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procrastination

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Procrastination is the habit of delaying tasks beyond a realistic timeframe for their completion. The habit is so common as to be very nearly universal -- most people put off tasks from time to time. Nevertheless, procrastination can lead to a great deal of wasted time and can cause significant problems for the individual. In a business, procrastination can seriously impact employee productivity.

Behavioral psychologists believe that much procrastination results from a phenomenon called time inconsistency -- essentially, the human tendency to choose immediate rewards over progress toward future rewards, even if the future reward is substantial and the immediate reward minimal. That means, for example, that a doctoral candidate might find herself checking Facebook repeatedly and spending more time there than is wise, despite really wanting to finish her thesis on time. 

Tips for overcoming the habit of procrastination:

Decide what the most important task is and focus on that. Don’t attempt to multitask – humans are not really capable. In fact, research has shown that those who believe they have a particular talent for multitasking do it even less effectively than others.  

Break macro-goals down into small and specific actionable tasks. Writing a paper, for example, could start with developing an outline or an abstract or writing for a specified time period without allowing any distractions. (See: timeboxing)

Attention training can help people maintain focus on the task at hand for long enough to accomplish significant work.

Mindfulness training and practices like meditation can calm people’s minds, improving the quality of their cognitive processes and making them less distractible.

Limit social media and app use. Social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and many apps are intentionally and specifically designed to overcome the user’s best intentions to self-regulate because keeping as many users as possible active is essential to profit.

Use productivity tools. Various apps and browser extensions exist to help users get work done more efficiently.  The pomodoro timer, for example, helps enforce work and break periods, in part by blocking sites that the user tends to spend too much time on.

Make well-being and work-life balance priorities. People work more effectively when their needs outside of work are attended to.

This was last updated in November 2018

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