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The science behind procrastination and how you can beat it.

I’m sorry to disappoint you, but when it comes to procrastination, freedom is your enemy.

The science behind procrastination and how you can beat it.

Procrastination has been around since the start of modern civilization.

All images by Darius Foroux, used with permission.


Historical figures like Herodotus, Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, Benjamin Franklin, Eleanor Roosevelt, and hundreds of others have talked about how procrastination is the enemy of results.

One of my favorite quotes about procrastination is often attributed to Abraham Lincoln: "You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today."

The funny thing about procrastination is that we all know that it’s harmful.

Who actually likes to procrastinate? No one enjoys doing that. Me neither.

And yet, procrastination was the story of my life. When I was in college, this would happen every semester:

In the beginning of each semester, I was the coolest mofo on the planet. Relaxing, going out, enjoying myself. Big time.

I experienced no stress whatsoever. However, about a week before my exams, I would freak out. "Dude, why didn’t you begin earlier?" I would tell myself.

And what would follow is an ugly sight of me, with a bunch of Red Bull cans, locked up in my room, freaking out while I was studying.

Research shows exactly that: When you procrastinate, you might feel better in the short-term, but you will suffer in the long-term.

It doesn’t really matter why you procrastinate. Some love the pressure of deadlines. Some are afraid to fail so they put it off until the very last moment. But one thing that all procrastinators have in common is that procrastination has a price.

A highly cited study from the American Psychological Society journal, by Dianne Tice and Roy Baumeister, discusses the cost of procrastination. They found that it is related to:

  • Depression
  • Irrational beliefs
  • Low self-esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Stress

So when it comes down to the research, procrastination is not innocent behavior. Scientists believe it’s a sign of poor self-regulation — and they even compare procrastination to alcohol and drug abuse.

Why do we procrastinate anyway? Most people who procrastinate will tell you that it’s a habit that just sneaks into your system.

The years after I got out of college were again a struggle in terms of starting and finishing work. It’s not something you can shake easily. Every time I had a business idea or wanted to start something, it went like this:

Every time I had an idea or a goal, I would start, but along the way, things would go wrong. I went from start to total chaos.

Distractions, other ideas, other opportunities, failure, negative self-talk, etc., would get in the way.

And the results are always the same: I never get anything done.

To me, the key finding from that study I mentioned before is this:

"The present evidence suggests that procrastinators enjoy themselves rather than working at assigned tasks, until the rising pressure of imminent deadlines forces them to get to work. In this view, procrastination may derive from a lack of self-regulation and hence a dependency on externally imposed forces to motivate work."

Self-regulation, self-control, and willpower are all things that we overestimate. We think: "Yeah sure, I will write a novel in three weeks." In our minds, we’re all geniuses and mentally strong. But when the work comes, we cop out.

Sure, everybody fears to step outside of their comfort zone — that’s why we call them comfort zones. It takes courage to make a bold move. But it sure doesn’t take any courage to complete small tasks like paying bills, printing out something for your boss, doing taxes, etc.

The truth is, procrastination has nothing to do with the actual task either.

For me, completing tasks — any tasks — while procrastinating went like this:

There comes a moment, I call it "the slope of procrastination," when you give into one distraction and you give up being productive.

And it always starts with just one thing. You think: Let’s watch the news for a second.

Then you think: I might as well watch one episode of "Game of Thrones." Then, a Casey Neistat vlog. And then another YouTube video. Then, a little bit of Facebook. And so forth.

It ends with a bang: "This is the last time I’ll waste my time!" Yeah, right.

What we really need, according to all of this research, is a system for doing work.

A lot of people shy away from routines, systems and frameworks because they want to have "freedom."

But I’m sorry to disappoint you: When it comes to procrastinating, freedom is your enemy! If you want to get things done, you need rules.

What are some things that research proved to be effective?

  • Self-imposed deadlines
  • Accountability systems (commitment with friends or a coach)
  • Working/studying in intervals
  • Exercising 30 minutes a day
  • A healthy diet
  • Eliminating distractions
  • And most importantly: internal motivation

If you combine all of those things, you'll have a system.

The deadlines create urgency, accountability will create responsibility, working in intervals improves your focus, exercising will give you more energy, so does a healthy diet, and eliminating distractions will take away the temptations.

But there’s no system that can help you if you don’t have an inner drive. People overcomplicate that concept, but it’s simple: Why do you do what you do? If you don’t know. Make something up. That's your motivation.

If you know why you’re doing something, even the most annoying tasks might become bearable.

Those tasks will become a part of the bigger picture.

So, instead of diving into work, take a step back and think about why you do what you do. Then create a system that supports that. It’s not rocket science. Just science. And maybe it’ll help you become more productive!

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

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"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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