The roots of procrastination are far more frightful than you know.

Let’s face it: at some point, we’ve all procrastinated. While we may have felt guilty or unproductive, procrastination has far less to do with productivity and far more to do with fear. How does fear play a role in procrastination? How can you fight procrastination to become more productive in your day-to-day life?

The truth about procrastination

It can be easy to label someone who frequently procrastinates as lazy, reckless, or terrible at time management, but the root of procrastination may be more simple: procrastinators are afraid. People who frequently procrastinate often aren’t any less hardworking; their fear of failure and inadequacy keeps them from diving into tasks.

Procrastination is a coping mechanism that protects a procrastinator from failure, letdown, or stress. When one procrastinates from performing a task, the pressure of concern is lifted from their shoulders until they choose to return their attention to it. Since no one enjoys the worrying, most procrastinators tend to push tasks off until the last minute when the stress comes flooding in.

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No matter how many times a procrastinator deals with this last-minute assault of anxiety, it may not encourage them to get a jump start on other tasks in the future. Many habitual procrastinators may claim to work best under stress or a time crunch. However, it’s more likely that chronic procrastinators are unable to address their fears of failure/defeat by the time the next nerve-wracking task rolls around.

The science behind this theory

In 2018, a group of researchers tested 264 participants in a psychological study to understand how procrastination works on a biological level. They found that the participants who were procrastinators had a higher volume of the amygdala (an almond-shaped set of emotion-processing neurons in the brain’s medial temporal lobe). But those same people had a weaker connection between the amygdala and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region that assists in emotional regulation and self-control.

This study revealed that procrastinators experience a takeover of their amygdala and view necessary tasks through a fight-or-flight lens, choosing to avoid them to avoid the threat of stress. Of course, this pressure can’t be ignored for long. As it grows more intense, procrastinators continue to push away the task, waiting until the very last moment to get work done.

If any of these qualities resonate with you, you might be a procrastinator.

How to fend off procrastination

Plenty of professional procrastinators have tips and tricks that help them meet deadlines without saving all of their work until the last minute. One of the first ways to combat procrastination is to formulate a to-do list at the start of the day with your most prioritized goal at the top. Focus on one task at a time, or you may get overwhelmed and give up before you’ve made progress.

Another important rule to follow when fighting procrastination is to limit your distractions. Setting aside time to work and throwing distracting technology/items in a drawer can help you accomplish a task more efficiently. If you’re working online, don’t let yourself surf the web; instead, utilize apps that keep you on task and off social media, such as RescueTime or Selfcontrol.

People who frequently procrastinate often aren’t any less hardworking; their fear of failure and inadequacy keeps them from diving into tasks.

If you’re a reward-driven person, rewarding yourself when you’ve completed a taskno matter how big or small—can help you feel more motivated to power through procrastination. This may mean indulging in a hobby once your to-do list is completed, rewarding yourself with a physical gift, or enjoying the presence of a friend or loved one. Finding motivating rewards could help you get to work.

Lastly? Take breaks. Grab a snack. Take a quick walk. If you work without rest, you’ll likely feel bored and sluggish halfway through the day, making you less productive as the afternoon rolls through. Rest may seem counterproductive, but small breaks throughout your day can help you keep your focus all day long. Still, make sure you can get yourself back on task once your break is over; you don’t want to spend too much time being idle.

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