Procrastination is a problem that affects many people. It can be frustrating, stress-inducing, and ultimately detrimental to our goals and productivity. But why do we procrastinate? A recent study published in the journal Nature Communications sheds some light on this common problem.
According to the study, procrastination may be rooted in a cognitive bias that leads us to believe that tasks will be easier in the future. In other words, our brains trick us into thinking that we can put things off until later and they will somehow be less daunting or require less effort. This belief can be particularly strong in procrastination-prone individuals, who may significantly downplay the difficulty of future tasks.
To better understand this phenomenon, researchers asked 43 adults to rate their preferences for receiving smaller rewards quicker or larger rewards later, as well as for performing easier tasks sooner or more effortful tasks later. They found that people generally prefer smaller rewards sooner and easier tasks sooner, even if it means delaying larger rewards or more difficult tasks. This preference was particularly pronounced in procrastination-prone individuals, who downplayed the difficulty of future tasks.
But why do we have this preference? The study suggests that it may have to do with activity in a specific brain region called the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex. This region seems to play a central role in making cost-benefit calculations about tasks and rewards. When we are faced with a choice between a task that requires more effort now or the same task in the future, this brain region is more active. This activity is especially strong when the choices are almost equal, which may explain why we struggle with and ultimately succumb to procrastination.
So, how can we overcome this tendency to procrastinate? Here are five steps you can take:
- Set reminders: One effective way to combat procrastination is to set reminders for yourself. This could be a physical reminder, like a sticky note on your computer, or a digital reminder, like a notification on your phone.
- Envision your future self: Another strategy that may be helpful is to try to envision your future self as vividly as possible. Imagine what you will be like and what you will have accomplished if you don’t procrastinate.
- Break tasks down into smaller chunks: If you have a large or daunting task, try breaking it down into smaller chunks. This can make it feel more manageable and help you get started.
- Set a deadline: Giving yourself a deadline can be a powerful motivator. Try setting a deadline for completing a task and see if it helps you get started.
- Seek accountability: Finally, consider seeking accountability from a friend, family member, or colleague. Having someone to check in with can help keep you on track and motivated to complete your tasks.
By understanding the underlying causes of procrastination and implementing these strategies, you can start to overcome this common problem and boost your productivity.
1 – Le Bouc, R., Pessiglione, M. A neuro-computational account of procrastination behavior. Nat Commun 13, 5639 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-33119-w