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T.E.A.M. Tuesday Articles 

Procrastination Fragmentation

By Justin Simmons - Aug 29, 2023

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“Everyone procrastinates, but not everyone is a procrastinator” - Joseph Ferrari, PhD, Professor of Psychology for DePaul University, Chicago.

When we consider where or how the term procrastination is typically presented, there is often a negative connotation implied. We ourselves may be guilty of this practice but most likely try to justify an excuse for our unavoidable display of delay or tardiness. This act of shifting priorities or choosing to do something else when we should be accomplishing a more important task has been arguably normalized by the speed at which the world now operates. Regardless of the cause, we stand to lose when we neglect to prioritize our schedule effectively. Our performance and achievements will be measured by this level of effectiveness.

Procrastination by all accounts is an active decision. It is a comprehensive action we participate in when deciding to push off the things we should be most focused on at the present time. On the surface, the cause and effect may appear simple. After all, everyone has waited until the last minute to complete a task before, it's commonly categorized as circumstantial. This doesn’t necessarily become a concern for a one-off situation. We do, however, need to be honest with ourselves when admitting the situation to be a rare occasion or perhaps happening more frequently.  

Studies show that over 90% of people will procrastinate occasionally. This is very different from the 20% of those whose actions will deem them procrastinators in all aspects of life. At face value, these numbers likely fall in line with what we would expect. What might be more surprising is why we tend to procrastinate in the first place. The underlying causes of why we may do this is what we must be cognizant of as true procrastinators may suffer from more alarming conditions.

Anxiety, depression, low self-confidence, lack of structure, and poor self-motivation are all potential drivers for why we may choose to procrastinate. Considering these factors in association with personal wellness, we should pay closer attention to our own practice and maintain a watchful eye on others who may show such signs. It's important to understand that these characteristics often become mistaken for laziness and therefore can cause compounding effects if left undetected.

Not to be confused with laziness, procrastination spans all types of personalities. Someone who is outgoing with a busy schedule may be far from lazy but could fit the profile of a procrastinator due to potential stress buildup resulting in burnout. Stress and anxiety have a large impact on our performance and sometimes the added efforts we put forth begin to work against us.

Another influencing factor is the neurotransmitter dopamine. As we produce this chemical in our bodies our brain will control its release based on doing things we like or what makes us happy. This can become a bit confusing because it can work counteractively if we allow it. In one case, not having enough dopamine can cause us to be unmotivated and this may lead to procrastination. Adversely, as we choose to procrastinate the brain may actually reward us by releasing dopamine for choosing a path that feels better than doing whatever unpleasant task we were contemplating accomplishing. This negative cycle can spiral quickly and this is why we must stay in control of our task-oriented agenda.

Whatever the cause for our willingness to prolong the inevitable, shifting important priorities due to lack of motivation should be viewed as a sign of imbalance. Not all imbalances are critical but they are worth noting. When we start to produce negative repetition within our performance, this is how bad habits are created.

Inversely, by evaluating our actions we can form good habits as well. Attacking challenges and reprioritizing tasks may reveal hesitation on items that just don’t excite us. When this occurs, we need to look deeper and question the importance of the tasks that we’re noticeably disinterested in. In many cases, there will be plenty of hard work that feels dull or repetitive but is still necessary. However, if a task lacks justification, this is where we can start to eliminate busy work and gain time for more important objectives. To successfully identify good and bad habits we must be honest with ourselves. It's our responsibility to spot the difference between ignoring important obligations versus reallocating valuable time.

Along with focusing on the causes, we need to find ways to stop procrastinating in general. Regardless of why we do it, we’re better off correcting this problematic behavior. There are a number of ways we can help curb this practice but the goal is to start somewhere. For me, I have been a large proponent of breaking things up into manageable tasks.

