To do or not to do, is a simple but hard decision.
We have all experienced that feeling of wanting to get something done, but putting it off until the last minute. Sometimes we wait because we do not care too much, but other times we care a lot—we just have trouble getting started.
Whether or not to work on something, is driven by how much we value accomplishing the project at that moment—what psychologists call ‘subjective value.’
Procrastination, in psychological terms, is what happens when the value of doing something else outweighs the value of working now.
We are not entirely rational in the way we value things. For instance, one pound is worth the same today as it is a week from now, but its subjective value—roughly how good it would feel to own a pound depends on other factors besides of its face value.
Getting something done happens in the future. It is like a delayed reward, so its value at present is discounted by ourselves, and the further away the deadline is, the less attractive it feels to work on the project right now.
How do you increase the subjective value of working now?
1. Increase the value of the project and decrease the value of the distraction. Think about the importance of your work. Visualize the outcome.
2. Break down things into more familiar and manageable pieces. Set a closer finish line for each small task and give yourself a reward once you have completed each task.
3. Connect what should be done to your self-concept. We are motivated to maintain a positive self-concept. Think what you are doing is relevant to your life goals and future self.
Do not doubt yourself. It is possible to overcome procrastination with effort. Maybe you are just a perfectionist. It is psychologically more acceptable to never tackle a task than to face the possibility of falling short on performance. Maybe you are like actress, Cameron Diaz, who was famously quoted saying “In fact, sometimes I work better under pressure.”
Feature Image: Procrastination by Olivia (CC BY-ND 2.0)