The art of procrastination

Procrastination is a true art form – even now, my reason for sitting down to write this post is to avoid my thesis for a half hour or so if I’m being completely honest. The reason you’re reading this post may very well be due to the fact you are in the midst of a session of prime procrastination yourself. Your time doesn’t have to be wasted online, reading blogs (thank you) or flitting through social media to procrastinate, it only has to keep you from your primary task at hand. In a world of mobile devices with every kind of app you could possibly imagine, procrastination is easier than it’s ever been – and I am a consummate professional.

I have always been easily distracted. My school reports are littered with accounts of my daydreaming, distracting others and lack of attention in the classroom. At University, without a teacher constantly keeping me focused, I’m afraid to say my power to procrastinate went stratospheric. I’d spend hours sat in Western Bank Library reading up on football teams, perusing Facebook and getting lost on Wikipedia looking up ridiculously pointless facts – types of British fishing trawlers being one I remember well. I dread to think the amount of hours I’ve wasted in total, usually broken up with plenty of coffee breaks and long lunches.

All humans have a tendency to waste time, even the most perfectionist minds are apt procrastinators. The psychology behind it is a little complex, but a useful way to understand it is to imagine you have two selves: your Present Self and your Future Self. When you set yourself goals – like writing an essay for a deadline or losing weight – you are making plans with your Future Self, to satisfy your brain in seeing the value in taking action for long-term rewards. However, only the Present Self can take action and when you do, you are no longer indulging the Future Self. In summary, your brain values long-term benefits when they are in the future (tomorrow), but it values immediate gratification when it comes to the present moment (today).  This gratification can come in the form of simply not working. So your Present Self enjoys instant gratification, and this is why procrastination can seem so dangerously easy to fall into.

But procrastination isn’t always unproductive – in fact it’s sometimes good to indulge our perennial struggle with self-control. You may spend the odd hour procrastinating here and there, but more often than not that time is followed by a feeling of guilt that then motivates you toward your ultimate goal. This guilt is very useful, as it may result in a period of productivity that you otherwise wouldn’t have tapped into. Most importantly, procrastination is usually a key ingredient to “The Fear” – the student’s best friend, the point when a deadline is so close that you have no choice but to work on it to get it in on time. So it’s not all bad.

There are always ways to reduce the temptation to procrastinate. You can keep your phone out of reach or set timelines in your day of when and where to wind down and go crazy with useless activities. Allowing yourself rewards for successful working days is also a good one. But I think the most important thing is to be aware of procrastination itself – to understand that you do it from time to time, and that it’s ok in moderation. It can help you understand your habits, and how to tweak them in order to make them compatible with your working style. So, the next time you find yourself wondering where the last hour or two have gone, perhaps scrolling through Bored Panda, have a think about your tendencies to procrastinate and make it work for you.

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