Why do today what you can put off till tomorrow? Does this sound familiar? Procrastination has nothing to do with you being lazy or a bad person and has everything to do with negative emotions. You see, as humans, we are driven by emotion and avoid or delay something that feels bad while respond quickly and positively to something that feels good.
Procrastination is the delay or avoidance of completing tasks that need to be accomplished by a specific deadline. It can also be said that procrastination is a habitual or intentional postponement of starting or finishing a task, despite knowing the consequences may be negative.
At its core, procrastination is an emotion management issue and is determined by choice. If we choose to delay a task because it causes negative emotions, we tend to feel a sense of relief. If we escape this delay unscathed and have surpassed our deadline without any negative consequences, we believe we can get away with it over and over again.
Why Do Some People Procrastinate More Than Others?
It has been determined that there are two fundamental reasons why some people are more likely to procrastinate than others; resistance and willpower. Procrastinators may experience a higher resistance to task completion and have less willpower than those who don’t.
Those who may have more willpower than others have been gifted the genetic component through the genetic lottery.
Unfortunately, through the luck of the draw, some will be inherently blessed with willpower with no effort involved. Then, there are those of us who model our lives around resistance, putting everything off until the last minute, then scramble to complete a task on time, only to feel exhausted when finally executed.
In 1978, about 5% of the population claimed to be chronic procrastinators in contrast to 26% of the population today1.
Unsurprisingly, according to Piers Steel, a professor in the Organizational Behaviour and Human Resources area, in the Haskayne School of Business, determined that 95% of the total population procrastinates, with 20% to be chronic procrastinators2.
University students surveyed have revealed that 85 to 95% of the total student population procrastinates2 and about 40% of the procrastinators experience considerable financial loss3.
A study, led by Professor Roy Baumeister and Dr. Dianne Tice, concluded that college students who procrastinate, demonstrated lower stress levels during the semester, high-stress levels at the end of their semester, and experienced poor performance during exams4.
Writer and director, Stewart Langfield, describes procrastination as the primitive, pleasure-seeking, pain-avoiding part of the brain, the amygdala or limbic system that acts quickly for the prefrontal cortex. He describes the brain as being a hard-wired system conditioned for fight or flight response in threatening situations. Has also coined the term “paleomammalian brain,” pertaining to survival instinct necessary for ancient humans.
It has been said that the greater the resistance, the more willpower is needed to overcome it. Then, why do some people experience more resistance than others? Many factors contribute to resistance, though, below, we will look at 4 of the main reasons.
Too much emphasis placed on achieving the final goal rather than the steps to get there. Desmond Tutu once wisely said that “there is only one way to eat an elephant: one bite at a time.” What he was referring to is that when a task or a goal seems daunting or perhaps overwhelming, by taking just small, simple steps, one at a time can help you accomplish the impossible and achieve your set goals. The only challenge you face is starting the task. Once started, if you take your task, or goal, determine how many days you have to complete this task, then break it down into bite-sized pieces by committing to complete one portion of that goal, per day, by the end of your deadline, you have successfully completed the impossible.
For example; Let’s say Sally has a term paper to complete in 30 days, and she is required to research 4 in-depth topics for completion. Rather than scrambling to start and complete her term paper the night before it is due, if Sally determined how many hours it would take to complete her project, divided it by the length of time she has before her deadline (30 days), she would then determine how many hours per day she needs to work on her project to complete her task.
Equating perfectionism with the quality of your work. Procrastination is often a symptom of perfectionism. In the world of a perfectionist, it is not enough to complete a task well; it must be executed perfectly well. Being good has no room in a perfectionist’s vocabulary; to them, achieving goals and tasks must be exceptional. And, understandably, perfectionism is a common risk factor for performance anxiety. If perfectionism stems from a fear of judgment or judgments you have on yourself, anxiety likes to convince you that if you can’t do everything perfectly, you should probably do nothing at all. If you have resolved that you are not going to complete the task, another emotion creeps in called shame– and the vicious cycle begins.
Being both a procrastinator and a perfectionist takes serious commitment to overcome the debilitating sense of anxiety, shame, and failure. The first step to breaking the cycle is to recognize that you need to lower the bar.
Now, I completely understand that asking a perfectionist to lower the bar would be like asking them to fly to Jupiter and back on a magic carpet – the response would be identical “are you crazy?” If you are ever going to achieve healthy and sustainable willpower, you are going to have to lower the unattainable standards you have and free yourself from the expectation that you have to give 100 percent of yourself to everything you do. After all, being super-human, never making mistakes is impractical, unrealistic, and is undoubtedly destined for failure.
Fear of success and failure. Those who experience the fear of success or failure will inevitably procrastinate as fear is the enemy of self-confidence, success, and criticism. We so often avoid doing things that we think might lead to failure or rejection. However, by living life through avoidance, we will never experience the opportunity to grow and develop. It is important to know that we all make mistakes and fail from time to time, although that’s never a result of us being failures as people.
On the contrary, if we are willing to explore new adventures, ideas, and calculated risks, we stand a chance to succeed, not fail. And, if we do fail, we still win, as we have learned valuable lessons along the way that we can apply to our new venture.
Through the years, one thing I have learned to be of absolute truth is that people are never as hard on us as we are on ourselves. That’s not to say we haven’t experienced hurt, or pain from others in the form of rejection, criticism, or judgment, as most of us have at some point and time. Though for the most part, when we have setbacks or have made mistakes, we tend to be much harder on ourselves and deal with immense internal turmoil, far greater than the outside world would punish our mishaps. Don’t be afraid to fail, be afraid of not growing. If you procrastinate due to fear of failure, or success, know that you are limiting your opportunity to learn, grow, and experience new and wonderful possibilities.
