‘I’ll Do It Tomorrow’: Why We Procrastinate & What to Do About It

Is it laziness? While we all find ourselves procrastinating, the reasons could be very different for everybody.

Mind It
6 min read
While we all find ourselves procrastinating, the underlying reasons could be very different for each person.

If I have to be honest, I am about a week late in writing this piece. I stalled and stalled and stalled, until the very last minute when the deadline was hovering over my head.

I know I’m not alone. Everybody procrastinates. We put off tasks, dawdle our way to the finish lines, push deadlines, pile up work, and get done with the to-do list only when we absolutely have to. Even though the last-minute pressure and the fear of never being able to complete it can be terrifying, we do this to ourselves again, and then again.

For something that appears to come almost naturally to us, could there be any underlying causes? How do you get out of this lull?

From a Lack of Will to Distractions; A Myriad of Reasons

While we all find ourselves procrastinating, the reasons could be very different for each person.

Kamna Chhibber, Head of Department, Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences at Fortis, Gurugram, says, “People often procrastinate because they feel a lack of motivation for the task, or experience task aversion where they just dislike it entirely.”

“But at other times, it can relate to a fear of failure. The individual may feel they do not possess the required skills needed to successfully accomplish the job.”
Kamna Chhibber

In conversation with FIT, Ritika Aggarwal Mehta, Consultant Psychologist at Jaslok Hospital also says that there are various reasons why we procrastinate, and these differ for everybody. She lists out some common ones:

  • A lack of motivation may be the result of no immediate or direct reward.
  • It could depend on the nature of the goals a person has set. If these are vague, they wouldn’t know where to begin. For instance, you decide you want to exercise, but you don’t lay out the specifics: when, how, for how long, etc.
  • Fear of failure and self-esteem issues: When a person doesn’t feel confident and equipped, they may avoid the task altogether, fearing evaluation and criticism.
  • Another reason could be an underestimation of the time that it might take to complete a task. An increased time period between the starting of the task and the deadline could also lead people to put them off for later, thinking they have ‘enough’ time.
  • Indecisiveness can cause procrastination. If there are ten different things that are to be done and you are unable to make up your mind about what to pick first, you would rather not begin anywhere.
  • Distractions! Specially when you are working from home. The TV’s in front of you and you impulsively decide to watch another episode. Before you know it, you have spent three hours mindlessly binging on the latest series, not realising where time flew.

On the surface, these reasons may appear ordinary. But often, they are reflective of the underlying state of our minds, which is why mental health makes an important part of this discussion.


Laziness Is Not It: The Role of the Mind & Emotions

There are various reasons why we procrastinate, and these differ from person to person.
There are various reasons why we procrastinate, and these differ from person to person.
(Photo: iStock)

Putting off work, getting distracted and avoiding chores as much as possible, could often garner a person the reputation of being ‘lazy’ or ‘insincere’. But is that really all?

When inquired about the role of mental health and emotions in causing someone to procrastinate, Chhibber says, “These aspects play a huge part. It is important to determine what it is that may be interfering with a specific individual’s ability to do a task, instead of going with the assumption that they are lazy.”

“It has a lot to do with your stress levels, the fears you have, if there is an underlying mental health problem or if there are self-esteem or self-efficacy issues. So definitely, a lot of it actually stems from how we feel about ourselves.”
Ritika Aggarwal Mehta

“Even mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression could contribute in making someone put off tasks. We know that depression, in some cases, leads to anhedonia, which is a loss of interest in the things you enjoy. It could also lead to fatigue, so you don’t feel like doing anything because you’re tired,” Mehta adds.

It is also the other way round. If anxiety and stress are causing you to procrastinate, the stress would only increase as the deadline comes closer, which may fuel guilt or regret in a person’s mind. Moreover, a task done at the last minute may also not be of the best quality, potentially leading to criticism or negative feedback, again triggering doubts an individual may already have about their capabilities.

Chhibber elaborates on how this could affect the way individuals view themselves.

“They can end up developing a negative, overly critical perspective of the self which can impact self-esteem, feelings of worthiness and confidence. This inadvertently can also influence a person’s moods and belief systems, thus, causing them to be less productive and more temperamental, impacting their selves and their relationships.”
Kamna Chhibber

Has the Pandemic Made It Worse?

The COVID-19 outbreak, as FIT has earlier reported, has led to heightened levels of stress, anxiety, fear and uncertainty. We find ourselves bound to the confines of our homes with minimal interaction with the outside world.

Ritika Aggarwal Mehta speaks about exhaustion and mundaneness of our routines. “We are all exhausted. As I said, tiredness and fatigue are also one of the reasons why we postpone work. This is probably why the tendency to procrastinate has increased during the lockdown, because the physical and mental exhaustion has gone up to a great degree. It could make it difficult to exert that self-control to push ourselves forward.”

“Boredom with the work, doing the same thing day in and day out, following the same routine - work, home, housework - it becomes a very mundane existence. Nothing exciting or different is happening, so completing tasks feels pointless.”
Ritika Aggarwal Mehta

Kamna Chhibber adds, “The pandemic has blurred the boundaries for many people and it has led to excessive pressure on account of the prevalent financial and economic impact. Add to this the fact that people are playing multiple roles, which can get exhausting. As a result, many tend to delay what needs to be done.”

Conquering Procrastination: How Do You Get Out of the Slump?

Considering the many possible reasons behind procrastination, the first step towards overcoming it would be identifying the primary cause. Following that, the psychologists offer us some general tips to get going:

  • Try to make an accurate assessment of what may be causing you to procrastinate. If there is a gap in skills or information, then try to build those before you attempt to go ahead with the task.
  • Create a plan of action and set the right routine.
  • Start with a list of goals. Make sure these are SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. For instance, if you want to start exercising, decide the time, the number of days you will do it, the kind of workout you will start, etc.
  • Keep refining and revising your plan as you go along. If something doesn’t seem to work, tweak it according to what you can do. Pace yourself at a comfortable level instead of trying to push yourself to do too many things too soon.
  • Break your work up into parts and list out your priorities. Convert your goals into micro-goals and micro-deadlines. When there are smaller goals, you are giving yourself a reward much earlier. Every time you reward yourself, you feel better, so you will feel more inclined to do the next step.
  • Reduce and eliminate distractions. Take the plug off the TV, keep your phone aside or give it to someone else, do what you have to in order to concentrate and focus.
  • If you find a task boring, do something enjoyable before or after the task. Pairing something you don't enjoy with something you do, could help motivate you.
  • Don't hesitate to take inputs from others around you in case you need support with a task.
  • Visualise the completion of the task.

If the lack of motivation to work is caused by underlying anxiety, depression or any other mental health issue which you may not be able to identify, visit a mental health practitioner. You must seek help if it constantly interferes with your work.

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