Why we are procrastinating more during Covid-19 Pandemic and what we can do about it?

The intriguing and worrisome characteristic of an emerging infectious disease is that the precise cause is at first unknown. This uncertainty in itself may increase the level of psychosocial morbidity. -Sim and Chua.

It has become common today to use the phrase 'Unprecedented Situation' due to pandemic. Several productivity apps and gurus are focusing on how can we combat the habit of delaying tasks or decisions which is simply known as Procrastination. Conventional wisdom has it that if it does not get diagnosed or treated well, it can rob one's life of its precious value and can have serious consequences. For instance, chronic procrastinators have this perception that they have an unlimited amount of time left with them and this attitude is mostly categorised as a dispositional construct. Yet I would argue that sometimes external situational reasons like pandemic can create temporary discomfort of not able to take actions. Overall, then, I believe how we feel about the tasks or decisions and its associated emotional attribute is an important point to make given we know ourselves in regards to the behaviour of procrastination.

When it comes to the topic of knowing ourselves, most of us will readily agree that even people who are self-aware can also become confused during these times as it gets correlated with anxiety. Where this agreement usually ends, however, is on the question of whether it leads to procrastination behaviour. Whereas some researches show the correlation between the anxiety and academic procrastination, I myself found the associations between anxiety and unintentional procrastination in my own recent research.

Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis say that when we are anxious and frustrated, we feel angry. In this view, we cope with this stress in different ways. By focusing on the tentative causes of procrastination, we overlook the deeper problem of demarcating the self-concept and anxiety. My own view is that when thoughts of anxiety get engulfed with our self-concept, it creates a psychological barrier in intentionally articulating the task or decision. It gets to add up and it shows in our personality eventually. In further steps, we second-question things, delve ourselves in dilemmas, creates unnecessary choices just to maintain uncertainty, feeds or focus on negative events. This is a dangerous vicious cycle and it starts from the uncertainty.

These findings and observations have important implications for the broader domain of psychology in which the important concept of intolerance of uncertainty resides. This construct has significant applications in clinical settings where we can give behavioural interventions and finally see the effect on procrastination behaviour. Intolerance of uncertainty is a cognitive, emotional and behavioural response which gets combined with the inability to cope and inaccurate assessments. When we appoint negative belief in uncertain situations, we are reinforcing our personality towards negativity. Ultimately, what is at stake here is, we try to avoid anything negative and in process of avoiding negative events, we tend to deprioritise or forget about the task itself or react impulsively which decreases our initial motivation to do work and gets distracted by short term temptations.

Taking the wisdom from epic Mahabharata, imagine what if Arjun got distracted from his work (or karma)? He initially got confused by the dilemma of whether he should fight with their own family members or not. This can be taken as a form of decisional procrastination as he was not able to make a decision and hence was delaying. To solve this, Shri Krishna understood his emotional state. He said, hey Arjun whatever you are going through I can understand, but please do understand this, this is your dharma, you have to do it. You are engulfed with the immediate results of the tasks and so you are not able to see the larger picture. In this world, you have a definite set of tasks you have to do. This life is short and mortal. New people will come and they will do their tasks. Why are so worried about the consequences?

Though I believe that we can learn from this about the procrastination and reason to believe in keep doing the action, I still maintain that when we can demarcate between the task and the cognitive, emotional and behavioural consequences of that task; we will be able to proceed effectively by having a full futuristic vision ahead without focusing on results. From this perspective, we will understand that our self-concept and the temporary psychological state we feel about initiating or conducting a task is different. In sum, we just have to leave our obsessions with our tasks or decisions' consequences and see the larger picture.