You know the feeling: You should have done something today, really, really should have… but somehow it just didn’t get done. Especially if it wasn’t your most enjoyable task or project, and the deadline is some way off in the distant future. And there was just so many other things; emails, internet, phone calls, that called for your attention.

Oops where did the day go?

You know the feeling: You should have done something today, really, really should have… but somehow it just didn’t get done. Especially if it wasn’t your most enjoyable task or project, and the deadline is some way off in the distant future. And there was just so many other things; emails, internet, phone calls, that called for your attention.

We all know how to procrastinate but 20% of us are chronic procrastinators. But why do we do it?  For an amusing insight into the mind of a chronic procrastinator watch Tim Urban’s TED talk or read his blog (aptly named Wait but Why). What Tim calls his Instant Gratification Monkey, psychologists describe as preferring instant gratification over a delayed reward. It is easier to do something enjoyable right now and put off a task you don’t like until later.

And it is easy to be distracted, find something else to do and still feel busy. The internet and email has been perfectly designed for distracting procrastinators. You feel busy when you are answering emails as they ping into your inbox but you are not productive.  You can do some internet research that starts at one place can take you way off track as marketing savvy click-bait titles distract you from your real goal. Here’s a quick test: can you resist not clicking this link that will take you to the 33 most watched cat videos of all time.

Eventually the deadline gets so close that the punishment of missing the deadline, disappointing the boss or letting down colleagues, motivates us into a huge frenzy of activity. This is what Tim describes as the Panic Monster. But panic is not a good way to motivate yourself. Panic leads to stress and stress makes your stupid. You’re not likely to do your best work. Plus panic has bad effects on your health. Research on procrastinating college students showed in one term they had more colds, flus and gastrointestinal problems and suffered from insomnia compared to non-procrastinators.

So how can you beat procrastination. Try these two tricks to fool your instant gratification monkey

  1. Creating a reward for finishing the task that you want. For example tell yourself – if I get this finished then I’ll leave the office early, eat some chocolate – whatever you find rewarding. Give yourself an instant gratification that is stronger than the delayed reward several weeks or months down the track
  2. Break your task into smaller tasks and set a deadline when the smaller tasks need to be done. This way it doesn’t seem so far off into the future. Link it with the reward above and motivate yourself to steady progress.

We tend to think of procrastinators as lazy but often they are actually perfectionists who set themselves such ambitious, unrealistic goals it creates a fear of getting started in case you fail. By contrast over-achievers set themselves ambitious goals but aren’t aiming for absolute perfection. Watch this video  if you’re a perfectionist, overachiever or workaholic.