My Life with the Procrastinators

I should state right away that I’m not a procrastinator. I’ve always had a healthy relationship with deadlines, I’ve never had any trouble with finishing my work, and I’ve never spent too much time on social media or YouTube. However, I’m surrounded by procrastinators, and there was a time when they drove me nuts. After years of watching them at work (or avoiding work to be more precise), I got really curious about this phenomenon. So I started some small, but private research.

The first thing I noticed is the diversity in their procrastination. There are various types, and no two procrastinators are alike. Some do realise their condition and try to overcome it; some pretend that it’s all just a joke and just wave their hands and laugh; and some live in self-denial, claiming that there are valid reasons that their work has yet to be done.

You might think that the "shame" or "feeling bad" while watching videos of cats is a sure way to spot procrastination, but not all procrastinators feel remorse when they postpone their work. Some might even miss the deadline and then just shrug it off and come up with some excuse or a simple “Well, I was too lazy, and now it’s too late.” And though most people fall into some broad category, there are more differences between these people within each category than similarities.

Procrastinators even procrastinate differently. Some spend time they should be working, watching television, YouTube videos, or films. Some do other completely unimportant tasks or even tasks they were procrastinating from in the past. Some spend time with other people (physically or via social media). There is only one thing they all have in common: they avoid work they’re supposed to be doing at the moment.

The trouble is that just as there are no two same procrastinators, there is no one way of how to defeat procrastination. You can google hundreds of tips, motivational videos, and articles. I used to find myself giving out advice like "Turn off social media," or "Don't watch YouTube." Luckily, the advice "Don’t procrastinate" never left my mouth. I knew even back then that this one was truly stupid. Procrastination is a symptom that can't be just turned off. It took me some time to realise this, and I still meet non-procrastinators who can't or just won't understand this.

Honestly, after years of watching procrastinators at their best and at their worst, I’m not sure if it’s even possible to defeat procrastination. It's more like a disease where you treat symptoms, because you can't figure out the cause. So I decided to treat this as a doctor should treat a disease: by finding the cause of the problem and solve it. I set out to find out why procrastinators procrastinate. It turned out to be an impossible task.

Just as each procrastinator is unique in their procrastination, their reasons are unique as well. Some believe they procrastinate because the task ahead is way too big, or they're overwhelmed with all the tasks they need to do. Others say that it's not important enough, or it's downright annoying. Some claim that starting the task is way too difficult and contains way too many steps which is off putting. Possibility that something else is more rewarding at the moment was also mentioned. I couldn't find out the real reason for procrastination, because procrastinators procrastinate on difficult and simple tasks alike, and often they procrastinate on tasks they actually like doing at other times. There just wasn't any pattern in their behaviour as long as I could see.

I thought I could get to the bottom of this by trying to figure out why I procrastinate myself. That's right! I actually thought I procrastinated on some occasions. Then a friend of mine – procrastinator through and through – proved me wrong. Just because I postpone a task an hour, doesn't mean I procrastinate. Why? Because I plan for the delay, I choose what to do during that delay, and when the planned delay is up, I go and finish the task. I don't feel bad about that hour, because it was part of the daily schedule. It's never part of the plan for a procrastinator; procrastination actually ruins the plan.

How should procrastinators stop procrastinating? I don't know, because there is no simple answer to this. Every person is unique and has their own reasons why they procrastinate, whether they realise it or not. Different things work for different people and therefore each procrastinator should figure this out for themselves. And therein lies the rub. That’s just another thing that will never be done, because with no deadline, there's no reason to start working on this.

So what's the outcome of my lifelong research? Just a realisation that this problem is way too big to be solved by one rule. I found some lifehacks that helped a person or two, but it never turned out to be a proven cure for procrastination. For instance, choosing a simple task is a good start. You want to run? Start by running for five minutes every day, or just around the block. If you're not in the mood, that minimum is simple enough to do. You want to write blogs? Write at least a hundred words per day which is two small tweets. Most days you will write more than those hundred words, but that minimum is simple enough to do even on slow days.

Then make a tracking board of done tasks. Take a monthly calendar and mark each day when you do the task (remember that minimum needs to be simple). Seeing the chain will make it more compelling to continue. Don't be hard on yourself. You don't have to deal with the task every day. There are days when we don't feel good, or we're having a lazy day. There's only one rule: you shouldn't have two lazy days in a row.

My favourite tactics, which might help someone, is a 'reward system'. When I have five tasks for the day, I put the task I want to do as the last one. And every time I feel like postponing the task at hand, I think of the task I'm actually looking forward to. This helps me to push through. For a procrastinator it should be probably something more rewarding than another task, but it definitely works for me.

And my advice to non-procrastinators who are being driven nuts by their friends or loved ones who procrastinate all the time? Deal with it. If it's something you can do, do it yourself (procrastinators really appreciate this). If not, let it go. There's no point in stressing over it. You're not helping yourself or the procrastinator next to you. So good luck!

Published on Patreon on 24th March 2019.