What is procrastination? Why do we wait until the last minute to complete tasks? And how can we stop procrastinating? On today’s episode of Thinking in English let’s discuss these questions and more!
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To delay (v) – to make something happen at a later time than originally planned or expected
My plane was delayed by another hour
Deadline (n) – a time or day by which something must be done
The deadline for applications was April 15th
To sabotage (v) – to intentionally prevent the success of a plan or action
She tried to sabotage her colleagues’ careers!
Due (adj) – expected to happen or arrive at a particular time
The homework is due by midnight tomorrow
To overestimate (v) – to guess an amount that is too high or a size that is too big
I overestimated how much food to buy for the party… there is so much left over!
To underestimate (v) – to fail to guess or understand the real cost, size, difficulty, etc. of something
He seriously underestimated the cost of building his own house
frame of mind (phrase) – someone’s mood or the particular way someone thinks or feels about something
I was not in the right frame of mind to continue
Trigger (n) – an event or situation, etc. that causes something to start
There are fears that the incident may trigger more protests in the capital city
Daunting (adj) – if something is daunting it makes you feel slightly frightened or worried about your abilities to achieve something
Reforming the political system is a daunting task
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What is Procrastination?
Procrastination. I’m sure this sounds like a very complicated word if you’ve never heard it before. I’m also sure that every single person listening today has experienced procrastination at some point in your life! In fact, right now some of you might be procrastinating by listening to Thinking in English….
What is procrastination? In short, procrastination means not doing your work or tasks. Delaying or putting off your tasks until the last moment (or maybe even after the deadline) is procrastination.
Procrastination is a kind of self-sabotage or self-failure. You know you have a deadline for the task; you know that the deadline is getting closer and closer; and you understand that you have free time to do the work…. But you don’t do it. Instead, you procrastinate!
You are all practicing and improving your English skills (that’s why you are listening to me I guess). But many English learners really struggle with procrastination. How many times have you thought about sitting down and spending an hour studying English, only to start doing other tasks and eventually run out time?
Or maybe you are a university student with an essay due at midnight. You have 12 hours left before the deadline and you haven’t started yet. But instead of spending all day writing your paper, you spend your time doing other things: checking Instagram, reading pointless articles on Facebook, watching YouTube, doing your laundry, and cleaning your room, or another unrelated task.
Regardless of how organised, committed, and well-prepared you are, everyone has found themselves spending hours wasting their time procrastinating instead of using that time effectively. How many of you spent time today looking at your smartphone when you should have been working? I guess almost everyone listening!
Over the last few months, I have struggled a lot with procrastination. I had an application due in at the end of April, and although I knew about it for the whole month, I still found myself staying up until 3am on April 29th finishing a cover letter and writing sample. Why? Well, I had procrastinated the whole month. There was always something else I thought I needed to do!
I uploaded the last podcast (the conversation with DanSensei) a few hours later than usual… why? Procrastination! I knew I needed to finish editing and transcribing the conversation, so I woke up earlier than usual in preparation. However, I spent the first hour making coffee and reading the news… and then the second hour playing a game on my phone… Then I had an hour and a half meeting… and then I finally got around to finishing the podcast.
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Why do we procrastinate?
There are a few different possible reasons for procrastination. Perhaps the biggest reason is that we often assume things won’t take a long time to do or finish. I thought editing the podcast with Dan would take about an hour… it ended up taking me four hours due to the conversation being longer than I thought and the transcription being difficult to complete.
Researchers studying university students have shown that they procrastinate for a few main reasons. First, the overestimate how much time they have left to complete a task. Second, they underestimate the length of time it will take to complete the task. For example, let’s imagine you have 4 hours to complete a task that will take about 4 hours. People will often feel as though they actually have longer than 4 hours, and also that the task will only take 2 or 3 hours to do. This leads to people starting the task too late!
Moreover, the researchers showed how people assume that they need to be in the “right frame of mind” to do their work. They feel like they will be more motivated later, and that they can’t complete their tasks without making sure they are feeling ready – maybe they feel like they need to go to the gym, get a coffee, or read the news the first.
There are other reasons for procrastination too! Maybe you don’t know what to do, or how to do it. Maybe you don’t really want to do a task, don’t care about it, and don’t care about when it gets done. Some people believe they work better under pressure, can finish work at the last minute, or have simply got into a habit of doing things just before the deadline. And other people lack initiative to get started, need time to think, or want to wait until the right moment.
