7 Causes of Procrastination Revealed By Research
Sure, some of us do it more than others. But it’s a problem everyone deals, even though we universally recognize it’s not a productive habit.
If you want to start to beat the procrastination monster, there’s two things you need to understand.
What it is, and more importantly what causes it?
What is Procrastination?
Psychologists say that procrastination is a failure in self-regulation. Which simply means that we fail to do what we plan on – or should be – doing. We divert ourselves from a particular task to do something else.
Tim Pychyl is a psychology researcher and that’s been looking into the topic for over 20 years. He’s also the author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle. Here’s his definition of procrastination:
Procrastination is failing to get on with life itself.
With people looking to improve their productivity in recent years, procrastination has received a lot of attention.
While many believe that procrastination is largely due to poor planning and execution, psychologists are finding that this isn’t the big reason why people do it.
So what has Tim learned about why people procrastinate in the last couple decades?
Why Do We Procrastinate?
Procrastination can lead to feelings of stress, guilt, worry, and even depression. Things we generally like to avoid.
Even though we know procrastination isn’t a good thing, and has long term consequences, then why do we still choose to do it?
If not a logical behavior, what is it?
An emotional one.
The primary reason why humans procrastinate is because it’s an emotional reaction to a task we don’t really want to do.
Tim says that procrastination largely becomes an emotional regulation strategy. A coping mechanism that makes us feel better in the short term. So we try to avoid something unpleasant because it’s putting us in a bad mood.
Inside your brain, the prefrontal cortex gets shut down by the limbic system – the cave-man side of the brain. The planning, long-term, goal-oriented side of our brain gives way to short term payoff of feeling better.
And the stronger the emotional reaction, the more likely we’ll put it off. And now that we know the main reason why we procrastinate, let’s take a look at what Tim has discovered about specific causes that trigger procrastination.
7 Causes of Procrastination
Tim conducted a study that looked at people’s personal projects found that there was 7 different causes – or triggers – that would make a task more averse – or unpleasant.
1 – Ambiguous
2 – Difficult
3 – Frustrating
4 – Boring
5 – Unstructured
6 – Task Isn’t Intrinsically Rewarding
7 – Task Lacks Personal Meaning
If you’re currently putting off a task, more than likely it’ll match one or more of the above causes. And Tim’s research said these could occur at any stage in a project we’re pursuing.
So what’s a procrastinator to do?
The most important thing when trying to beat procrastination?
Simply getting started. Tim via Solving the Procrastination Puzzle:
Once we start a task, it is rarely as bad as we think. Our research shows us that getting started changes our perception of a task. It can also change our perception of ourselves in important ways.
Only if getting started were that easy. Truth be told, there are a number of strategies that can be used to beat procrastination. But it’s not a one-size-fits-all type of solution.
What works for you may not work for someone else. one person may not work for you. People will have different reasons for putting things off.
You first need to identify why you may be putting something off, and then find the best solution that could help you solve it. Solving the Procrastination Puzzle:
…by breaking down exactly which of these attributes an aversive task has, you can take those qualities and turn them around to make the task more appealing to you.
For example, let’s look at difficulty. When you find a task difficult or insurmountable, research has shown that breaking a project down into smaller chunks can increase motivation and help get you started.
For an ambiguous task, helping to clearly define what you want to accomplish and outline steps to get there can bring clarity. Spelling it out on paper or visualizing the steps needed to accomplish something may seem trivial, but sometimes a little nudge is all we need to gain momentum.
Don’t Waste Your Life
Beating the procrastination monster is about more than just being productive. It’s about getting to the things that really matter in life. Tim believes you need to remember the big picture.
Via the Procrastination Puzzle:
…the most finite, limited resource in our lives is time. We only have a finite amount of time to live. Why waste it?