Procrastination: it's something we're all guilty of and something we often make New Year's resolutions to stop.
But just what exactly is procrastination and what causes it? And how do we actually stop putting off tomorrow and do what we can do today?
Science hasn't exactly figured out why procrastination occurs, but it starts with something called "temporal discounting." This is the tendency that humans have that leads us to prefer small rewards now rather than larger rewards in the future. It's about instant gratification: we prefer taking less now than waiting for more later. For example, spending time on social media today is more rewarding than studying for a test that may result in a perfect score tomorrow.
Some people, though, procrastinate more than others. So what causes that? A 10-year study done in 2008 attempts to explain why.
"Essentially, procrastinators have less confidence in themselves, less expectancy that they can actually complete a task," says Dr. Piers Steel, author of the study. "Perfectionism is not the culprit. In fact, perfectionists actually procrastinate less, but they worry about it more."
But another study actually suggests that the problem runs deeper than a mere psychological psyche-out. It's possible that the tendency to procrastinate runs in our genes. A study done earlier this year suggests that both procrastination and impulsive behavior are genetically linked and goes back to our earliest days as humans: basically, our early ancestors sought out instant rewards first because the next day was uncertain: it was a matter of survival.
So in honor of 2015, we've gathered some tips to help you curb your procrastination.
1. Set up interval rewards
Psychologists suggest that regardless of its cause, willpower goes a long way in beating procrastination. The video above suggests setting up interval rewards: if you finish part of a task, take a break and do something that rewards you instantly. Do this in timed intervals until you finish that task.
2. Start off easy
Others suggest to avoid the hardest part of the task at first and start easy. Just getting started gives you momentum to finish. You can also break up large tasks into smaller, easier tasks. It's also important to commit to a task early on and set yourself a deadline for completing it. But don't just do that, make yourself accountable for that deadline by telling a friend or co-worker.
"People have self-control problems, they recognize them, and they try to control them by self-imposing costly deadlines," writes the authors of a 2002 MIT study. "These deadlines help people control procrastination, but they are not as effective as some externally imposed deadlines in improving task performance."
3. Make lists
Go into your work knowing exactly what you're going to do. Make a list of three big tasks you want to do each day and stick to it.
4. Stop daydreaming
It's also important to stop fantasizing and start expecting, at least according to a 2002 study done on the subject. In that study, the authors found that positive expectations lead to positive results, but that positive fantasizing increased levels of procrastination.
5. Forgive yourself
Finally, don't be too hard on yourself and forgive yourself when you do procrastinate. A study done in 2010 shows how self-forgiveness can actually decrease future incidents of procrastination.
Understanding why we procrastinate might often be difficult, but here's hoping that 2015 will be the year of beating procrastination, unless of course, we put it off until the next year.
[Photo Credit: Denise Chan/Flickr]