“I’ll do it tomorrow.”
Procrastination is a common delaying tactic for tasks that are unpleasant or difficult to accomplish. Every day, we use minor delays to avoid small chores that are relatively unimportant. Over time, problems develop when procrastination becomes a “chronic, way of life” that infects all that we think, feel and do.
Chronic procrastination can lead to debilitating ailments, like depression, malaise and lethargy. Finally, social, financial and physical aspects of our lives can be dragged down by the inability to finish simple and complex tasks on time. People wait for tomorrow to complete their jobs for any number of reasons; carefully analyzing the roots and causes of this procrastination is essential to finding answers, so we can learn “How to stop procrastinating.”
What is Procrastination?
Procrastination is the behavior of delaying an action until tomorrow. The Latin etymology combines the terms for “Pro” (Forward) and “Crastinus” (Tomorrow). People move tasks “forward” until “tomorrow” when they procrastinate.
Time is limited, so it is very difficult to complete all tasks today. Some actions must be reserved until later. The negative connotation of the word, procrastination, suggests an unnecessary delay in doing something. Procrastination is essentially “not wanting to deal with something.”
Putting off some activity until a later time is natural, if there is a valid reason for the delay. When there is no valid reason, then procrastination is seen as a potential problem. “Moving the day of reckoning to a later date,” can be seen as a defensive coping mechanism attempting to resist negative circumstances.
People have a natural aversion to pain, stress, or risk. Others have such low self-esteem that they procrastinate because they don’t believe they can succeed. Some procrastinators feel like they have little control of their lives. They procrastinate because they do not want to face reality. They can’t handle the difficulties of specific obstacles, challenges or problems.
Improper time management is a central problem in procrastination. People who are bad at regulating their actions waste a lot of time, becoming easily side-tracked. In the end, they “run out of time” to complete some of the most important jobs.
Yesterday, today and tomorrow are abstract concepts of time. In reality, today is the only really concrete time when actions can occur.
Yesterday is gone. It only exists in some theoretical museum, stored away in some irretrievable vault.
Tomorrow never arrives, it only theoretical. You can’t touch tomorrow. When tomorrow arrives, it turns into today.
Today is the only reality when action takes place.
Real and Imaginary Obstacles
Objective Assessment of Task Requirements
An objective assessment of inputs needed to complete a task should be conducted:
When all of these requirements are met, and someone still procrastinates, then we must conclude that the delay is due to some underlying psychological factor.
People make many unconscious assessments before doing things: 1.) What is my risk, 2.) What is my reward, 3) What do I need, and 4.) What are my chances of success? If any of these factors are not within an acceptable range, then people won’t take an action. They will wait for circumstances to change in their favor.
When there are real obstacles to completing a task, then procrastination is a natural response.
Procrastinators are experts at fabricating imaginary obstacles that prevent them from being successful. They want to “muddy” the waters and “shift blame” to fictitious forces holding them back. They might over-estimate the task or under-estimate their own skills in order to create “excuses.”
An objective third party needs to make an assessment, culling out all imaginary obstacles. What remains is usually “Fear.” Fear is a natural emotion that anticipates a negative consequence with some event due to bad experiences when previously engaging in the action.
Procrastinators ask themselves, “Why bother when I am doomed to fail?” They imagine factors preventing them from succeeding. Sometimes, the chances of success are virtually guaranteed, yet, the procrastinator still delays due to some underlying psychological fear.
Minor Procrastination is Normal
Living in such a busy age, there are so many minor and major tasks that must be accomplished every day, no one can get everything done all the time. Minor procrastination is natural and normal. Good procrastination avoids unproductive, time-consuming tasks that don’t accomplish anything tangible.
These are valid reasons for minor procrastination:
- Money (You need enough money to complete the project)
- Parts (Proper knowledge, skills, and tools are needed to finish the job)
- Time (Crops must be picked at the right time)
“Murphy’s Law” says that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Anticipation of potential problems should not discourage people from starting a project. Who knows what we will find once we begin a task.
Minor procrastination prioritizes our responsibilities, commitments and duties, delaying those items that are less important. We fix what is most immediate and necessary.
Major Procrastination can be a Psychological Disorder
When people procrastinate about everything, it suggests that there are deeper, underlying, mental problems involved. Chronic procrastinators can’t make easy decisions, or complete simple tasks. They accumulate unopened mail, unpaid bills and broken tools that worsen their situation.
