Watch Out for Bouts of Procrastination

Procrastination is real. We need to make sure that it does not overpower our will and need to survive in modern society. We should be careful so that it does not dimish our chances of growth or success.

Why Do We Procrastinate?

Because it is part of our nature. We (human beings) appeared on earth as a result of genetic evolution. Still, a part of our ancestors lives in us.

Our ancestors from the times when they were hunter-gatherers did not live the life we live – a life driven by schedules, calendars, and plans. They did something when there was a need to do it. They got food when they felt hungry. Ran when they saw the danger coming their way. Otherwise, they just lazed around. This is what a part of us wants to do. Hence procrastination.

It changed when our ancestors started farming. It was in 9500 BC, more than 11000 years ago, when the grain cultivation began. Animal domestication began even earlier. Pigs were domesticated in Mesopotamia around 11,000 BC. To farm and to take care of animals, there had to be some schedule – a time to get up, to tend to cattle and take care of fields.

While writing this piece, I was talking to my father who has been farming since he was a teen. He continued farming even after studying law and starting a business. I asked him how often a farmer needs to go to the fields. I had an idea but wanted him to confirm. He told me that barring the rainy season, a farmer needs to go to the fields twice every day and be there from morning till noon, and then in the afternoon till evening. While sowing the seeds and during harvesting season the days become longer. Even during the rainy season, the farmer needs to go to the fields once a day to fetch fodder like Berseem. So, as a farmer, you got to have a routine.

How does a farmer manage his routine despite procrastination being our nature? Because a farmer sees ill effects of procrastination really fast. If he does not go to the fields during summers and water the fields the leaves start turning yellow. If he does not plant the seeds in time, he misses the window for that season. That means his livelihood is affected. A farmer cares because he is close to nature and nature responds to inaction rather quickly.

Not every farmer is super disciplined that is why among farmers you will find those who were big landlords and had to sell their land holdings because they lazed around when they should have been working. Then there are those who took risks, worked hard and grew. Like my great grandfather who was well off but wanted to grow further. That is why before independence he left his ancestral village and started a new life in a new village. And through sheer discipline and a mix of street smarts accumulated substantial wealth, enough to start an industry.

We, the modern knowledge workers, procrastinate because we don’t deal with nature directly. That is a good and a bad thing. Definitely bad in the long run. Because in the short run procrastination does not harm us a lot except when it does. But it definitely shows its effect, in the long run, when we look at 5, 10, or 20-year window.

Time wasted procrastinating comes to haunt us with slow growth or no growth, lack or loss of opportunities and more than anything a wasted life. Because procrastination is ingrained in our genes there are times when we know it is taking us down but we still let it overpower our intelligence.

How to Overcome Procrastination?

I have tried many approaches to beat procrastination like giving myself daily targets to make sure that there are hours in the day when I’ll have to work on my targets. I have also noticed that it is easier to beat the instinct to procrastinate than in the afternoon or in the evening. This may be because there is a fight that goes on between logic and instinct.

In the morning when we have calm and fresh energy logic finds it easy to rule the brain and tell it to be active and move in the right direction despite the instinctive pull of procrastination. But later in the day once energy starts draining the brain finds itself in midst of a tough battle between logic and instinct. Now because energy is low, instinct overpowers logic.

If you want to win big over procrastination then deploy the power of habit. Convert whatever you need to do often into a habit. This removes friction between thinking and doing, avoids the fight between logic and instinct and allows you to do what needs to be done.

Do you deal with it and how do you overcome procrastination when it strikes?