Full disclosure, this story was due a week ago. Knowing full well that I might have stretched my editor's patience to its limits this time, I sat down this morning to complete it once and for all.
Ping! Ping! Ping! An urgent email, an article about a celebrity couple's impending wedding, and a picture of my friend's new puppy later, I decided, enough was enough. But then, my table felt like it needed a quick clean, after all, your desk is a reflection of your mind and all that.
I have a problem, a procrastination problem, and it can be debilitating when your work is mainly composed of fast-paced news and hard deadlines. My only solace is knowing that I am not the only one.
So, naturally, I turned to the internet for help. I put some of the solutions it gave me to the test, and here's how it went.
Getting to The Root: It's Not Laziness
First things first, why do we even procrastinate, or put off a task?
Laziness doesn't quite cut it, because most people who procrastinate one task often do it by doing another task (albeit not as pressing), like cleaning, organising, repair work, etc.
Speaking to FIT, Dr Kamna Chhibber, Head of the Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, at Fortis Healthcare, says, "Procrastination is a response, and the reasons for it can be innumerable."
Some reasons she lists are,
A habit of doing things at the last minute because of a history of getting a decent result, and no adverse effect, so the motivation to change it is missing
Lethargy and lack of interest in the task
A lack of drive and motivation to do the task
Feeling overwhelmed by a task that's too challenging, and a fear of coming across as incompetent
An underlying anxiety or a fear based response
In fact, some recent studies have looked for possible deeper explanations.
A 2022 study in the journal Nature Communications suggests that the root of procrastination may lie in a cognitive bias — we believe that doing tasks will somehow be easier in the future, and so we leave it to our future selves to deal with.
Another 2013 study found that procrastination can be understood as 'the primacy of short-term mood repair … over the longer-term pursuit of intended actions'. Simply put, procrastination allows you to focus on and manage your immediate negative moods, rather than putting yourself through the discomfort of actually doing the task, even though it may be rewarding in the long run.
There's also another type of procrastination that stems from 'perfection paralysis', or the state of not being able to start a task for fear of messing it up or even not get it exactly right. Again, Dr Chhibber reiterates that this is merely a response to an underlying cause.
How Can You Stop? What the Internet Says
First, I turned to the treasure trove of all solutions, wikiHow.
Do your task for 15 minutes, and give yourself a pep talk, it said.
Easy enough. Except after 15 minutes, I found myself taking a 15-minute-long break which turned to 20, which turned to half an hour, and then 'who is even counting'.
Pep talk didn't work either. After repeating the Nike slogan over and over again, I found myself scrolling through my phone, shopping for athleisure wear.
Another website suggested using visual and auditory aids like alarms, and Post-it notes to keep myself on track. This somewhat worked...for 5 minutes.
As for the alarms, they only ended up worsening my anxiety every time they went off and I realised I had fallen behind, further widening the gap between me and the completed task.
Then, I turned to the Princeton University website. An Ivy League university full of highly motivated individuals must know how to tackle procrastination, right?
Break down your tasks into smaller chunks
Make a list of your tasks
Commit to them
Now, I doubt you are still with me on this story. But if you are, I am list lover, I loved the idea.
But once the list is made, some of my anxiety eases because now I have a plan of action in place, the small win ends up killing my urgency to actually do the task.
The problem, I realised, stemmed from me being in control of the solutions. The tips and techniques may be great, but it doesn't work great when the person resisting them is put in charge of enforcing them.
'Find YOUR Solution'
No one-size-fit-all solution
"People end up implementing solutions ad hoc. They don't necessarily contextualise it to where is the issue arising for them," says Dr Kamna Chhibber.
"A strategy will only be applicable to you depending upon what is the root cause that's leading to the concern, or behavioural pattern as well. Being able to understand that is the first step."Dr Kamna Chhibber
For instance, she says, if you're going through a depressive episode and as a result your motivation is low, if you're to break down tasks and look at it only from the standpoint of 'Oh, I'm procrastinating!', you'll not be able to overcome it.
"The first thing I tell people is that figure out the context of the current problem. Don't assume that you have inattention or that this is a habit. There could be other reasons for it as well."Dr Kamna Chhiber
Figuring it out, she says, will allow you to have a better lay of the land, and as a result you may be able to come up with an approach that is more applicable to you and would actually give you results.
Moreover, trying to squeeze in to one-size-fit-all solutions may actually end up doing more harm in the long run because when they fail to work, you'll eventually lose what motivation you do have to even try at all.
Be firm, but be compassionate with yourself
A study, published in the International Journal of Science and Research, linked chronic procrastination to low self-esteem, a lack of self-confidence. This is particularly true in the case of those who procrastinate out of 'perfection paralysis'.
While avoiding being self-indulgent, it's also important to not be too self-critical. The idea is to focus on doing your best and not getting caught in a web of worrying about the outcome and what others will think of it.
Ask for help
If you find it hard to take the onus of implementing the solutions, "try and work with someone else to help."
"Getting another person involved may help boost your motivation to stick to your task, and provide a fresh perspective on how you can approach it."Dr Kamna Chhibber
Sometimes you may have the right solution but struggle to implement it, and in such a situation, having someone else to nudge you can help you implement it on time.
Remember why you're doing it
Changing the way you look at your task, from something that you are forced to do, to something that has a greater value and meaning attached to it can also help you push yourself more strongly in the direction of completing the task.
And well, ultimately, a non-negotiable deadline, some more coffee, and recalibrating my thoughts is what it took for me to get this piece done.