While some procrastinators start with high hopes, ambitions and plans; they might fail to overcome obstacles. This failure to cope with minor defeats can lead to depression, malaise and frustration. Once they become depressed, they fall even further behind. They ask themselves, “Why can’t I succeed?”
Major procrastination can be a psychological malady. Chronic procrastination is troubling and can lead to disquieting consequences. It is like a flame that feeds itself. These procrastinators need outside help.
There are lazy, average and hard-working people who procrastinate.
Lazy procrastinators waste their time on unproductive pursuits.
Average procrastinators may feel like victims. At first, they tried; but they failed. They felt sad, frustrated and angry after their failure.
On the other extreme is the perfectionist. These folks have unrealistic perceptions of duties and responsibilities, believing that only the highest standards are acceptable. These workaholics can become tired and discouraged by temporary failure.
Pleasure versus Pain
Considering the motives, mentalities, and feelings behind procrastination is important. Most procrastinators fear pain, stress, or failure. Many have had negative experiences before with something. For example, when people feel pain when they go to the dentist, they are resistant to return. People have a natural aversion to pain.
People don’t procrastinate when they are dealing with a pleasant, pleasurable activity that immediately rewards them. When the risk is low and the reward is high, people are willing to engage in actions.
When people discover their proficiency – in shooting a basketball, singing a song, or completing a property sale – then they willingly perform these enjoyable activities. This success reinforces their willingness to try other activities.
Some people, institutions and governments procrastinate in order to gain leverage. Most governments never “fully fix” any problems, instead they attempt to “charge rents” for “managing” problems.
The police never arrest all the criminals; if they did, they would be unemployed. Every year, the government “creates” “new crimes” – “Seat belts” “Identy theft” “Driving while texting,” so that the police can continue to justify their existence and request budget increases.
Some people use “unfinished jobs” as “leverage.” “I’ll put you at the top of my list, if you give me something I need.” This form of extortion encourages people to delay actions until they are paid ahead-of-time.
Some workers procrastinate so they remain employed. “Dig a hole, fill it in.” They can remain employed because there is still work to do. People want to feel needed.
Excuses are meant to deceive us into ignoring the truth. Most procrastinators obfuscate, deceive and lie about their inactions. They avoid responsibility so they don’t need to admit their problem. They are in a constant state of denial.
“All men justify themselves.”
There are different types and levels of procrastination. Some procrastinators have a “chip on their shoulder” blaming some unforeseen bad luck, event or other person as the source of their problems. These procrastinators continually make excuses for their inability to finish jobs.
When there is no rational reason for procrastination, then people fabricate senseless “excuses” to evade responsibility. Excuses are easy and cheap. Nothing would ever get done if excuses reigned. We must invalidate the excuses before we can deal with the root problem.
Avoidance and Delay
When people procrastinate they reveal the “Tip of the Iceberg.” We see the avoidance of an activity. The most important question is “Why is someone avoiding an action?” We must try to understand the underlying causes of the procrastination.
Some people keep important bills unopened because they don’t have the money to pay them. Procrastination is a form of denial, allowing people to cover up their weaknesses. Procrastination helps some people feel empowered: while they feel like they don’t have the power to succeed at an action, at least, they still have the power not to do it.
Some people have heightened sensitivity to criticism, others have unrealistic expectations. Both conditions can lead to procrastination. Certain actions stimulate anxiety, so people avoid them so they can feel better. Procrastination is an attempt to avoid stressful reality
Once we understand what the procrastinator is attempting to avoid, then we can provide answers to the problem.
People who don’t believe they can successfully accomplish a task are most likely to procrastinate. These people have low self-confidence. Perhaps, they’ve had bad experiences when doing certain activities. Now, they are less likely to want to perform them in the future.
“I can’t do it, I can’t succeed because I didn’t succeed before,” some people tell themselves. Some procrastination is due to inadequate efficiency, self-regulation, or time management.
Children learn from early experiences about what they are good at. Those with high self-esteem believe they can succeed at nearly anything; they enjoy showing their talents to the world. There positive attitude is reinforced by their success.
If you have liver and ice cream in your refrigerator, you choose to eat ice cream because it tastes good. While your conscience tells you that you should eventually eat the liver (because it is more healthy), you choose the more pleasant-tasting food. Some procrastination works this way as people merely choose the more pleasant option.