Fragmenting the items that we most often want to postpone creates a momentum shift in our brain. Suddenly the path to completion looks different. Considering many of the tasks we typically delay executing are large in magnitude, complex, or possess a level of repetition that we view as boring, it can be appealing to break these activities up into sections and accomplish them systematically. To do so, we’ll need a plan that works best for us (caution: building a plan could become an added point of procrastination for the unenthused).

Planning is effective but requires focused attention to apply logic and reason to an agenda. We might find ourselves getting stuck on how to develop such a plan, resulting in yet one more item we choose to dismiss. For any plan to be successful, it will require a structure that suits an individual's style of execution. At a minimum, it should include more than just a calendar due date. We want to identify the duration of time we expect each task to require and then allocate these durations in blocks on our calendar. This will help us to prioritize what to do and when to do it. There are plenty of planning tools to explore (the ‘T.E.A.M. Minute Manager’ used throughout our program is one to consider) but the key is to find something that works well for you. Once a planning strategy is selected, be sure to fill in as much detail as possible before executing the tasks. This will be helpful to maintain focus throughout the agenda and prompt a strong finish.

When it comes to finishing tasks, double down on this effort. All too often we approach completion only to redirect focus onto the next item and never circle back to finish the open task. This ultimately results in missing deadlines or accepting incomplete work as a final product. Neither of these scenarios adheres to the original goals set forth in our plan nor is it the impression we want to give about our performance.

The goals we set can lead to manufacturing our own distractions if not properly managed. Leaving one task to start another is a perfect example of how we may sabotage our own initiatives. Distractions as a whole are a plan's worst enemy and this is why providing upfront detailed scope outlines will make for a better guideline to follow. Without enough direction to keep us on schedule, we run the risk of falling off course. Whether one large task or multiple smaller segments, we must remain hyper-focused at all stages of execution to produce quality work in an efficient manner.

Beyond seeking more efficient means, we must also set realistic expectations for ourselves. A plan built with unrealistic goals is set to fail and that doesn’t help anyone. Along with this thinking, be respectful of yourself and your time. Remember you’re human, mistakes will be made and time for rest/recharge should always be made a priority.  By design, we’re building a structure to avoid the unhealthy practice of cramming at the end of deadlines. Also, be sure to allocate time for a potential margin of error.

Accepting a realistic outcome is something we tend to forget is possible when caught up in our daily rat race. We must acknowledge that not everyone performs well at the same pace and some truly struggle with health conditions that compound the problem. OCD, ADHD, anxiety, and depression are a few examples of conditions that stand to drastically impact individual performance. Learning ways to become more organized and self-assured will help to mitigate behavioral hurdles. Maintaining a positive attitude is a great start to offset the types of thoughts that lead to poor time management.  

Adversity is a common denominator in life. The way we view a potential challenge will influence our willingness to exert the effort necessary to drive a particular outcome. We can take comfort in knowing there is light to be sought beyond any current darkness but we must be willing to do the work and travel the path which delivers results. It's safe to say we all struggle with prioritizing certain goals at one time or another. Some of us more than others and all of us for many different reasons.

We want to be mindful of our own procrastination susceptibilities and attempt to identify not just when it’s happening but why. Also, take note of those you see who may demonstrate these potential signs and consider an attempt to appropriately inquire about their well-being. This discussion can be difficult but with the right approach and optimistic input, such conversations can yield great benefits. Awareness and communication can go a long way in supporting one another, especially on the topic of improving personal wellness and performance.

Knowing our dreams are destined for us somewhere in the future, every task accomplished moves us closer to these goals. Hopefully, targeting this destination will help mitigate our urge to postpone key objectives. Otherwise, we will serve ourselves well to know we’re highly capable of developing a plan to improve this process. The active decisions we make will dictate the rate at which we accomplish anything, ideally on time or even ahead of schedule. Our willingness to think about our actions and take definitive steps forward is solely our responsibility. A responsibility too important to waste time procrastinating. Are you ready to discover the power of your mindset?

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