In the Popeye cartoon series, the lovable Wimpy character is famous for proclaiming:
"I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today."
Wimpy was all about feeding his desire for pleasure first (literally) and putting off as long as possible the less pleasurable act of paying the bill.
Wimpy resonates with us because we all have similar desires. Procrastination is so pervasive that it's got lot of people trying to help you beat it. From guidance about the best approaches if you are a chronic procrastinator to ways to generally manage procrastination better, to ways to literally cure yourself of procrastination forever.
I'm going to start that last one right away. Actually, maybe I'll start tomorrow. Family Guy is on now, and I love that show.
As helpful as the strategies to help us may be, it turns out that there is biological science behind procrastination and an entire scientific field studying it.
In simple terms, you are actually hardwired to procrastinate. I usually love science, but this finding doesn't help me get my son to do his homework before playing video games.
It also turns out that some of you have it harder than others. Joseph Ferrari, a professor of Psychology at DePaul University and a leader in this field found in his research that we are all guilty of procrastination but 20 percent have a chronic issue.
So what is happening with your biology? And what do you do about it?
If you've read my articles about the science of "insert topic here", you know that I try to get the science into simple language, mostly so I can understand what I wrote.
In this case, the science comes down to an epic battle being fought every day in your brain. In one corner is the limbic system and in the other is the prefrontal cortex.
The limbic system is one of the oldest parts of your brain and also just happens to house the very dominant pleasure center. It drives you to do things that give you pleasure first and literally stay away from and avoid unpleasant things. It does this for survival.
In the cave man days, this meant staying away from things that might eat you. The limbic system pushes you hard to avoid those unpleasant things for the sake of living another day. It is also autonomic, which is scientific terminology for saying that it is always on and you don't consciously control it.
The prefrontal cortex, on the other hand, is a much younger and less dominant part of the brain which gives us conscious complex thought and the ability to plan. This part of the brain is not autonomic, which means you have to turn it on yourself.
The battle is stacked heavily in favor of the limbic system. It would be like me taking on Muhammad Ali.
As soon as you disengage the prefrontal cortex from thinking and planning, your limbic system takes over and tells you to stop doing that unpleasant thing (like doing your work) and do what feels good (like sitting on the couch watching Family Guy.)
Can you beat it?
Science would say that you can't beat thousands of years of survival-based biology. But if you know that is happening, you certainly can try to consciously outsmart your limbic system from time to time.
Here are seven great strategies from experts that have been shown to work:
1. Do your hardest thing first
Use your limited energy to fight off your limbic system while you are still fresh. The longer you wait, the less chance of success you have.
2. Start your day over mid-day
This forces you to shorten your window of procrastination before you have to start over.
3. Break the work into small pieces
If you start small, it may not feel so daunting. Or in limbic system terms, it might not seem as unpleasant.
4. Tell other people
If you remember the science of persuasion and influence, you want to honor commitments you've made to others. Use that principle for yourself.
5. Set your clock fast
I've been doing this for years. It's surprising how effective thinking you have 15 minutes less than you do can be on procrastination.
6. Get rid of things that can interrupt you
As hard as it might be, put your mobile phone out of reach. It's too easy to pick it up and play with it.
7. Plan a "day of no procrastination and no excuses"
Take everything you've been avoiding and get it done in one fail swoop. One painful day will open up lots more days for pleasure.
For more on these seven strategies, check out the original article.