While scientists, who study the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, identify it as the area responsible for behaviors, expressions and decision-making, they still can’t explain why people procrastinate.
Associated Mindsets, Habits and Behaviors
There are many mentalities that can lead to procrastination:
- Heightened sensitivity
Behaviors that might be associated with procrastination include the following:
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Bad attitude
“Maybe the problem will fix itself.”
A zebra sticks its head in the sand believing that if it does not see a threat, the threat will go away. Likewise, many procrastinators believe that by delaying action, the problem will disappear. Some try to assuage their guilt with the foolish thought – “Maybe the problem will fix itself.”
People have many unrealistic hopes. While, casinos always have the odds in their favor, people continue to gamble, hoping to win.
The truly successful do not depend primarily on luck; they engage in extensive planning to design, prepare and anticipate the achievement of their goals. They “Just Do It.”
Few problems fix themselves. A great example is “The Broken Watch Scenario.” Take a nice watch, hit it with a sledgehammer. Then place the pieces in a paper bag. How long will it take for the watch to reassemble itself?
The answer is “Never.”
Only conscious, concerted effort can fix most problems.
Employment requires completion of a task today. Procrastinators cannot succeed on any job, when they always wait until tomorrow. Work demands production of goods or services of value today.
Chronic procrastination can lead to many serious problems:
Continual procrastination is a waste of time, energy and money. Procrastinators can become antagonistic towards those who are goal-oriented, positive, and successful. Continued procrastination can lead to a lack of ambition that permeates all aspects of life. Ironically, it can lead to those painful experiences – stress, pain and failure – which the procrastinator was trying to avoid.
The successful “succeed” today. There is no great man or woman who has procrastinated forever. “Planning on doing something tomorrow” is no real plan. “Doing something today” is a real plan. Either you do something today or it doesn’t get done.
There are many different types of procrastination, so it is important to perform an assessment of the procrastination. Is it an isolated reaction to a specific negative task? Or is it a pattern of delaying making important decisions or taking actions?
A trusting friend, teacher or investigator must objectively consider all of the knowledge, skills and tools needed for completing the designated task. Are they all present? If everything needed for successful completion is present, then the question must be asked:
“Why does the procrastinator resist starting or completing the activity?”
Man naturally wants to succeed. When his actions work against that goal, there are serious problems. Are there other patterns of behavior that are associated with this chronic procrastination?
Many procrastinators need outside help, advice and direction in resolving their issues. Just as teachers show students how to learn, teachers must show procrastinators how to develop good habits for succeeding. Somehow, teachers must help procrastinators see their behavior for what it is.
Teachers must help procrastinators know that they are not alone. They should empathize and sympathize, but not enable the destructive behavior to continue. Some procrastinators respond to guilt trips, reinforcement, and social pressure.
Eventually, self-analysis on the part of the procrastinator must be accomplished. They must be honest with themselves and others. They must realize that chronic procrastination has serious problems in the end. Teachers must provide solutions on how to complete tasks more easily.
Good habits for coping with procrastination include the following:
- Break big problems into smaller, more manageable parts
- Get supplies together ahead-of-time
- Write down your schedule hour-by-hour to see “how busy” you truly are.
People need to identify their goals. “Making lists” helps people prioritize their time and reduce stress. It improves time management. “Mixing elements with various levels of difficulty” provides a good balance. Creating separate short-term and long-term lists can help people concentrate more effectively on the tasks at hand.
People who get tired easily can plan on a periodic rest and work schedule: Rest on Day One, Work on Day Two. People can set a time limit so they don’t become too bogged down in work. People can work on a task seriously for a short amount of time, then switch to something else to relax their mind.
“The early bird gets the worm.”
Somehow, the fear of failure can drive procrastinators to negative behaviors. While everyone engages in minor procrastination, those who make procrastination a “way of life” are destined to fail. Real and imaginary obstacles must be removed, along with pointless excuses.
Improper time management habits must be replaced with good, solid patterns of behavior. Lack of confidence is a major source of procrastination; thus, people must have their knowledge and skills increased so they are better enabled to succeed. Problems are unlikely to disappear by themselves.
We must succeed today to achieve our life goals. Procrastination is natural. Tomorrow never arrives, so planning on completing our task tomorrow only delays the inevitable. Today is our only reality if we want to succeed.