Don’t drag your feet

If you habitually put off tasks without justification, then, you are possibly a chronic procrastinator

Updated - May 04, 2019 02:25 pm IST

Published - May 04, 2019 02:20 pm IST

Do it now  Don’t put things off.

Do it now Don’t put things off.

You have an entire month before you need to submit your stats project. Unlike last semester, you decide that you will work on it beforehand so that you don’t turn in substandard work in the last minute. So, you make a list of possible topics and shortlist a few. Two days go by as you get busy completing other assignments. You promise yourself that you will start working on the stats project on Thursday, which morphs into Friday and the weekend is before you.

Days melt into weeks and three days before the due date, you are a ball of nerves. Berating yourself for dilly-dallying only exacerbates your stress. How can you fight your tendency to procrastinate?

According to Timothy Pychyl, who has researched the near ubiquitous phenomenon for close to two decades, procrastination results when we knowingly delay acting, even as we are aware of the consequences of doing so. We may have every intention of acting, but fail to implement our plans.


Unlike other forms of delay, procrastination stems from our own “reluctance to act.” If you failed to turn in your stats project because your mother was hospitalised, and you had to attend to her, then your delay is not a form of procrastination. Everyone is compelled to postpone certain tasks now and then due to other pressing commitments. But, if you habitually put off tasks without adequate justification, then, you are possibly a chronic procrastinator. However, you can change your ways.

Everyone finds certain tasks onerous. But procrastinators tend to put off aversive tasks because they feel good for a short while when they postpone them. However, the immediate gains come with long-term costs. People who habitually procrastinate have lower levels of achievement. Moreover, Pychyl says they also harbour more negative feelings and have compromised health compared to people who get jobs done on time.

When presented with an arduous task, procrastinators need to “find a way to cope” with unpleasant feelings, according to Pychyl. So, as soon as the temptation to forego or abandon a task surfaces, “stay put” counsels Pychyl. Don’t succumb to the urge to give up. Further, expect to feel reluctance when you have to start a project. You may also create an “implemental intention,” a term coined by Professor Peter Gollwitzer. Thus, you may tell yourself beforehand, “If I feel apathetic towards the task, I will not give up. Even if I feel like quitting, I will persist.”

To work on a task, you don’t have to feel like doing it. Pychyl argues that we have to relinquish the notion that we need to feel motivated to perform an activity. Instead, if you simply act on your intention, you will “see your attitude and motivation change.” The crucial message is that your drive need not precede your activity. On the contrary, the very act of persisting on a task can have a catalysing effect.

Most importantly, when we tackle procrastination, we must channel our energies into coping with unpleasant feelings. As Dr. Pychyl says in an article by Charlotte Lieberman in The New York Times , “Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time-management problem.” Thus, when we slip up and fail to do a task, we are more likely to take corrective actions if we treat ourselves with kindness. Instead of chastising yourself for wasting time yet again, extend compassion towards yourself. Besides quelling discomfiting feelings, a softer, gentler approach will more likely help you complete your pending tasks.

The author is Director, PRAYATNA.

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