, attend lectures, read all the books. But putting off writing that report, essay or dissertation until you really have no choice will have an adverse impact on the quality of the work.
By procrastinating, we’re increasing time pressure. We don’t realise this until later, when the deadline looms like an express train, and we still – haven’t – started.
When we do finally get going and time’s running out, we rush. This means we write sloppily, edit superficially, and proofread ineffectively.
These approaches will mean the work is incomplete, disorganised, and full of mistakes. And that will mean it’s less likely to give us the results we want.
So if procrastination has such a negative impact, why do we do it, and what can we do about it?
Procrastination provides a comforting illusion of control. By putting things off, we feel as though we’re the ones deciding when we do something, rather than feeling forced to do it.
This is especially tempting if the task in question is something we aren’t looking forward to, are intimidated by, or simply find boring.
Uncertainty and fear are also common causes of procrastination.
If we don’t begin a difficult or daunting task, we’re not at risk of failing at it. And failure is one of the things everybody fears most. Fear is what stops us from applying for that big job. Asking that person out on a date. Saying what we really think.
Putting our thoughts on the page.
But uncertainty and fear are places we have to pass through to reach our destination. Uncomfortable though that journey might be, the anxiety we feel is an ingredient of change. The change we need to make to improve, become stronger, and achieve our aims.
A 3,000 word essay can seem like a mountain to climb. And it is far easier to check for email again. Watch another skateboarding dog video. Or try out some new fonts.
So how can a tendency to procrastinate can be overcome?
If you’ve got a daunting task ahead, don’t focus on the summit of the mountain. Just take it one step at a time.
Working on the project for just a few minutes will kick-start the process.
Those few minutes of initial activity will stimulate the brain, and you’ll soon find yourself making connections, expressing your thoughts, and realising that this can be done.
Writing is like a relationship. It can be awkward at first. But the more time you spend with that piece of work, the more you’ll get to know each other, and as the relationship develops, you might even come to love it. Your improved mood and positivity will feed into your work, and become evident between the lines.
Finally doing something we’ve been putting off or worried about, and realising it’s not all that bad after all, can be calming, rewarding, even exhilarating.
So how do you get to the finishing line and realise your full potential?
All you have to do is start!