If you have always dreamed about having superpowers, congratulations—you do!
Your brain is so complex and so powerful it uses billions of neurons at the same time to make you think, learn, perceive, act, remember, and participate in the world around you! You may think, “yeah, that’s just the brain,” but when you put it in a specific context it’s kind of amazing everything we can do. However, there’s always a “but.” aka procrastination, for example. It’s something we do but we wish we didn’t, and sometimes you end up questioning yourself: Why do I do this? Did I not learn from my all-nighter? Why again?
The New Oxford Dictionary defines procrastination as “the action of delaying or postponing something.”
We have all done this at a certain point in life, some of us more than we’d like to admit. Whether it’s with school, chores, even hard conversations, sometimes we spend more time thinking about the task than actually getting it done. Why do we always save tasks for the last minute, and how can we get out of this habit?
Believe it or not, you have two people inside of you. Your present self and your future self. We know the benefits of saving money for later, of waiting till the weekend to indulge in our cheat meal, of exercising a good amount every week, but we also love the instant gratification. Saying “I’ll do it tomorrow” is sometimes alright until tomorrow becomes many weeks or months from tomorrow.
Dr. Tim Pychyl, a psychologist, said in a New York Times article that procrastination is not actually about time management but about the negative emotions caused or associated with certain tasks or chores. Often it isn’t just about not wanting to write that paper, as getting started is always the hardest part. Sometimes those emotions towards a task come from a place of insecurity, fear, doubt or anxiety. It has to do with our self-esteem and how unsure we are of the outcome or if we can even get through it.
Procrastination is actually harmful because you are just waiting for these negative emotions to overwhelm you, yet we still do it again and again because it becomes a habit. We remember that we were still able to achieve that task and forget about the negative feelings we went through. And some of us actually thrive off of that rush of anxiety or stress because the pressure helps us get it done, but is that healthy?
Interestingly, the opposite of procrastination is called pre-crastination. The Collins Dictionary defines it as, “to undertake difficult tasks as soon as possible, in order to get them out of the way.” Unfortunately, this isn’t always the healthy choice either because rushing through things can lead us to make mistakes, have a bad judgment or poor decision-making skills, and regrettable grammar…
So how do we use the idea of getting things done as soon as possible or when they are assigned but also take the time to get them done with care and attention?
Here are a few ideas you can ponder and consider:
- Multitask, but smartly. Do something you love while doing something you have to do. For example, listen to your favorite podcast while running or catch up on your Netflix show while folding your laundry.
- Out of sight, out of mind. Set a goal, hide the distraction (if you can) for that period of time until you’ve achieved your goal. This way you give your present self some satisfaction of getting a break but also please your future self by finishing off what you need to finish. For example, you’ve got 50 pages to read but are dreading it and keep getting distracted by social media. Tell yourself after every ten pages you read that you’ll get a strict amount of minutes to be on social media, but hold yourself accountable so you don’t spend 60 minutes on your phone instead of five to ten, so you actually get your task done.
- A to-do list is always helpful. A mental list can work but sometimes we forget things. If not conveniently, noting down those tasks on a post-it or on your phone will help you visualize that it is manageable to get everything done and you get the satisfaction of checking things off.
- Schedule or plan time to do nothing. It may seem silly, but it is important to give yourself a break—our brain and body need to recharge. Whether it’s taking a bath or a nap, listening to music, or re-re-re watching that Friends episode, give yourself that 30 to 60 minutes to re-energize, so taking a break will be less on your mind.
- Procrastination is all about mindset. We think it’s related to being lazy or not having good time management skills, which are indeed consequences, but there is a reason why starting something is always the most difficult step because you eventually get through it. So why was it hard in the first place?
- If you are really, really dreading something and keep asking yourself why you have to do it, actually try to answer that question. Be curious about it and see how it may be painful for your present self but helpful to your future self. Take laundry: it’s annoying, but you’ll have clean clothes that will smell good, and prevent you from having skin issues. A boring subject to research? Well, why is it boring? Could you actually learn something new? Think about it.
- The truth is sometimes we just don’t want to do something and we should be kind to ourselves about that, but at the same time, we should be smart about it. Instead of wasting your time while putting off that essay, do something that seems more pleasant, that is instantaneously gratifying, that could be productive in some way, and then come back to what you need to get done. Do something that is low priority, that doesn’t take too much time, but at least you will have finished it too.
With Zoom and online classes, it can be twice as hard to get things done because we are congested to our homes and have a lack of human interaction or simply lack motivation, but we gotta keep things interesting, right? We all procrastinate and we all have insecurities but we also all have powerful brains and are actually unaware of everything it is capable of, so let’s discover it and use it to help us get things done.