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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 wa