One of my cousins was ruing that my nephew does not manage his time well and that he was too distracted and not studying for his exams. My nephew quipped that he had ample time on hand and was confident that he would do well. As we were talking, I noted that

  • He thinks that he performs better under pressure
  • He was hating that his mother was trying to micro-manage his schedule
  • This semester most subjects require him to memorize things as opposed to applying concepts and he does not like memorizing.
  • His plan for preparation started with his favorite subject
  • He thinks 2 days per subject is sufficient to cover the syllabus. He genuinely believed that he had a lot of time at hand before the exams begin (in three weeks)
  • He thinks that if he studies when he genuinely feels like studying, he would be more productive

I realized that his behavior did not exhibit an issue with his time management skills but indicated classic signs of procrastination –  waiting to feel motivated to start, depending on pressure to get focused, favoring present gratification vis a vis future reward by avoiding what he does not enjoy as long as he can, having unrealistic estimation of time needed to finish the syllabus.

The behavior pattern of procrastination is the same in adults. It is important to realize that it is an emotional issue rather than a lack of knowledge about prioritization, time management, indiscipline or laziness. Everyone procrastinates at some points of time or the other but a pattern of delaying important things in favor of enjoyable things can limit potential, reduce morale and be detrimental to career. It can lead to energy erosion and even depression. Therefore, we need effective strategies to prevent it. Given below are a few things to consider –

  • What is the smallest next step you can take to progress the task you are tempted to put off?
  • As you think about the important task you need to do, what are you tempted to do instead? What can you do to put the temptation out of the way? For example, removing mail notifications on your computer, turning off the sound of messages received, etc.
  • How can you make doing the task you want to do, easier and more enjoyable? For example, sleeping in your exercise clothes or listening to your favorite music while exercising.
  • How can you get emotionally attached to the future you that will benefit from your actions today?
  • Do you know anyone whose action-oriented behavior inspires you? How can you put yourself in the path of this dose of inspiration from them?

Finally, if nothing seems to work and it is a personal goal that you are struggling to get started on, ask yourself, if this goal really matters to you? Is it aligned with your vision of your life? Realizing that procrastination is about managing emotions in a way that serves the intended objective, is a powerful tool to overcome the limiting behavior.