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The 4 Causes of Procrastination | Nick Wignall

Fight back against procrastination

  • Don't follow blindly advice from other people on overcoming procrastination. We may procrastinate because of very different reasons. Find what works for you.
  • Identify your unique vulnerability to procrastination. Do this routinely, and you should start to see patterns and trends.
  • Use targeted anti-procrastination strategies, adapted to your specific case.
  • Consider working with your procrastination rather than fighting against it.

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The 4 Causes of Procrastination | Nick Wignall

The 4 Causes of Procrastination | Nick Wignall

https://nickwignall.com/the-4-causes-of-procrastination/

nickwignall.com

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Key Ideas

Self-Efficacy

A person’s belief and expectation that they are capable of completing a task. 

When we don't trust the fact that we'll be able to complete a task (with good results), we're more likely to procrastinate.

Value

The more enjoyable a task, the less we procrastinate on it. 

Boring tasks are more likely to lead to procrastination than difficult ones, that's why we keep postponing all the busywork (work that keeps us busy but has little value in itself.)

Impulsiveness

Difficulty maintaining focus in the face of immediate and more appealing distractions.

If we work in an environment where we're bombarded with distractions and we are not capable of resisting them, we're more likely to procrastinate.

Delay

How much time there is in between the decision to take on a task and the point when it must be completed.

The longer you have to finish a task, the longer you’ll wait to get started on it.

The Procrastination Equation

Odds of Overcoming Procrastination = Self-Efficacy x Value / Impulsiveness x Delay.

Our likelihood to resist procrastination on a specific task is equal to the product of our self-efficacy and the value of the task divided by the product of how impulsive we are and the amount of delay between taking on a task and its due date.

Fight back against procrastination

  • Don't follow blindly advice from other people on overcoming procrastination. We may procrastinate because of very different reasons. Find what works for you.
  • Identify your unique vulnerability to procrastination. Do this routinely, and you should start to see patterns and trends.
  • Use targeted anti-procrastination strategies, adapted to your specific case.
  • Consider working with your procrastination rather than fighting against it.

Anti-procrastination suggestions

... for the 4 causes of procrastination:

  • Create small wins to address Self-efficacy: break the big goal into smaller manageable ones.
  • Create artificial systems of reinforcement to address Value: pair an aversive task with an enjoyable one.
  • Eliminate distractions ruthlessly to address Impulsiveness: don’t rely on willpower to resist distractions; change your environment instead.
  • Set micro due dates to address Delay: break down a task into reasonable chunks, each with a due date.

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Procrastination as a coping mechanism

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The science behind getting started

Progress on our goals feeds our well-being. So the most important thing to do is bootstrap a little progress: get a little progress, and that’s going to fuel your well-being and your motivation.

Implementation intentions for better focus

This is a self-regulatory strategy in the form of an "if-then plan": "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 these pre-commitments.

Procrastinating and emotions

According to traditional thinking, procrastinators have a time-management problem. They are unable to understand how long a task will take and need to learn how to schedule their time better.

Short-term mood lifters

Studies show low mood only increases procrastination if enjoyable activities are available as a distraction. In other words, we're drawn to other activities to avoid the discomfort of applying ourselves.

Adverse consequences

Procrastination leads to two primary consequences.

  1. It's stressful to keep putting off important tasks and failing to meet your goals.
  2. Procrastination often involves delaying important health behaviors, such as taking up exercise or visiting a doctor.

one more idea

Helpful procrastination

Procrastination is the action of delaying or postponing something.

From the outside, postponing your work can seem like a big waste of time. However, procrastination can help you do your wor...

Meaningful work

Doing creative and deep work requires you to let go. Procrastination allows one to get rid of the thoughts that are still occupying your mind. It helps you to loosen up.

Letting go

When you have been able to delay your work, your thoughts are empty and you are better able to work with challenging ideas. The work that follows is highly productive.

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Procrastination

Procrastination is not just avoiding or delaying a task.

It also has to include an aspect that’s counterproductive, irrational or unnecessary.

