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Why we procrastinate on the tiniest of tasks

When we put off small jobs, they balloon from tiny checklist items into major irritants. Why do we keep doing this?

Source | | Mark Johanson

It could be a quick email to a colleague you dislike. Perhaps it’s some menial paperwork; a small tweak to a spreadsheet or an invoice that has to be filed. It could even be a short phone call to your boss – something that will only take a minute and yet, somehow, for some reason, you keep on putting it off. 

If it only takes five minutes, you end up asking yourself, then why on earth haven’t you done it? You waste time thinking about how annoying it is; unsurprisingly, that does not make it go away. Instead, the task lingers, ballooning from a tiny checklist item into an ongoing irritant completely out of proportion with the resources needed to actually polish it off. 

Tiny tasks have a way of taking up an abnormally large amount of space in our minds. Yet, there are simple ways we can bring them back down to size, something that begins with understanding how exactly we allow them to loom so large. Then, by reframing our approach to the tasks, switching our emotional response and practicing some self-compassion we can work towards conquering the small to-do list items that trip us up. 

Why tiny tasks become big monsters 

At its core, procrastination involves the voluntary delay of an intended task, despite expecting to be worse off for doing so, explains Fuschia Sirois, professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield in England. “You get all kinds of people saying [procrastination is] good for this or good for that, but embedded within the definition is that no form of procrastination is ever good for you.” 

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