Procrastination is a waste of time. Duh.
It also happens to be our natural human tendency. We are pre-programmed to follow the path of least resistance. In the simplest of terms, it is easier to not do something than it is to do something. And that’s all procrastination is.
If you are a writer, you may wake up one morning with a plan do write at least two chapters. But as it happens, it is easier to make tea and sip it leisurely while checking your email and watching YouTube. Thus you are procrastinating.
If you are a salesperson, you may find yourself sitting at your desk ready to make some sales calls, but instead you sit and doodle, and tinker around with a new way of organizing your leads, even though the old way was working fine. Thus you are procrastinating.
So why do we procrastinate?
Procrastination manifests when the perceived short-term benefit outweighs the perceived long-term consequences.
To illustrate this, let’s consider the case of a dog that gets into the garbage and spreads it around the house. The dog is well aware, from past experience, that his actions are going to result in an unpleasant punishment, however such punishment will be momentary and a worthwhile trade in exchange for the pleasure of an ill-gotten meal. And over the long-term, the dog knows he will be forgiven and loved as always. Therefore stealing the garbage is totally worth it!
It’s the same with procrastination. If you’re a student with a report due tomorrow, you might reason to yourself that this report is only worth a small portion of your total mark, and that skipping it or turning it in late won’t affect you too badly, so staying up to play video games instead is okay.
On the other hand, if you were certain that not turning in that paper would result in a failing grade, you would make certain that you got it completed at all costs.
But the problem is…
Long term consequences never seem big.
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Consider the sun and the moon. No doubt you have looked at them many times (hopefully not directly at the sun). They appear to be the same size don’t they? But of course, they are not, the sun is many, many times larger than the moon, but it is also much further away.
Now imagine that the moon is you favourite time-wasting activity, you own brand of procrastination.
And imagine that the sun represents long-term consequences.
Like the sun, long-term consequences are a long way away. Hence, they always seem smaller than they really are.
If you are young, retirement seems a long way away, so the consequences of not adequately saving for your retirement seem trivial and unimportant. But if you’re are fifty, those very same consequences seem very big indeed.
The key to beating procrastination
To conquer your natural tendency to procrastinate, you have to put the long-term consequences in perspective. Think about them as if they were happening today, and notice how much bigger they seem.
Going back to the example of the student procrastinating on his/her report. Though it is true that missing one report will not cause the student to fail, what if it does bring down the grade considerably? If the student just scrapes by and graduates near the bottom of their class, this could limit their job prospects. If they end up with a poorer quality job after graduation, it might take them much longer to pay of student debts, which will limit their lifestyle choices.
The next time you find yourself thinking, “I’ll do it tomorrow”, think about what will happen over the long-term if you fail to accomplish your goals, even the simple day-to-day ones.
You might be surprised at how motivating this can be.