Is Procrastination Always A Bad Thing?

Why do we sometimes struggle to begin assignments or studying for exams? In my own experience, it seems that taking that initial step to sit down and start can be much tougher than simply diving in without overthinking. As someone who values planning, I’ve noticed that the mental energy required to acknowledge a task often…

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Why do we sometimes struggle to begin assignments or studying for exams? In my own experience, it seems that taking that initial step to sit down and start can be much tougher than simply diving in without overthinking. As someone who values planning, I’ve noticed that the mental energy required to acknowledge a task often feels greater than the effort needed to actually tackle it. With that said, let’s explore the psychology of procrastination.

According to Lieberman (2019) at The New York Times, the word procrastination comes from Latin and means “until next day”, and is the action of delaying tasks. It means telling yourself “I’ll do it later” instead of doing it right away. Procrastination can be a problem for many people, and breaking that habit can be difficult. It might be because you feel overwhelmed by the task, don’t know where to start, or simply prefer doing something more enjoyable instead of what needs to be done. However, learning to manage procrastination is important to be effective and achieve your goals.

What are the common misconceptions about procrastination?

There are several misconceptions about procrastination. Some of them are mentioned in a blog post on the website Deprocrastination (n.d):

Procrastination is just laziness”

According to the blog post, many people think procrastination is a result of laziness or a lack of motivation. However, it’s often more complex than that. Procrastination can stem from various factors such as fear of failure, perfectionism, or feeling overwhelmed. 

“I procrastinate because I work better under pressure”

Another myth is that procrastination is good because we work better under pressure. According to Deprocrastination, we work worse when we feel pressure and stress. It is common that we procrastinate to use lack of time as an excuse for why we didn’t do as well as expected. 

“Procrastination is always harmful”

While procrastination can have negative consequences, it’s not always harmful in every situation. In some cases, taking a break or delaying a decision can lead to better outcomes. However, chronic procrastination, where it becomes a habit and interferes with daily life, can indeed be detrimental.

Why do we procrastinate?

According to Lieberman (2019), overcoming procrastination involves addressing the underlying emotional challenges rather than focusing solely on time management techniques. She emphasizes that procrastination stems from an inability to effectively manage negative emotions and moods associated with specific tasks. Instead of viewing procrastination as a mere issue of time management, it should be recognized as an emotion regulation problem. This perspective highlights the importance of understanding and addressing the emotional triggers that lead to procrastination. 

Furthermore, Lieberman points out that the immediate relief experienced from procrastination reinforces the behavior, leading to a cycle of avoidance. To break this cycle, individuals need to develop strategies to manage their emotions more effectively and resist the temptation to procrastinate. Moreover, Lieberman discusses how procrastination is linked to present bias, where short-term needs take precedence over long-term goals. This bias is deeply ingrained in our evolutionary past, as our brains prioritize immediate rewards and struggle to envision the future consequences of procrastination. Recognizing this bias is crucial for developing strategies to overcome procrastination and focus on long-term objectives. 

Ultimately, Lieberman concludes that procrastination is about coping with challenging emotions and avoiding discomfort in the present moment. To overcome procrastination, individuals must cultivate resilience and develop coping mechanisms to manage negative emotions effectively. This may involve practicing self-compassion, reframing tasks in a positive light, and cultivating curiosity to understand and address the underlying emotional triggers. By adopting a holistic approach that addresses both emotional and cognitive aspects, individuals can effectively overcome procrastination and achieve their goals.

What happens in the brain?

According to Amy Spencer (2023), procrastination can be explained as a conflict between two brain regions when confronted with an unexciting task or obligation. Spencer explains that this conflict pits the limbic system, responsible for unconscious impulses including pleasure, against the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s newer region associated with planning. Typically, the limbic system prevails, leading to the postponement of tasks, offering momentary relief from the discomfort of needing to do something but lacking the desire to do so. Furthermore, the author describes that procrastination can be attributed to biology rather than personal fault. The limbic system, responsible for basic survival instincts, often prompts us to avoid unpleasant tasks, favoring immediate mood repair. On the other hand, the prefrontal cortex, essential for decision-making and integration of information, requires conscious effort to override the limbic system’s impulses. This ongoing battle between automatic responses and conscious decision-making explains why we procrastinate.

