Productivity and Procrastination: How to Maximize Your Efficiency

Productivity has become something of a trigger word recently. We all want to increase our productivity to accomplish more in a shorter amount of time, although many today feel like this goal is impossible. Procrastination, the act of delaying or postponing an undesirable task, is extremely common among people of all ages, although younger generations have expressed particular frustration with it. The age of technology has left us all with shorter attention spans and a need for constant validation, making small tasks seem impossibly arduous. When in this state, anything seems more interesting than the task at hand, and people might even switch to other tasks like cleaning or exercise to avoid their assignment. This procrastination leaves people incredibly stressed once they have to do their work right before the deadline, causing many to resent the task when they really just hate the fact that the task had to be so rushed.

The problem is, procrastination feels great in the moment. Although you know you’re pushing off a task, you feel so energized by avoiding the negative emotion you anticipate the task will bring that you feel better about putting it off. Charlotte Liberman’s New York Times Article “Why You Procrastinate” explains this: “Self-awareness is a key part of why procrastinating makes us feel so rotten. When we procrastinate, we’re not only aware that we’re avoiding the task in question, but also that doing so is probably a bad idea. And yet, we do it anyway. ‘This is why we say that procrastination is essentially irrational,’ said Dr. Fuschia Sirois, professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield. ‘It doesn’t make sense to do something you know is going to have negative consequences.’ She added: ‘People engage in this irrational cycle of chronic procrastination because of an inability to manage negative moods around a task.’” She describes later how procrastination can also stem from a fear of failure. People worry so much about how to complete the task perfectly, and they get so wrapped up in worrying about it that they can’t complete it at all. Procrastination feeds on perfectionism, and these two often work hand in hand to ensure that a person gets nothing done. 

Liberman’s article also describes how procrastination is a vicious cycle, and how it can have extremely negative effects on a person’s well-being: “But the momentary relief we feel when procrastinating is actually what makes the cycle especially vicious. In the immediate present, putting off a task provides relief — “you’ve been rewarded for procrastinating,” Dr. Sirois said. And we know from basic behaviorism that when we’re rewarded for something, we tend to do it again. This is precisely why procrastination tends not to be a one-off behavior, but a cycle, one that easily becomes a chronic habit.” Habits turn into routines, and eventually, procrastination can just become a part of a person’s life. However, its effects are long-lasting, and the stress that comes from completing things so last minute can be extremely detrimental. Liberman says: “Over time, chronic procrastination has not only productivity costs, but measurably destructive effects on our mental and physical health, including chronic stress, general psychological distress and low life satisfaction, symptoms of depression and anxiety, poor health behaviors, chronic illness and even hypertension and cardiovascular disease.” Although these are very extreme effects, procrastination definitely has an impact on mental health. As more attention is given to mental health these days, it’s important to realize the toll procrastination takes. It can lead to immense guilt, or make you feel like you’re “lazy” and not working hard enough.  We have to learn that everyone can’t be productive all of the time. In a society fueled by constant work and bad habits, it’s important that we learn how to slow down and make time for the things that bring us joy. 

With that, there are some ways to combat procrastination to free up time for what makes you happy. Mindtools.com organizes these into a list: “Recognize that you’re procrastinating, work out why you’re procrastinating, then adopt anti-procrastination strategies.” These strategies include committing to the task, promising yourself a reward, asking someone to check on your progress, rephrasing your internal dialogue, minimizing distractions, and doing unwanted tasks first. Although it seems idealistic to think that these may work on someone who’s been procrastinating for years, new habits can always be formed. Furthermore, in a pandemic, it’s especially hard to focus. Some are learning virtually, which makes it much harder to get things done, since you’re online all day. It’s exhausting to sit at a computer for that long, and the lack of camaraderie between classmates can mean that people are even less motivated to do work. Despite this, I believe you can wake up every day and choose to change your life for the better. Procrastinating less means you have more time for the things you actually want to do, so learning how to focus more and complete things more efficiently could help you to make your life just a little bit better.

Citations & Resources:
Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do With Self-Control) (Published 2019) 

Procrastination – How Can I Stop Procrastinating? with MindTools.com 

Procrastination Through the Ages: A Brief History of Wasting Time

Why Wait? The Science Behind Procrastination – Association for Psychological Science – APS

The Pomodoro Technique – Why It Works & How To Do It 

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