Procrastination is humanity’s most illogical problem. 

How can people have such good intentions and yet be so totally unable to follow through?

Conventional wisdom has long suggested that procrastination is all about poor time management and willpower. But more recently, psychologists have been discovering that it may have more to do with how our brains and emotions work.

 

When people procrastinate, they are avoiding emotionally unpleasant tasks by doing something that provides a temporary mood boost. However, the act of procrastination leads to feelings of guilt and shame–which in turn leads people to procrastinate further, resulting in a vicious cycle.

Furthermore, popular misconceptions about procrastination haven’t helped those trying to improve their work habits. A procrastinator often thinks their situation is hopeless, and enables their bad habits by thinking “Oh, I have a time management problem” or “I just can’t make myself do it. There’s a problem with my willpower.” And those using the pejorative term “lazy” to describe procrastinators only further their self-doubt.

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How do we overcome our procrastination problem? The key lies in distinguishing between “present self” and “future self.” According to psychologists, when we don’t have a clear grasp on what we want our “future self” to look and be like, we let our “present self” trump our future goals every time.

Here are some ways to help your “future self” take back the day.

1. Avoid self-deception

Procrastination is about self-deception — you aren’t aware that it’s going to cost you, but you are. When there’s no more self-deception and you finally face yourself, you’re either going to do it, or you’re not going to do it.

2. Follow the OHIO rule

Robert Pozen, who’s written a book on extreme productivity, has the OHIO rule: only handle it once. With email, for instance, psychologist Tim Pychyl thinks to himself:

“‘I can reply to it now, or I can throw it out,’ but there’s not much of a middle ground. I’m not going to save it for a while.”

Face your task once, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the satisfaction of completing it.

3. Implement intentions

Here’s Pychyl’s take on implementing intentions that will stick:

Implementation intentions take the form of ‘If, then.’ ‘If the phone rings, then I’m not going to answer it.’ ‘If my friends call me to say we’re going out, I’m going to say no.’ So you’ve already made this pre-commitment.”

Further reading

Pychyl’s book from 2013: Solving the Procrastination Puzzle: A Concise Guide to Strategies for Change

Why wait? The science behind procrastination, a review of the contemporary research by Eric Jaffe