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Procrastination, Sun Tzu, and You

Procrastination. You’ve done it. I’ve done it. Everyone, at one point or another, must have found themselves binging a Netflix show on a Tuesday night, idly scrolling through random Reddit forums, liking a bunch of Instagram posts, or exploring Genshin Impact’s open-world. All while the clock inches closer to that 11:59 PM deadline.

And although some of us are casual procrastinators, others take it to the next level and are chronic procrastinators. They may really wish to get work done, learn a new skill, or find something to add to their resume but find it extremely difficult to do so.

We all want to be more productive in life. I, myself, have great trouble getting work done efficiently, and I constantly find myself going back and forth between working and procrastinating. It’s like a game of tug-o-war.

Now, there are countless ways to combat procrastination; what you have to do is open up your mind, experiment, and see what works for you.

To start, I will give you what I believe to be an amazing piece of advice (courtesy of Sun Tzu): “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

Know thy enemy. Procrastination can be a destructive force that devours our time and energy, and it hinders us from achieving our goals and getting stuff done.

A simple reminder of the treachery of procrastination might be enough to convince some of us to get back to work. But in a Psychology Today article, Dr. Theo Tsaousides suggests that people should also view procrastination in a more useful, positive light, and encourages us to “...think of it as an alarm, or a red flag.”

Procrastination, by definition, is the act or habit of delaying something. Doing so is irrational because its consequences often outweigh whatever you get out of procrastinating, and a lot of irrational behavior and acts stem from something, like anger and panic. So in short, procrastination is an irrational response to something. Procrastination as a response - a symptom - indicates that there is some kind of issue that needs to be addressed.

Some issues may be a lack of motivation or interest in the work. This might stem from “decision fatigue” or “analysis paralysis,” which is when you can’t make your mind up about something, like needing to choose between assignments and, instead, doing neither. It could also be more related to anxiety induced by the pressure of expectations, or a fear of failing and being judged. This Eagle’s Scream article covers this idea more.

After understanding that procrastination can be a sign that something more complex is wrong, we can move onto why some of us might procrastinate. Then we can draft up strategies or formulate solutions to put a stop to our procrastination by targeting those causes.

That Sun Tzu quote I gave mentioned another fundamental tip. Know thyself. Having a good understanding of why you procrastinate, experimenting with different strategies to deal with it, and seeing what works for you is super vital.

Often, I find myself tormented by the inclination to get the best grades that I possibly can. This has generated a lot of demotivation and disinterest while I work, which prompts me to procrastinate daily. To help myself procrastinate less, I’ve tried to put less pressure on myself every day, telling myself to not set any unreasonable standards. In this way, I hope that I can regain some genuine interest in learning which will increase my productivity and decrease my dilly-dallying.

I’ve also tried some basic techniques like making to-do lists to prioritize assignments and eliminating distractions. Personally, to-do lists don’t help me all that much. Sure, it’s great for reminders but I don’t need reminders, I need motivation. And despite my efforts to remove all distractions, I end up finding my screen on my YouTube feed or a Discord text channel thread. If I can’t stop myself from getting distracted, then I need to get myself more interested and invested in what I’m supposed to be doing. Since to-do lists and pushing away distractions has done so little, I know that they don’t work so well for me, and now I’m actively trying other methods.

I encourage you to do the same. If procrastination is a major problem for you, as it is for me, and you truly want to mitigate how it affects your life and work, then do your best to understand your situation. And recall Sun Tzu’s wisdom: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

Know thy enemy. Procrastination can have dire consequences on how much you succeed – don’t ever forget that. It’s also a warning sign that something more complex may be causing you some troubles, so make sure you identify what that is.

Know thyself. If you are anxious about expectations or failure, or you are indecisive, or whatever else it may be, then realize it, and think of ways to fix those specific problems. Try out different methods to help you focus and stay on track, and do some reflecting to see if those methods are a good fit for you. A good rule of thumb is to try things out for a while, not just a day. Fighting procrastination will take some level of persistence, so don’t drop your attempts so quickly just because you don’t see immediate results.

Let’s get into some methods you can use to try to focus more. Chances are that you already apply some of these, or at least know them, yet they are all still worth giving a shot if you haven’t already.

Listening to music is a go-to tactic for many of us. Certain music genres may calm us and make working less stressful, while other more upbeat genres can motivate us and make working more enjoyable. However, be wary because music can be more distracting than helpful in many cases, so use your judgment.

Using apps and resources to limit distractions can also help some of us. For instance, there is an app called Forest that tries to help its users focus. When you want to do some work, you open the app and plant a little virtual tree and it will grow over a period of time that you choose. If you leave the app during this period of time, your tree will die, but if you don’t use your phone during the period of time, then the tree grows and becomes a part of your personal virtual forest. The more times you use the app successfully, the more trees you grow, and the more your forest grows. If you like this app’s concept and the cute rewards of green trees, then why not give it a try?

And lastly, give yourself a reasonable break. Not everyone is like my mother and can plow through all their work without stopping except for some sips of water and a quick bite of food. Especially nowadays, with everyone sitting in front of a screen for hours on end, mental fatigue comes easily and can really throw a wrench in the works. I like flopping onto my mattress and shutting my eyes for 10 minutes after school to put my strained eyes at rest and ease my aching head. Other people might wish to play a round of a video game or watch a video. Just be sure not to get too absorbed by it, or you will end up procrastinating.

I know that it’s easier said than done. Procrastination and the psychology surrounding it are much more complicated than I can imagine. Everyone has a different situation regarding their procrastination, and we all have different personalities, lifestyles, habits, and mindsets. Because of this, there is no clear-cut answer to the question of procrastination, and it’s up to you to figure out your own answers, unfortunately.

But it’s not impossible. With Sun Tzu’s teachings and even the thinnest sliver of determination, you stand a chance against procrastination.

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