According to Tim Pychyl, who wrote a book called Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, procrastination is an “emotional reaction to something we don’t want to do.” In his book, he identifies 7 triggers – 7 characteristics of a task that can make it more likely you will procrastinate. If a task is boring, frustrating, difficult, ambiguous, unstructured, not rewarding, and has no personal meaning, you will be much more likely to procrastinate!
From these reasons, I’m sure you can all see there are many different types of procrastinators, who procrastinate for different reasons. You probably recognise a few of these reasons yourself – maybe you think the same things! Overall, I think it is possible to divide people who procrastinate into 2 different categories: passive and active!
Passive procrastinators are people who don’t necessarily choose or want to do things at the last minute. Instead, they delay their tasks and work because they struggle to make decisions, find it difficult to get motivation, and struggle to act straight away. I think this is my problem – I overestimate how much time I have left and struggle to make decisions!
Active procrastinators are people who do choose or want to do things at the last minute. Some people feel like they work better under pressure or stress. They get into a habit of working at the last minute and continue to do this for every task they have. Many of my friends at university (especially when we were 18 and 19) had this exact mentality!
Do you procrastinate? Which type of procrastinator do you think you are?
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5 Ways to Stop Procrastinating!
I’m sure we’d all be so much more productive and stress free if we never put our jobs or tasks off. How can we stop procrastinating? There are ways to resist the desire or impulse to procrastinate, and to train yourself to work efficiently.
Earlier this week I read a Harvard Business Review article by Chris Bailey which introduced 5 possible solutions to the procrastination problem! I’m going to summarise and explain his arguments over the rest of this podcast. However, you are also more than welcome to go and read the HBR article if you’d like to!
Get Rid of the Procrastination Triggers
The first tip in the article is to reverse the procrastination triggers! I mentioned earlier in the episode a few different things that can make you more likely to procrastinate – for example if you find the task boring or frustrating. Usually if you don’t want to do an activity, you are more likely to procrastinate. So… if you change the way you think about a task you might find it easier or more enjoyable!
English learners who complain that studying is difficult or boring never study as much as students who really enjoy studying and learning. If you look forward to doing an activity, you are less likely to procrastinate. Try to think more positively about tasks, find a way to make them simpler or more understandable, and set yourself challenges to make it more exciting!
Find Your Limits
The next tip is to find your limits, or in other words to work within your resistance level. How long can you study for or work for before start to procrastinate? Are you able to focus for 5 hours? Probably not… How about 1 hour? Or 30 minutes?
Shorten the amount of time you spend on a certain task until you find the best length of time for yourself. If you know you are only going to work for 30 minutes, you are much less likely to start procrastinating!
Just Do Something!
Next… just do something. Do anything! Get started. Research suggests that it is far easier to continue a task than to start a task. Once you start you are quite likely to be able to continue – you will keep processing and thinking about it! You might find that the task is not as boring or frustrating as you feared or thought.
This is a tactic or method I discovered myself as a student many years ago. I never write essays, reports, or papers from the beginning. Instead, I start in the middle – I find a point I’m interested in or confident about and start writing from there! Once I’ve started, the task seems so much less daunting.
Think About the Impact of Procrastination
The Harvard Business Review recommend listing all of the costs and negative effects caused by procrastination, especially for really big tasks or projects. Think about all the stress, missed social events, TV shows you could have watched, and the impact on your happiness. For even larger projects, think about the impact on your finances, health, or future! Then use this as motivation to stop procrastinating
And finally, disconnect. Get one of those apps on your phone that stops you procrastinating, turn your phone off, or even put it in a different room. Some apps include Freedom or Self Control, but I think newer iPhones and Androids probably have similar features too.
Basically, get rid of the ways you like to procrastinate. If you find yourself on the phone, turn it off. If you tend to browse the internet, turn off your Wi-Fi. Get rid of those distractions!
On today’s episode of Thinking in English I have discussed procrastination. As I mentioned throughout the episode, this is something I have struggled with a lot in recent months and I’m sure many of you also find yourself procrastinating too often. I spend far too much time looking at my phone or watching YouTube videos – when really should be researching, studying Japanese, or writing a podcast!
Hopefully after listening to today’s episode, you understand why your procrastinate and have received a few tips to help you stop! I’m certainly going to try some of the advice from the Harvard Business Review!
How about you? How often do you procrastinate? Have you procrastinated today? What ways do you usually procrastinate? Do you have any tips to help Thinking in English listeners stop procrastinating!
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