I was going to write this column yesterday, but...I didn't. It's no wonder people procrastinate so often. It's such a tempting option! It seems so easy in the moment, so simple. Just...delay. Do it later, when you have more brainspace. Tomorrow, when you're fresh. The day after, so you have time to find someone else to pawn the task off on.
The problem is that procrastination is usually just a delay of the inevitable. Do it too often, and it becomes a habit. And frequently, the buildup of delayed tasks snowballs into an avalanche totally beyond your control. Spending all your time fighting fires and trying to keep your head above water is no way to conduct your business or your life.
Here are the major reasons why people procrastinate, and how you can help solve the problem for yourself and others:
1. Old Hormones
Reason: Brains love tricking their human hosts. The human brain sometimes works like a drug addict. When you do something you like, your brain gives you dopamine. At some point in your past, you were rewarded for procrastinating, and your brain gave you dopamine. For some people, it happened enough times that it became a habit in their brains. So ever since then, their brains have been trying to use procrastination to get more dopamine. For other people, the adrenaline they get from the enormous pressure of working under a tight deadline because almost an addiction. You may not be conscious of these cravings, but they are there nonetheless.
Solution: You have to break the cycle of bad behavior. You need to rewire your brain so that it no longer seeks dopamine or adrenaline from procrastination. Instead, when you complete a task on time, do something that will give you the burst of dopamine or adrenaline you crave. Complete a task, go exercise. Complete a task, have a (healthy!) snack. Complete a task, go skydiving. Use your imagination!
Reason: Many people have good intentions about completing tasks on time, but simply do not know how to proceed. They don't want to come off as inept, so they avoid asking questions, which devolves into avoiding the task altogether. It's a terrible feeling, but it only gets worse when the work doesn't get done.
Solution: Before you begin a task, or before you assign a task to someone else, make sure all the necessary resources are available. Ensure there is a clear, actionable plan with reasonable deadlines. Then check in on a regular basis, with yourself or the person you assigned, to make sure things are on schedule and the tools are adequate.
Reason: In your search for dopamine or adrenaline from procrastination, at least there's motivation to proceed, even if that motivation is unconscious. But when that search for hormones isn't there, what takes its place? Usually, it's replaced by an all-too-obvious lack of motivation to get you going. If you don't feel there's any reward coming to you by completing a task, why complete it now? Do something else that might give you a reward.
Solution: Before you begin or assign a task, set up a reward structure that will keep you motivated throughout the process. You can give small rewards along the way to keep you interested. You can set up this task as an important part of something bigger, and remind yourself of that ultimate vision every time you need a boost. Make sure you feel deeply just how important this is.
Reason: This may be the biggest reason why people procrastinate. It's no surprise that physicists and psychologists talk about the importance of cause and effect. Most of the time, there simply are not sufficient consequences to avoid procrastination. If someone procrastinates and throws together a sub-par project at the last minute or even late...nothing happens. So they keep doing it because they can, and because there's no reason to do otherwise.
Solution: There need to be real consequences for action, or a lack of action. Emphasize the role that each task plays in achieving the bigger goal, and explain the damage done if it's not completed well and on time. It may sound harsh, but it's true. Light a little fire under their seat - they can take it.