What is it that causes us to put things off we know we should do? Is there a psychology to procrastination? Is there a cure? I took a trip inside Psychology Today to learn there really is an art and science to procrastination:
- Twenty percent of people identify themselves as chronic procrastinators.
- It’s not trivial, although as a culture we don’t take it seriously as a problem. It represents a profound problem of self-regulation. And there may be more of it in the U.S. than in other countries because we are so nice; we don’t call people on their excuses.
- Procrastination is not a problem of time management or of planning. Procrastinators are not different in their ability to estimate time, although they are more optimistic than others.
- Procrastinators are made not born. Procrastination is learned in the family system, but not directly. It can be a response to an authoritarian parenting style.
- Procrastination predicts higher levels of consumption of alcohol among those people who drink.
- Procrastinators tell lies to themselves. Such as, “I’ll feel more like doing this tomorrow.” Or “I work best under pressure.”
- Procrastinators actively look for distractions, particularly ones that don’t take a lot of commitment on their part.
There are big costs to procrastination. Health is one. Just over the course of a single academic term, procrastinating college students had such evidence of compromised immune systems as more colds and flu, more gastrointestinal problems. And they had insomnia. In addition, procrastination has a high cost to others as well as oneself; it shifts the burden of responsibilities onto others, who become resentful. Procrastination destroys teamwork in the workplace and private relationships. Procrastinators can change their behavior—but it takes work; a system and work.
What a procrastinator knows inherently is that they will never FIND the time; they have to MAKE the time! But what lies beneath the ability to make the time? The fear of failure. I can speak from personal experience on this one; overcoming the fear is the first and most important task at hand.
Fear is sometimes a grandiose avoidance of all the “what ifs” in life. Worrying about all the things that COULD happen is oftentimes worse than what could actually ever happen. When we live in fear of what if, we live in constant procrastination of the possibility of failure. It’s a comfortable cycle to continue, but at some point, we have to take the first step out of our comfort zone. Even back in the old days, famous Chinese philosophers were familiar with that mindset. “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”
How do you take the first step out of procrastination? You just step!
A. Recognize/admit you’re a procrastinator
- Do you read emails more often than necessary?
- Do you have old, old, old to-do’s still lingering around
- Do you place low-priority tasks higher than important ones?
B. Create a written plan of action
- Make sure it’s realistic
- Make sure it’s simple
- You gotta start somewhere
C. Take baby steps
- Make some of your to-do’s, slam dunks so you stay motivated
- Allow for breaks
- Do the big things first; fun things last
D. Dive in
- Planning and doing are not the same thing; spend time DOING
- Don’t overcomplicate; don’t make excuses
- Earmark designated times to work your plan (and plan your work)
E. Create new habits
- Reward yourself for good behavior
- Evoke peer pressure (accountability)
- Remind yourself of the unpleasant consequences of NOT doing the task
Sometimes you just have to have a little faith; mostly in yourself. There’s an old German Proverb that says, “Begin to weave and God will give the thread.” It’s part of the “Just Do It” mentality that Nike instills in us. Talking about it, planning for it and worrying about it just don’t get ‘er done. Putting off until tomorrow what you could do today is not a healthy option. And as our wonderful Spaniard friends from the Land of Mañana tell us, “Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week.” Let’s get busy!