Who among us has not allowed a deadline to approach because we just could not pull ourselves together and do what we needed to do? Some things we just hate to do. Sometimes, we can’t get started because we don’t know where or how to start. We fear that we are not up to the task. Other times, we really do have too many other important things on our plate and we feel overwhelmed. We fall victim to procrastination.
“What I’ve found is that while everybody may procrastinate, not everyone is a procrastinator”, says Joseph Ferrari, professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago and a pioneer in the study of procrastination. He goes on to say that (procrastination) “really has nothing to do with time management”. His research revealed that an inability to manage emotions is the root cause of procrastination.
When psychologists initially studied procrastination they adopted time and value as their metrics, asking “Why does this person not perform a simple cost – benefit analysis of doing what they must vs.ignoring their responsibilities”? Unfortunately some of us, and from time to time all of us, choose immediate and sometimes minor gratification over more significant rewards that pay dividends in the long-term.
So instead of going to the gym at 6:00 AM we lie in bed for another 30 minutes. When we might work out after work at 6:00 PM, we instead go out drinking with friends. We put off doing our taxes and sit around watching re-runs on television instead. Professor Ferrari and others feel that procrastination happens for two primary reasons:
1.) We put off the task because we are not in the mood to either start or complete it.
2.) We assume that we’ll be in a more appropriate frame of mind to complete the task in the near future.
Needless to say, putting off until tomorrow that which one should do today may bring on guilt, anxiety and defensiveness. To ease our consciences, we often make little bargains with ourselves and vow to clean up our act going forward (“If I go out tonight, I’ll work out for 90 minutes tomorrow”). That approach can work but for some of us, the avoidance behavior that is procrastination will kick in again and tomorrow there will be another excuse (“I have so much work to do, I can’t get to the gym and even if I do go, I’ll be too exhausted to do a good workout”).
Getting stuck in a procrastination pattern does one’s self-esteem no favors. Beneath the defensive attitude that may be thrown at those who dare question why you’re not doing what you should do is self-loathing. You feel like a loser because you know you’re screwing up and no amount of self-righteous denial can hide that fact from yourself.
Procrastination is not to be confused with positive behaviors such as caution, where you think first and weigh the possible consequences of moving forward to take action; pondering, when you examine a problem and discover solutions that you can expect will be useful; or prioritizing, when you assign a value to and rank your responsibilities and complete highly ranked tasks first and the least important tasks are done last, if at all. Procrastination represents a gap between intention and action.
Next week, we’ll look at common forms of procrastination and strategies that may resolve or ameliorate the problem.
Thanks for reading,