Overview:

Our grandpa-in-residence Pradeep Sivastava offers his advice for overcoming a habit we all share.

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“Procrastination is my sin.

It brings me naught but sorrow.

I know that I should stop it.

In fact, I will — tomorrow!”

— Gloria Pitzer

The above poem and meme mock the pernicious habit of procrastination that we are all guilty of, to some extent or the other. However, when this habit becomes uncontrollable and obsessive, it can become dangerously catastrophic not only for the procrastinator, but also for others the procrastinator works with or lives with or has any kind of relationship with. 

Luckily, I was exposed in the grade school to the works of some very wise and learned poets, like Kabir Dohas, at a very young age when my mind was still very impressionable. In one of his best poems, Kabir advises very strongly against procrastination, as follows. I took that poem to heart.

Kabir Dohas

Kaal Kare So Aaj Kar, Aaj Kare So Ub

Pal Mein Pralaya Hoyegi, Bahuri Karoge Kub?

Translation

Tomorrow‘s work do today, today’s work now

If the moment is lost, the work be done how?

A literature search on procrastination led me to an excellent resource, “Procrastination: A Scientific Guide on How to Stop Procrastinating” by James Clear. The following is a summary of the key points.

What is Procrastination?

Human beings have been procrastinating for centuries. The problem is so timeless, in fact, that ancient Greek philosophers like Socrates and Aristotle developed a word to describe this type of behavior: Akrasia.

Akrasia is the state of acting against your better judgment. It is when you do one thing even though you know you should do something else. Loosely translated, you could say that akrasia is procrastination or a lack of self-control.

Here’s a modern definition:

Procrastination is the act of delaying or postponing a task or set of tasks. So, whether you refer to it as procrastination or akrasia or something else, it is the force that prevents you from following through on what you set out to do.

 Why Do We Procrastinate?

Behavioral psychology research has revealed a phenomenon called “time inconsistency,” which helps explain why procrastination seems to pull us in despite our good intentions. Time inconsistency refers to the tendency of the human brain to value immediate rewards more highly than future rewards.

How to Stop Procrastinating Right Now

Option 1: Make the Rewards of Taking Action More Immediate

Option 2: Make the Consequences of Procrastination More Immediate

Option 3: Design Your Future Actions

Option 4: Make the Task More Achievable

Being Consistent: How to Kick the Procrastination Habit

We’ve covered a variety of strategies for beating procrastination on a daily basis. Now, let’s discuss some ways to make productivity a long-term habit and prevent procrastination from creeping back into our lives.

The Daily Routine Experts Recommend for Peak Productivity

One reason it is so easy to slip back into procrastination time after time is because we don’t have a clear system for deciding what is important and what we should work on first. (This is yet another example of the system often being more important than the goal.)

One of the best productivity systems I have found is also one of the most simple. It’s called The Ivy Lee Method and it has six steps:

  1. At the end of each work day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
  2. Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
  3. When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
  4. Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
  5. Repeat this process every working day.

Here’s what makes it so effective:

It’s simple enough to actually work

It forces you to make tough decisions

It removes the friction of starting

It requires you to single-task

How to Avoid Chronic Procrastination With Visual Cues

Another way to overcome the trap of chronic procrastination is to use visual cues to trigger your habits and measure your progress.

A visual cue is something you can see (a visual reminder) that prompts you to take action. Here’s why they are important for beating procrastination:

Visual cues remind you to start a behavior

Visual cues display your progress on a behavior

Visual cues can have an additive effect on motivation

Last but not the least, procrastination can be addressed also through the guidance provided by our Hindu scriptures. The article, “Crossroads Of Shreyas And Preyas – Wisdom Vs Pleasure” by Abhishek Jha sheds light on this issue (3). See below.

Choose the good over the pleasant

In the second chapter of the first cycle of Kathopanishad, two types of general activities – Shreyas and Preyas are explained. It says,

Sreyascha Preyascha Manuṣhyametastau Samparitya Vivinakti Dhiraḥ |

Shreyo hi Dhirobhi Preyaso Vṛṇite Preyo Mando Yogakshemadvṛṇite ||

In short, it says: “The excellent and pleasant are presented to every human being. A real thoughtful mind distinguishes before choosing amongst them. The wise always choose the good over the pleasant, while the fool prefers the pleasant over the good.”

The word Preyas is derived from the word Priyam (loved), while the word Shreyas is derived from the word Shri (divine, radiance). The things which fulfill our desires are called Preyas, and those things or actions that provide us long-term welfare are called Shreyas.

There will be an initial phase of temporary excitement for Preyas, which always ends in anguish and unrest. Meanwhile, Shreyas may seem to be bothering and troubling initially, but it eventually always ends up in eternal bliss. Everyone has to choose in between these two options, thus, determining their life.

Procrastinators have to program their minds to choose the good over the pleasant.

Pradeep Srivastava

Pradeep Srivastava is a retired engineer, who currently lives in Albany, California. He has been writing for more than three decades. Column: A Grandpa’s Guide To Getting By - Our grandpa-in-residence...