Ewen used to have a small wooden 'coin' on the dashboard of his Metro that simply said 'TUIT'.
"Do you know what this is?" he asked me. I shrugged.
"It's a round tuit," he said. "Get it? I've finally got a round tuit." Ha! Little did I know...
That little coin and conversation came to me on Thursday night (the night before I was due to publish my next newsletter and blog). And I thought about what it really means. If you need to 'get around to it', then perhaps that means you're procrastinating.
I had intended this blog to be about procrastination, and, as I told the one person who has literally known me all of my life, I hadn't yet gotten around to it... yet. I wish Ewen had given me that coin!
And then I got to thinking. Was I really procrastinating? Granted, I had yet to start writing my blog, but, with a week to go, I had already decided what my topic would be. Was I not, therefore, actually working on my blog, even though no words had been written? Perhaps sitting and doing nothing, staring out of the window, playing a mindless game on my phone, just contemplating my navel, was, in fact, working on my blog.
It's a conundrum. We know procrastination is basically putting off until tomorrow something that should really be done today. I've left writing my blog, indeed, compiling my whole newsletter until literally the last minute. I think I can safely say I have procrastinated. I kidded myself by saying I was in the planning stage, and I was...for the first day or so. Then it was just procrastination. I found something better, or perhaps easier, to do.
Is procrastination all that bad? I mean, we all put things off, don't we? What harm does it do? Scientific studies have shown that procrastination can lead to guilt, physical and mental health problems, and erode self-esteem. According to Timothy Pychyl in 'Solving The Procrastination Puzzle', there are two reasons we procrastinate.
The first is that we act under the impression that our future selves will have more energy and inclination to complete the task we're putting off today. That's pretty much a lie we tell our present selves to justify putting it off. After all, our future selves aren't going to have the time or inclination to do the task either.
The second is that we will feel better if we put off the task, and we do, right ..., until the task is overdue, and we now stress that we haven't done it and must put in the time when we could be doing something else - and so the cycle continues.
There is a scientific explanation for what happens when we procrastinate and it all happens in the amygdala, the bit in the brain which activates the fight or flight reaction to a given situation. Researchers in Germany found that procrastinators have a larger than normal amygdala.
“What’s happening is what we call the ‘amygdala hijack,'” says Pychyl. “The procrastinators are reacting emotionally, and the emotion-focused coping response is to escape. It’s saying, ‘I don’t want these negative emotions I’ll experience during the task,’ and so it avoids the task.”
So, how do we beat procrastination? Pychyl posits the following steps to overcoming procrastination, broken down by Nathan in his YouTube Channel, Productivity Game:
Label the Emotion – acknowledge the emotion attached to why we procrastinate in the first place. Is it fear, boredom, anxiety? All valid emotions, but all can be overcome.
Exhale Slowly – by exhaling more than you’re inhaling, this helps to counteract the flight or fight response, calming the amygdala.
Accept whatever you’re feeling – if we resist what we’re feeling, telling ourselves we shouldn’t feel that way, for example, all we’re doing is reinforcing the emotion that led to procrastination in the first place, but by accepting the emotion, it is no longer perceived as a threat, and the amygdala calms down further.
Release muscle tension – ever notice how tense you are when you know you have a deadline looming, but you want to put it off? Do some deep breathing exercises, meditate, do whatever you have to do to relax those tense muscles. This will, in turn, relax your amygdala. And finally, …
Notice where the urge is coming from – explore your body to find out where the urge to procrastinate is coming from. Is it your heart, your head, your gut? This puts you in a curious stage which you can then use to move towards the task you have put off, thus curing your procrastination, at least for now!
So, while putting something off while you think about it, mulling over how you’re going to do it, and formulating a plan are all good steps to starting a project, and are indeed healthy – after all, who doesn’t like a little daydream here and there – we have to be careful that they won’t lead to procrastination.
Utilising Pychyl’s method often, we will exercise our emotional muscles and be in a better frame of mind to avoid procrastination altogether.
If that fails, you can always buy your yourself a round TUIT. You’ll have no excuse then!