Why Do We Procrastinate?

Procrastination is deeply ingrained into our DNA as human beings. It is a harmful trait that prevents us from becoming high-achievers by fulfilling our potentials and even sometimes threatens our lives e.g. someone who keeps postponing going to the hospital to rectify an illness that is getting more serious each day.

Whichever way you choose to look at it, procrastination is harmful, period.

Here are some very relatable reasons why you, the average adult keep postponing vital tasks:

Distractions

You know better than anyone that you ought not to place distractions within arm’s reach if you really want to achieve whatever it is you set out to do on a particular day.

I want to divide distractions into two main groups:

  1. Distractions that come up during the course of doing your task and derail you into postponing it.
  2. Distractions that prevent you from ever lifting your finger and starting your task.

I think number 2 is worse and probably more frequent than number 1 but everything is relative.

Picture this number 2 scenario:

It’s a Friday afternoon and you are about to start working on an assignment/work task that is due in two weeks. You know all too well that if you do it within the next two days (which are free by the way), you will do your best work and will even have enough time to polish up and produce the best version of work you can ever produce.

Now, in comes your girlfriend/boyfriend (You weren’t expecting them). He/she (I’ll just use ‘they’ from hereon) is in a particularly good mood today. They landed a client that they were chasing for a while (or any other significant achievement) and are in a celebratory mood.

Due to relationship obligations, you must show them how pleased for them you are and failure to do that will come off as passive and can easily wreck your relationship. So, in a gesture of commitment, you shut your laptop and say “that’s amazing news hun!” Even though this display of happiness starts off a bit forced, you gradually become genuinely happy, euphoric even. You end up spending some quality time with them and the next day, you don’t feel guilty about not starting the task because it was a worthy distraction.

Going by the textbook definition of the word, you just procrastinated. Harsh, I know, but the truth is as it is. You never did what you were supposed to do and the task remains undone!

How about number 1. Picture this:

You are doing your assignment very dutifully, on a beautiful Thursday afternoon. You are actually surprised at how conscientious you are given your history with procrastination.

It so happens that you are working on your laptop and are using the internet to do your research. You forgot to turn off your phone notifications and you receive a message. You say to yourself, “Let me just check it quickly, turn off the notifications, and then get back to this. I will reply later if it merits a reply.”

On reading it, you realize that the message concerns a point you made on a whatsapp group touching on some contentious topic. You weren’t supposed to reply but James just discredited your whole argument and even called you stupid! “How dare he!” Now all fired up, you start concocting the best way to put him in his place and discredit his foolish argument. You type out a paragraph and hit send. Almost immediately, he starts typing his response.

Meanwhile, Sam chimes in and his argument supports yours. You acknowledge his taking your side by agreeing with him and, right on cue, James fires his counter argument. Jane supports James and it morphs into a full-blown war of words.

It’s gotten so serious, you have to countercheck facts on Google to support your argument and demean theirs. You screenshot facts, they fire back. The exchange goes on for 40 charged minutes.

When that exchange dies down, you realize that since you are already on Whatsapp, how about going through people’s statuses.

“Ah! Sandra looks amazing here and I wonder what she is up to these days. Let me check in on her,” you reason. You comment on her status and, she replies gleefully. One thing leads to another, and you’re now texting entire paragraphs back-and-forth.

Evening comes and you think “I will just continue this (your task) tomorrow. I am no longer in the mood plus, I feel hungry now.”

You just procrastinated.

Expert tip: The distraction thing is 100 times worse with Facebook

I know all these distractions look legit and worth the postponement. But that’s just it: They are distractions. In the next post, I’ll show you how you can overcome these distractions and handle them in the best possible way. Moving on…

You don’t know where to start

I know this one sounds very familiar.

Sometimes, we never get around to fulfilling an obligation or doing the job we are supposed to be fulfilling or doing because it is too hard and YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW WHERE TO START.

I personally always had this problem when I had to study for a tough course (particularly those with scattered learning materials). You know you should be doing something about it but you can’t because you don’t know where to start.

It’s always with things that you have never done or that you started before but never really got too far with enough to see some tangible progress or end results. With the latter, you never really followed through even after trying and failing the first time (or couple of times).

