Me? A Procrastinator?

Posted on Wednesday, July 5, 2017 by Venn GroupNo comments

Procrastination is something I’ve fought against (with varying degrees of effort) for as long as I can remember and in an age of instant gratification in which we live this has never been harder.  


I’m writing this article at 10:13pm Sunday 2nd July, an article which I committed to writing on Monday 1st May, which left me 64 days to periodically remember that I needed to come up with a topic, research, plan, draft, re-draft and publish.  Unfortunately, I was also left with 64 days to re-watch Game of Thrones from the beginning, hunt Pokémon and do anything and everything else more fun. 


So it turns out that a lot of far more intelligent people than I have been researching the science behind procrastination since before I was putting off my homework and we have some interesting answers.  This is effectively a battle of the brain, specifically your Limbic system (pleasure centre and all things fun) vs your prefrontal cortex (decision making and planning).  The Amygdala lives in the Limbic system and is responsible for the famous ‘fight or flight’ response, and it seems to many of us opt for the ‘flight’ option and run away to distract ourselves with much more rewarding endeavours like pizza and binge watching a box-set.


There is a reason for this too; although we’re unique as a species in our ability to assimilate lots of information and use it to make long term plans (career moves, mortgages, investments), this area of the brain is more recently evolved, weaker and needs concentration and attention to overcome the more dominant, automatic Limbic system and Amygdala.


64 days was far too long for me to put off a spur of the moment chain-watching of increasingly unrelated YouTube videos (as good a place to start as any) or in-depth research on the reason we suddenly notice a new word we’ve just come across or learned (Baader Meinhof Complex). 


My brain processes the danger of the impending deadline and judges it to be something we can hide from by spending time looking into when AI will reach a complexity that I could have a computer write this piece for me.  Only when I’m almost completely out of time does my brain see nowhere to run, and tells me to ‘fight’ and pull an all-nighter to get things done –from nowhere, I summon the motivation needed in equal measure of regret for not having started earlier and wondering how much better my work could be if given appropriate attention.   


In my experiences I’ve found that becoming aware that you have a problem with procrastination isn’t enough to beat procrastination. It is the feeling of knowing that you’re sailing a ship towards an iceberg and that you should act now, but the hangover of the primitive brain which hasn’t quite caught up with human’s ability to plan ahead and consider the future which just cares about making the brain happy right here and now. 


My tips on beating procrastination

  • Trick your brain into hitting the tipping point before the actual deadline

Arranging something you don’t want to miss out on with friends, which you can only do if you’ve hit your goal can force your brain into motivating you, social pressure at its finest

  • Segment it

Short sharp bursts of effort are much more likely to be seen as a fight that you can win, long term prolonged effort even if less intense is much scarier than a sharp burst of intense work – would you rather sprint 100m or run a marathon?

  • Minimise distractions

Smartphone away, emails closed down – just the essentials that you need to get the work done.  Anything which breaks your concentration lets bad brain back in the game.


Those are my tips, but this article is also being published later than I wanted it to be so my struggle with procrastination continues.  I hope not to have distracted too many of you from more pressing duties, however, if you need to put something off for a little while longer then I’d love to hear about some of your struggles and know your top tips for overcoming them.


Antony Johnson, Venn Group  

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