Everyone does it, including you. Some do it more than others, but if you try to say that you’ve never procrastinated, chances are you’re lying to yourself.
What is Procrastination?
Procrastination is putting off until tomorrow the things you just as easily could finish today. It’s postponing or needlessly delaying accomplishing something because you don’t have the desire or motivation to complete it.
Let’s be clear though- procrastination is not prioritizing more important tasks or choosing the “best” activity each day. If something is honestly more important in a moment, it’s probably the best choice.
Procrastination is putting off the things you need to finish because you don’t want to do them, or you feel unfocused or unmotivated. It’s giving into distraction and pleasure as a way to distance yourself from the unpleasant task, even for a short time.
Are You a Procrastinator?
I know I am. I make a lot of excuses for it- that I work best under pressure, or that I’m “too busy” with other things, but the truth is- typically a task probably won’t get done until about the time it’s due.
I’m trying to do better though. Through the years I’ve picked up a few tricks to help me get ahead of my list so I can be more in control of my schedule, rather than letting it control me.
One thing that helps me minimize procrastination is to recognize when it’s happening, as well as why. Instead of just jumping right into trying to “fix” the problem, this allows me to look at the situation more objectively, so I can repair the cause, rather than just the result. Removing procrastination is more than just “getting down to business.” It’s the symptom of something else. I have to discover the illness first- the reasons my brain doesn’t want to complete the task. This way, the repair is healthier, longer-lasting, and more effective.
Understanding the Consequences
I’m sure you recognize the concept of consequences. The fact that once an action is taken, something else will occur as a result.
Consequences aren’t something we can control. They just happen. Sometimes they’re imposed by the people around us, sometimes they’re just the natural effect of a choice we’ve made. Either way, once we make a decision and act on it, we enact a tier of consequences as a result of that choice.
As a teacher, I’d often share the following Stephen Covey quote with my students: “We are free to choose our actions, . . . but we are not free to choose the consequences of these actions.”
There are many types of consequences. There extrinsic (or external - outside yourself) and intrinsic (or internal - in your mind/body) consequences. Natural (unstoppable consequences that “just happen” within the natural world) and Logical (imposed by others).
Think, for a second, about a student who puts off studying for an exam or writing a paper. The deadline will still come, and they’ll often “pull an all-nighter” or miss out on social activities to get it done. These first consequences are unavoidable and cannot be influenced. But the chain doesn’t stop there - there are other, linked, consequences that follow: missed relationships, lower grade, stress and panic, & harm to health from lack of sleep.
How many times have you been late to an appointment or event because you procrastinated getting ready to leave? Has this hurt a friendship or caused you embarrassment?
Consequences may not be the same for every person, and they may even look different to yourself from one occasion to the next, but there’s no denying the fact that there’s always a consequence to procrastination. Sometimes it manifests itself immediately, sometimes not for awhile, but it always comes. Unnecessary stress, missed deadlines, forgetting commitments, or hurt relationships are just a handful of the possible things that could go wrong with procrastinating.
Why Do We Procrastinate?
So we know that there will be consequences of putting things off, but most of us still do it. And probably far more often than we’d like.
Why? Why do we put off the things that we could technically do today? Why do we ignore the consequences when they’re staring us right in the face?
Even if you’re not a chronic procrastinator (like I am - I admit it!), nearly everyone does it at some point. And there are many possible reasons for it:
- Fear: Fear is a paralyzing emotion. It has the power to stop us from taking action. Maybe you fear failure, or that success would be limited and unrepeatable. Perhaps you fear what people will think, or going outside your comfort zone. Or it could be that you’re afraid of being vulnerable or breaking people’s perceived notion of who you are. Whatever it is, if fear is causing you to backtrack and forget the things you dream of doing, work to fix the problem head-on. It’s only holding you back from your amazing potential.
- Importance: When we procrastinate, it’s very often because we don’t place enough psychological value on the importance of the task, project, or goal. Sure on the surface we may tout its importance, but deep down, we’re putting higher value on other things. My mom used to tell me when I’d forget about things like birthdays or events that “if it was important enough to remember, I would.” As a kid I rejected the possibility of this being true, but I’ve since learned the wisdom in this statement, and I think it works here too. If the task was important enough to you, you’d push yourself to completing it. Even unintentionally, everytime you turn on the TV when there are still items on your MIT list, you’re telling yourself that your “entertainment” is more important than your progression.
- Need More Information: Starting a new project or goal often requires additional knowledge or research. Maybe you want to repair the dryer yourself instead of calling it in, or perhaps you’d like to “someday” publish a book you’ve written. You probably can’t just “dive into” these things- you’ll have to gather some information beforehand. So schedule some time to collect the information you need and get started!
- Higher Priorities: Life is busy. We have jobs and commitments and activities and tasks and about a hundred things to get to everyday. Commonly we put off things that don’t need to get done today, in favor of other, more important or urgent tasks. This is ok- life is about establishing priorities and making choices. Just be sure that the things you’re doing each day are the most important use of your time.
- Uncommitted to Task: Maybe you think it’s unfair that the task is assigned to you, or that someone else should be responsible for it. Perhaps you see it as a waste of time and that you’ve got “more important” things to worry about. These are signs of not being fully committed to the task. Truth is, it still needs it get done, and if you can’t delegate it, and you’re still responsible for the outcome, you’ll need to come up with a plan. Remember when you were in school and you were assigned a “partner” activity? Yeah, I hated those too. More times than not, I’d end up carrying more than my fair share of the weight because the consequences for an incomplete assignment were important for me to avoid. So weigh it out for yourself - what happens if you keep pushing it off? Is that worth ensuring that things are “fair?” Sometimes the answer is yes, but only you can make that decision.
- Laziness: Everyone is faced with jobs in life that they simply just don’t want to do. They’re either unpleasant, like having to clean dirty toilets, or they’re scary, like fixing the roof or preparing a Speech. Unfortunately, procrastination can reinforce itself. Once we avoid the task we don’t want to do and replace it with something “fun”, it becomes easier and easier to repeat. But how can we overcome this laziness? First thing is to accept it. In most cases, facing the truth about our weaknesses can help us overcome these bad habits and move into action where we otherwise may have failed. Laziness is also another word for unmotivated. Finding a way to motivate yourself is the key to moving outside of your laziness.
- Unfocused: Do you sit down to complete something and find yourself pulled into a thousand different directions? You open up Facebook or start checking your email. You go to take out the trash or start filing your paperwork from last week. These tasks, though many of them seem “productive” and important, are pulling you away from the task you’ve committed to. As you see things that need to be done, add them to a list, but don’t jump from one thing to another like a jackrabbit, because then nothing will get done! Remove distractions and work on increasing your mental focus to ensure that once you dedicate a block of time to a task, this is the only place your mind settles.
- Overcomplicated: This is a major weakness of mine. Naturally, I seem to have the notion that “more is better” and seem to try to create a huge production out of every task on my list- or many of them at least. Working to simplify the things in your life can increase the number of things you accomplish and the results you see, exponentially. Remember: Keep it Simple!
I hope this has opened your eyes a little to the reality of procrastination. It’s all around us, and often we’re doing it without even realizing. Try to be on the lookout for the times you might be procrastinating and ask yourself: Why?
Download the free printable below to evaluate the possible reasons you might be procrastinating the tasks on your list. Then check back for the second article in the series where I’ll cover tips to overcome procrastination.
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Why do you procrastinate? Is there something I missed from the list? Share your vices below!