#97 How You Contribute to Procrastination

contribute to procrastination

There exists an axiom that states: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Let us investigate how this axiom may contribute to procrastination.

Parkinson’s Law Explained

Can you think back to a time where you task ate up the maximum amount of allotted time, even though it could have been done sooner? Many of us have done this, and I’m the first to admit my guilt. Sometimes we fool ourselves into believing that more time spent on a task equates to higher quality of work.

That was a demonstration of Parkinson’s Law in action. The main premise of Parkinson’s law is that the complexity of a task tends to grow the more time is allotted for its completion.

For example, you might allow yourself a month to finish a project at work. Note the project, however, could potentially only require 8 hours to complete. Given you take the full month, this task will grow in complexity as time passes. Thus, it will require more time and resources than necessary. This is a simple example of Parkinson’s Law affecting your completion time.

However, Parkinson’s Law can also affect your mindset. When mindset is affected, your attitude may contribute to procrastination. If your immediate task is to think about getting started or think about planning a project, then this thinking task can feel more complex as you continue to ruminate.

Good to know if you catch yourself exaggerating!

A Relatable Example

As an example, you might spend 10 minutes contemplating the start of a new assignment on day 1, which is due on day 7. As you think about starting and gathering data, you feel inconvenienced. So, you put it off and decide not to start on day 1. The second day, you again think about how you should start a plan for this new assignment. But it feels daunting, and you remind yourself that it’s one of your least favorite activities. You contemplate for 15-20 minutes and get frustrated. You move on to other work. 

Day 3 rolls around and you know you have 3 days left for completion. However, after thinking about the project and lack of progress during the previous 3 days, you feel dread. There is a heaviness that looms. It seems like the project is going to be so stressful and cumbersome. At this point, you are convincing yourself that things are more complex than they truly are.

On day 4, your anxiety level rises as you think about starting this tough and unexciting task. And the cycle continues. As each day passes, the project seems more complicated and arduous as your thoughts accumulate. You’re dreading this project and even consider applying for other jobs. Thus, each day brings more drudgery as you continue to ruminate and delay the start of this project.

This is one way procrastination plays out in our lives. For some people, the more they think about starting (as opposed to actually starting), the more Parkinson’s Law contributes to procrastination.

Beat the Mind Games

Therefore, instead of dreaming about starting, do something. One thing. Anything, even if it’s one task as simple as creating a blank template, outline, or to-do list. 

Some strategies to help you combat procrastination, if reasonable for your situation, include:

  • Get organized and plan your time
  • Write down goals with realistic deadlines
  • Break tasks into smaller steps (I know this helps me!)
  • Block out distractions

For additional information and suggestions, see What is Parkinson’s Law.

I know for me, a slow start will work. Even if it’s creating a list or brainstorming silly ideas, I give myself permission to be flexible and open-ended. I’d encourage you to experiment and find what works for you. 

The more we think about how dreadful, difficult or annoying a project may be, the more anxiety and stress it may cause. Parkinson’s Law implies that the longer we think about starting, the more complex the task will feel – even if we feed ourselves false beliefs.

Above all, remember that procrastination can simply be a mind trick. As your mind takes more time to think about starting or how daunting things might be, the more you will procrastinate and the worse you will feel.

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