Modern technology such as smart phones and tablets were designed to make us more efficient and productive, yet they often led us to distraction and have growingly increased our ability to procrastinate.

But there is a difference between innocent procrastination and destructive procrastination. When we avoid getting things done, even when we know that serious consequences will follow, such as a due assignment or work report, it’s destructive procrastination.

For a long time, experts used to think of all procrastination as being the result of bad time management, lack of self-discipline or willpower. But now it’s understood to be a side effect of how we deal with stress.

According to Professor Timothy Pychyl at Carleton University, procrastination is a result of our powerful subconscious desire for instant gratification. Since procrastination offers immediate, whilst temporary relief from the stress of life, we are habitually drawn to it.

The stress we long to escape from can be anything from meeting a deadline, money or relationship issues that hang over us. So, putting life on pause to shop for a new pair of shoes or playing solitaire on your smartphone, is just a way of easing the pressure, just for a little bit.

So, what can I do?

Procrastination is a habit – a deeply ingrained pattern of behaviour. This means that you probably can’t break it overnight. Habits only stop being habits when you avoid practicing them, so trying some strategies below gives yourself the best possible chance of succeeding.

To gain clarity as to exactly what tasks or goals need to be done, try the following:

  • write a ‘To Do’ list of tasks and goals you need to work on. This could be a list for the day, the week, the month, or longer, depending on what makes most sense for your circumstances
  • then prioritise the list of tasks, numbering them from most important to least important
  • then grade each task, that is, break the task into all the small steps or ‘chunks’ that are involved in achieving the task
  • finally, accurately estimate how much time each step of each task or goal will take (Note., people who procrastinate often overestimate or underestimate the time it will take to do something, so you may need to actually time tasks to practice getting more accurate at your time telling).