Procrastination triggers
  • People procrastinate because of a lack of value [associated with the task]
  • because they expect that they’re not going to achieve the value they’re trying to achieve; 
  • because the value is too far from you in terms of time
  • or because you’re very impulsive as a person.
If timing is the issue

Many people are inherently more productive at certain times of the day. 

Work around these natural productivity ebbs and flows when you schedule your days. 

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"Just do it” - not a solution for procrastination

If we repeatedly find ourselves avoiding certain tasks, an underlying problem needs to be addressed.

Once we identify the real cause, we can search for the appropr...

Most common reasons that lead us to procrastinate:

1. We feel like we’re not making progress.

2. We’re not sure where to start.

3. We’re afraid of failing.

4. We dislike the task itself

Addiction to information
Addiction to information, to the infinite and immediately available mental stimulation the internet offers in the form of information is real and is a perfect outlet for procrastination...
Neuroplasticity

... is how the brain changes (for better or worse) in response to repeated experience: the things we do often we become stronger at, and what we don't use fades away.

Learn yourself out of procrastination
  • Accept that you are going to procrastinate sometimes
  • Disconnect from your smartphone. Otherwise, it will demand your attention subconsciously 
  • Be mindful with your emotions when you catch yourself procrastinating
  • Focus on one thing at a time, to avoid feeling overwhelmed
  • Take breaks
  • Celebrate your accomplishments.

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Procrastination is an emotion management problem
Happens when we feel uncomfortable (anxiety, overwhelm ) toward a task. We want to do it, but end up doing something else that feels better.  We run away from our negative thoughts and emoti...
The #1 skill to overcome procrastination

Facing a task, experiencing the uncomfortable emotions associated with it and doing the task despite those  emotions.

Our mind is a reason-giving machine

It rationalizes the shit out of anything that’s just a little bit uncomfortable and create excuses as to why we shouldn’t do something now. Those excuses are irrational, but sound superficially reasonable. 

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“Positive” Procrastination

At the top of your to-do list, put a couple of daunting, if not impossible, tasks that are vaguely important-sounding (but really aren’t) and seem to have deadlines (but really don’t). 

...

Dashes

dash is simply a short burst of focused activity during which you force yourself to do nothing but work on the procrastinated item for a very short period of time—perhaps as little as just one minute.

The first thing is to take one minute and just write down the steps you need to do to finish the task - just a rough draft, at first, and that’s it. 

Now there is nothing else to think about, and there is no way to screw this task up. Everything is laid out and you can just start working on it.

Commitment Devices

First, give your friend $100. If you get the task done by 5 PM, you get your $100 back. If it doesn’t, you lose the $100.

Or make it $200 that the friend doesn’t keep — they donate it to some weird organizations, in your name.

Get the picture? That’s a commitment device.

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Procrastination is not an identity

Procrastination is something you do, not someone you are. When you stop making procrastination part of your identity, you free yourself up to change.

Don't judge yourself for how you f...

Clarify

Figure out why you avoid taking action. Find out all the reasons that prevent you from moving forward. 

For example:

  • You find the task challenging.
  • You don’t know how to do the project.
  • The activity is boring.
  • You don’t have a clear block of time to work on the task.

  • You need a quiet workspace.

  • You expect your work to be perfect—and fear it won’t be.

  • You don’t have a deadline.

Address the issues

Once you understand the reasons for procrastination, address those specific issues. 

Keep on dealing with the issues one by one. This will build momentum and move you toward completing your projects.

one more idea

Procrastination has a price. It's related to:
  • Depression
  • Irrational beliefs
  • Low self-esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
Willpower Doesn’t Work. Systems Do.

People shy away from routines, systems and frameworks because they want to have “freedom.” But in order to get things done, you need rules.

To get things done, research found effective:
  • Self-imposed deadlines.
  • Accountability systems (commitment with friends, or a coach).
  • Working/studying in intervals.
  • Exercising 30 minutes a day.
  • A healthy diet.
  • Eliminating distractions.
  • And most importantly: Internal motivation.