Beating procrastination by facing your fear of failure or success will enhance your life tremendously. The kinder you are towards yourself, and the gentler you treat yourself after you experience failure or mistakes is the only judgment that truly matters. The only limits you will experience are within the size of the bubble you create.
Can Procrastination Be A Good Thing?
History has noted, for human beings, procrastination has not always been regarded as a bad trait. The wisest of leaders, such as the Greeks and Romans, regarded procrastination as an art and would act only when absolutely necessary. They adopted the mindset of thinking more and do less.
The idea that procrastination was a bad thing began during the Puritanical era, a religious reform movement in the late 16th and 17th centuries. A Protestant preacher, Jonathan Edwards, delivered sermons that scorned procrastination and preached that we should live our lives as though tomorrow may never come.
Americans, in the world of business, decided to drop that methodology and live by the motto “a stitch in time saves nine” philosophy, referring to a work ethic that requires immediate and diligent action. Procrastination is a universal state of being for humans, and recent studies have indicated that delay management is an essential tool when properly managed.
It has also been noted that people are genuinely happier and successful when they can effectively manage delays. The true question is not whether we are procrastinators, it is whether we are procrastinating well.
Scientists have disputed that there are two kinds of procrastination: active procrastination and passive procrastination. Active procrastination means you are unduly delaying cleaning your closet or putting off a work project you know is not due for a month, and are doing something else that you deem more valuable instead. Active procrastinators will leave tasks or responsibilities until the last minute, then work under pressure to achieve one’s goals.
Passive procrastination is doing nothing but sitting around, filling your time with unimportant activities, and delaying tasks and responsibilities because it doesn’t feel good at the time. When their deadline approaches, passive procrastinators feel paralyzed by their indecision to act and fail to complete the task on time.
It has been noted that while some people work well, being an active procrastinator while working under pressure, most passive procrastinators suffer negative consequences from delay or neglect of task completion.
What Are The 3 Types Of Procrastinators?
- The Avoider
Sigmund Freud stated that people have an innate drive to seek what feels good and to avoid whatever feels painful.
The avoider procrastinator may put off tasks because of specific emotions, such as anxiety, boredom, feeling overwhelmed, or sadness. The pleasure principle, as outlined by Freud, indicates that, as humans, we have an innate drive to seek what feels good and to avoid whatever feels painful.
- The Optimist
An optimist thinks that a task isn’t going to take as long as it does, or that they have more than enough time to complete the job.
Research by Jeff Conte, a psychologist at San Diego State University, determines that a key trait among optimist procrastinators is being chronically late. Research also suggests that these people perceive time differently and feel that it passes more slowly than it actually does.
- The Pleasure Seeker
The pleasure seeker deliberately chooses to avoid a task and decides to delay or avoid a project and do something they like better.
This individual has no patience for anything that doesn’t offer immediate gratification. Quite often, they wait until they feel like doing their work, which in most cases, never happens.
Distraction is a way of life for pleasure-seeking procrastinators. They may have good intentions to start and complete a project, though they may be distracted by email, social media, phone calls, etc., anything to avoid a task at hand.
As an example, Tom wakes up, brushes his teeth, makes a cup of coffee, and sits down with his laptop and immediately starts his day writing. Jane, on the other hand, wakes up, brushes her teeth, makes her coffee, knows she has to begin writing, though checks her Facebook, Instagram, emails, and LinkedIn page before she begins her day’s work. After struggling with herself for over half an hour, she finally decides to start the task at hand.
So, what is the difference between Tom and Jane? Tom is resistant to procrastination, whereas Jane is a pleasure seeker procrastinator who delays tasks and responsibilities until absolutely necessary.
How To Overcome Procrastination In 4 Steps
- Perform The Task For Just A Few Minutes
- Begin the hard and important tasks first
- Manage your environment
- Divide your deadline into smaller chunks
Procrastinators spend more extended periods of time distracting themselves and delaying the enviable task at hand. Professor Richard Wiseman describes the Zierganic effect, which describes that once you begin a project, your brain remains alert until completion. Starting a task is often the hardest part. Once you begin a project, your brain’s desire to see it through to completion should then take over.
Our daily biological clocks, known as our Circadian Rhythm, ensures that we are most productive before 10:00 a.m. After that time, studies have shown that most of us would benefit from an afternoon nap as we experience an afternoon dip in productivity. Therefore, it makes sense to complete the hardest and most important tasks first, as trying to complete complex tasks when you are tired is difficult and can result in people postponing or eliminating these tasks altogether.
Consider your work environment where procrastination can flourish. If you see temptations that may cause distraction, such as your phone, put them away. Studies have shown that if you remove all distractions, you are more likely to complete the task at hand than you would if your distractions are in plain sight.
Piers Steel notes that the longer the period on a specific task, the less it impacts people’s urgency for completion. As mentioned in a previous section, once you receive a specific task, calculate the number of days you have to complete the project, divide the number of days you have remaining to reach your deadline, and you will determine how many equal hours per day you need to work on your project till completion.
There are proven ways to combat procrastination so that it doesn’t impact your daily life and get in the way of accomplishing the important tasks. The next time you resist a project, consider whether or not it sets off any of the procrastination triggers.
Always remember that procrastination is a symptom, it’s not a disease. If you struggle with procrastination and it negatively impacts your day-to-day activities, you will need to learn coping mechanisms to improve your execution, along with ways that will decrease stress.
Do not forget that procrastination is not a red flag that you are a bad or lazy person; it’s a term coined for those who suffer great stress completing projects and achieving deadlines within a designated time allotment. For those who work well under pressure and can achieve maximum results with minimum time – Salute!