The causes of procrastination are legion. Some blame perfectionism or fear of failure, others an inability to prioritize, another camp says simple disorganization causes it to miss deadlines, while still others cite a failure of will. There's probably a grain of truth to each of these potential explanations depending on the individual and situation, but according to a recent Atlantic article, we often overlook another common culprit--our mood.
In "The Procrastination Doom Loom," Derek Thompson outlines new research showing how our poor understanding and regulation of our emotions is frequently the driver of a tendency to delay tasks.
'But I'm just not in the right mood!'
In the last few years, he reports, "scientists have begun to think that procrastination might have less to do with time than emotion. Procrastination 'really has nothing to do with time-management,'" Thompson quotes Joseph Ferrari, a psychology professor at DePaul University, as saying.
How do our moods affect our ability to get stuff done? Apparently, we often delay tasks because of the mistaken belief that the mood to accomplish whatever it is we need to do is going to magically strike us at some later time. "Ferrari and others think procrastination happens for two basic reasons: (1) We delay action because we feel like we're in the wrong mood to complete a task, and (2) We assume that our mood will change in the near future."
The result is that we say things to ourselves like, "I'm too hectic on Mondays to really concentrate on thinking about strategy. I'll do it later in the week." Or "I'm too tired now to write that marketing email. I'll have a clearer head tomorrow morning." But when tomorrow morning or later in the week rolls around, we're still just as uninterested and disorganized as we were earlier. Repeat cycle.
Heading mood-based procrastination off at the pass
So how do you beat this sort of emotion-based procrastination? Thompson's in-depth article offers plenty of research-based suggestions, but they're not a magic bullet for the problem. External deadlines--shock of all shocks!--seem to help, as does scheduling late rather than early reminders, but the simplest and most effective takeaway here may simply be a bit of self-knowledge.
Perhaps recognizing your own procrastination tendencies can help you see your own mood-based excuses for what they are--justifications for not getting down to work rather than legitimate decisions about when it's best to schedule a task. That, in turn, might help you resist the "procrastination doom loop."
Do you find yourself putting off tasks until you're in the right mood?