You doubt whether you can start working on this task when you don’t have sufficient materials or the weather is not conducive or you are feeling hungry.

“It’s not my fault that I am in a bad position because I can’t be expected to start working without good notes.” ; was a common excuse I leant on.

But then, time doesn’t wait for you (and your imperfect conditions) to sort yourself out and the deadlines come whether you are prepared for them or not. Deadlines don’t give a flying f**k about your excuses. An opportunity doesn’t wait for you to sort out your mess as you wait for everything to align and set you off into the right trajectory. Opportunities fly by and Deadlines loom.

Disorganized/Untidy/Unkempt

Ever noticed how when your room or office is untidy, you are never in the mood to do your work.

(Caveat: I realize that there are exceptions to this rule as I have always had that friend who still works optimally in a chaotic environment. If you are that friend, move on to the next point)

However, for most of us, our disorganized desk kills the drive to do honest work. And this one also relates to the points I made earlier about distractions and never starting your task.

An untidy working space = distractions = never starting your task = procrastination.

Disorganization has a significant impact, especially when the project is difficult and needs more attention and resources.

Delayed Rewards

I saved the best one (or worst one) for last.

Delayed rewards means that the nature of the task you want to accomplish take time to materialize. The term “rewards” is used subjectively to mean any of the following:

  • Positive emotions: After accomplishing a hard task that everyone else is failing at, you feel a deep sense of pride.
  • Getting paid: If you do something for money, getting paid in time is the ultimate goal.
  • Recognition: Usually from your peers or superiors. “Man, that is impressive! How did you manage to do it!”

The most important thing about rewards is that we want the NOW. Not tomorrow, not next week, not next month, but NOW.

The phrase “Justice delayed is justice denied” rings true here.

When you work on something, it is more satisfying to be paid immediately than to wait. When you want to share your success, you feel better doing it now than tomorrow.

How does this point connect to procrastination.

Let’s create a utopian paradise for the sake of our discussion here:

Our utopian paradise goes by the name Wakandaa. Here, everything good you do is rewarded almost immediately. The people work hard because they are always paid in time and their bonuses don’t even have to wait till year’s end. When people go to the gym, they start seeing results in one month. Students work hard at school because as soon as they graduate, they are rewarded with well-paying jobs. People get promoted at work quickly if they work extra hard. Nothing goes unrewarded and every good thing you do is acknowledged immediately.

Let me yank you out of that paradise and place you in a more realistic-sounding world that’s actually bordering on a dystopia:

Our dystopian hell goes by the name Earthia. Here, things are a bit unpredictable. Everything good you do will NOT be rewarded immediately. The people work hard reluctantly because even when they do, they are not paid in time and their bonuses… well, what bonuses are you talking about you spoiled little shits! When people go to the gym, the body aches and they won’t even start noticing changes until after 4 months, at least. Students are unsure about working hard because you are not guaranteed a job when you graduate and as we have established those who find jobs work for exploitative bosses with little pay and poor conditions. People get passed up for promotions even when they know they deserve them more than that girl who’s sleeping with the boss or that annoying cunt who just joined the other day. Good things are rarely acknowledged and why are you even working hard when you are not even sure you will be rewarded?

Delayed gratification is what really happens in our imperfect world.

You will not work hard on your task today because you will not be rewarded after successfully achieving it until after school when you graduate or at the end of the financial year when they hand you your bonus cheque.

If they were paying you faster, maybe you’d have done your job faster to fetch the reward.

Social Pressure

A wise man once said that you can determine your character based on the characters of your friends. The people you keep around you are a mirror image of you in terms of habits and viewpoints most of the time.

If your friends have the habit of procrastinating, you will procrastinate.

If they keep putting off their work to do fun activities, you will want to be a part of that because they are your friends and you don’t want to miss out or be the odd one out.

By extension, social pressure can also apply to larger group settings. For instance, if you work in a company where people keep postponing meetings or product launches or marketing campaigns, it will seep through to your subconscious and you may adopt the habit of putting things off. It is more subtle and hard to notice but it happens.

Conclusion

Next up, we will discover how we can shatter these reasons and become more productive. We will never beat procrastination but we can learn to live with it and achieve SOME of our goals in life. Perhaps more than we ever could if we were anchored by our procrastination.