When you think about it, procrastination is more rampant than we would like to admit. Think of that task you’ve been putting off for like forever. You are always saying you will do it tomorrow and when tomorrow comes, you push it forward a day more. I know it’s thrilling to postpone but the stress and anxiety that comes with last minute rush at times is not just worth it.

The truth is, most people who procrastinate, young and old, simply can’t seem to find a routine and stick to it for a meaningful period of time. And in the era of social media, viral videos, and the desire to be up to date with what’s trending, young people in their droves are increasingly struggling with procrastination.

I mean, think about it for a moment. What would you rather do? Complete that homework or watch your favourite cat videos? We both know the answer to that. Procrastination, whether we admit it or not, is an interesting form of delay in the sense that we know the consequences but still go ahead and do it. You know that delaying finishing that maths homework will cause you stress when you will have to do it in a much shorter amount of time at the last minute but still postpone it anyways.

Procrastination among young people is a widespread and multifaceted issue that affects academic performance, mental health, and overall well being. Procrastination, in simple terms, involves delaying tasks despite knowing that this delay may have negative consequences in the foreseeable future. It’s a problem that affects young people and amplifies in people with ADHD.

People with ADHD tend to procrastinate more due to symptoms of the condition such as trouble focusing and managing emotions. These challenges, as you will agree, make it especially hard to tackle tasks that are uninteresting or simply put, overwhelming. Overcoming procrastination can be difficult for people with ADHD because the very things that make them procrastinate also make it hard to stick to strategies for getting things done.

Cognitive Biases and Procrastination

Procrastination, believe it or not, often stems from cognitive biases. These are systematic patterns of deviation from norm or rationality in judgement. These biases distort thinking and influence decision making processes. Here are a few cognitive biases that enable procrastination:

1.     Present Bias

Also known as hyperbolic discounting, present bias leads individuals to overvalue immediate rewards at the expense of long-term intentions. In essence, when considering two future moments, one is bound to give more importance to an occurrence or event that happens sooner. For instance, a student might choose to watch TV instead of studying because the immediate pleasure outweighs the distant benefit of good grades.

When presented with $200 now or $250 in 4 months, most people would subconsciously find themselves going for $200 now rather than $250 in the future. Simply put, we tend to choose a positive activity in the present (such as taking the $200 now) over a positive consequence later on.

2.     Optimism Bias

People tend to underestimate the time required to complete tasks, believing they can finish them faster than they actually can. This optimism leads to delayed starts and last-minute rushes.

3.     Temporal Discounting

Temporal discounting involves the devaluation of future rewards. Tasks with benefits that are far off are less appealing, prompting procrastination. For example, exercising regularly for future health benefits is often postponed for more immediate gratifications.

Psychological Factors

You will be forgiven to think that procrastination is about laziness and poor time management. While that’s the largely accepted phenomenon, procrastination is not just about poor time management or laziness; it’s deeply rooted in psychological factors:

  • Fear of Failure: Anxiety about failing can cause individuals to put off tasks to avoid confronting their inadequacies. This avoidance creates a cycle of procrastination and guilt, exacerbating the problem.
  • Perfectionism: The desire to perform tasks perfectly can be paralysing. Perfectionists delay starting tasks because they fear their efforts won’t meet their high standards.
  • Lack of Motivation: Without intrinsic or extrinsic motivation, tasks seem daunting and unworthy of immediate attention. Young people often struggle with tasks that don’t provide immediate satisfaction or are not aligned with their interests.

Procrastination and ADHD

Procrastination is particularly prevalent among individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). ADHD affects executive functions such as planning, organisation, and impulse control, making it challenging to initiate and complete tasks. Key aspects of procrastination and ADHD include:

  • Time Management Issues: People with ADHD often misjudge how long tasks will take and struggle with deadlines. This misjudgment leads to delayed starts and incomplete tasks not to mention emotional distress.
  • Distractibility: High distractibility means that individuals with ADHD are easily sidetracked, making sustained attention on a single task difficult.
  • Emotional Regulation: Difficulty in managing emotions can lead to procrastination as tasks that evoke negative emotions are avoided.

The Role of Technology

It goes without saying that the digital age has exacerbated procrastination among young people. The constant barrage of notifications, social media, and streaming services provides endless distractions.

Technology, as you will agree, has created an environment ripe for procrastination, offering immediate gratification and diverting attention from important but less immediately rewarding tasks.

Strategies to Overcome Procrastination

Overcoming procrastination involves a combination of self-awareness, behavioural changes, and practical strategies:

  • Mindfulness and Self-Compassion: Practising mindfulness helps individuals become more aware of their procrastination triggers and patterns. Self-compassion reduces the guilt associated with procrastination, creating a more positive mindset to tackle tasks.
  • Breaking Tasks into Smaller Steps: Large tasks can be overwhelming. Breaking them into smaller, manageable steps makes them less daunting and easier to start.
  • Setting Clear Goals and Deadlines: Specific, measurable goals with clear deadlines provide structure and motivation. Tools like planners, calendars, and apps can aid in tracking progress and maintaining accountability.
  • Creating a Conducive Environment: Minimising distractions by creating a dedicated workspace helps maintain focus. Techniques like the Pomodoro Technique that entail working in short, focused intervals with breaks can enhance productivity.
  • Seeking Support: Sharing goals with friends, family, or mentors can provide encouragement and accountability. In cases of severe procrastination linked to mental health issues, professional help from therapists or counsellors may be necessary.

The Benefits of Procrastination

While often viewed negatively, procrastination can sometimes be beneficial. It allows for incubation of ideas and can lead to more creative solutions. Strategic procrastination (which entails delaying tasks intentionally to work better under pressure) can be effective for some individuals.

However, this should be balanced with awareness of its potential downsides.

In conclusion, procrastination among young people is a complex issue influenced by cognitive biases, psychological factors, ADHD, and the pervasive influence of technology. Understanding the underlying causes and implementing effective strategies can help mitigate its impact. While procrastination can occasionally offer creative benefits, it is generally more productive to develop habits that foster timely task completion. Through mindfulness, goal-setting, and supportive environments, young people can learn to overcome procrastination and achieve their full potential.