How can you overcome procrastination? – My 10 best advice

  1. Take Small Steps: Begin with easy parts of tasks and work your way up. Doing this helps you feel more confident and keeps you moving forward.
  1. Break It Down: Divide tasks into smaller, manageable parts. Begin with simpler components to gain momentum and confidence before tackling the bigger challenges.
  1. Weigh the Pros and Cons: Consider the benefits of completing tasks versus the consequences of procrastination. Understanding the rewards of productivity can motivate action. 
  1. Reward Yourself: Associate task completion with enjoyable rewards. Whether it’s a treat or a break, incentives can help reinforce positive behavior and combat procrastination. 
  1. Establish Priorities: Set clear goals and prioritize tasks to combat procrastination and stay focused on objectives. Moreover, you should align tasks with long-term objectives to provide purpose and motivation, overcoming procrastination tendencies. 
  1. Plan Your Time: Utilize planners and diaries to allocate specific time slots for tasks, maintaining focus and accountability. 
  1. Change Your Environment: Optimize study spaces and minimize distractions to enhance concentration and reduce procrastination tendencies. Also, eliminate distractions and create a conducive work environment to facilitate focus on tasks. 
  1. Talk Yourself Into It: Reframe negative thoughts into positive affirmations to cultivate a proactive mindset and overcome procrastination. 
  1. Know Your Thinking Traps: Challenge unrealistic thinking patterns and gain perspective on tasks to alleviate procrastination tendencies. 

10. Be Persistent, But Patient: Acknowledge progress and reward incremental improvements to gradually develop effective habits and reduce procrastination tendencies over time.

To conclude, I have found that procrastination is not just about putting things off- it’s a mix of good and bad. While it can block our progress, sometimes it gives us a chance to take a breather and think. Understanding that it’s influenced by emotions and how our brains work can help us see it in a different light. Although too much procrastination can hold us back, taking a break now and then might actually help. To tackle it, we need to know what triggers it, change how we think about tasks, and set clear goals. Let’s face this challenge head-on, learning and growing along the way. Together, we can navigate procrastination with determination by finding a balance between its ups and downs.

References:

Deprocrastination. (n.d.). 6 Most Common Myths About Procrastination. Available at:

https://www.deprocrastination.co/blog/6-most-common-myths-about-procrastination [Accessed: 16 March 2024].

Lieberman, C. (2019). Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do With Self-Control). The New York Times. [Online] Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/25/smarter-living/why-you-procrastinate-it-has-nothing-to-do-with-self-control.html [Accessed: 16 March 2024].

Spencer, A. (2023). Want to Train Your Brain to Stop Procrastinating? Read These Tips From a Neuroscientist. Real Simple. [Online] Available at: https://www.realsimple.com/work-life/life-strategies/time-management/procrastination#:~:text=Science%20explains%20procrastination%20as%20the,part%20of%20the%20 brain%20 that [Accessed: 18 March 2024].

A tip! You can read more about procrastination and get help via Lunds University:https://www.lu.se/studera/livet-som-student/service-och-stod/studenthalsan/prokrastinering#:~:text=Prokrastinering%20%C3%A4r%20ett%20 annat%20 ord,hur%20du%20 kan%20 undvika%20 prokrastinering.

About Nådiga Lundtan

Founded in 1948 and has since been an important part of student life in the economics program at Lund University. Nådiga Lundtan covers a wide range of topics related to economics, society, and politics, as well as careers, entrepreneurship, and innovation. It is a platform for students to share their ideas and opinions on economics and related fields.

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