Updated: Sep 17, 2019
Most people will procrastinate on some things at certain times in their life. Research in America, the UK and Australia has found that around one in five of us are chronic procrastinators, and it is often much higher in school or university settings (75%-95%!!!). So remember you are not alone! However, there is a difference between general procrastination, which we all do at certain times, and more problematic procrastination. So if you are a person that finds procrastination has taken over and stopped you from living your life, you may want to keep reading.
What Is Procrastination?
Many people mistake procrastination for “laziness”. They talk about it as if it were some kind of character flaw. I hope that as you read this, you will realise that procrastination has nothing to do with being lazy.
So, if it isn’t laziness, what is it? People will often use words like, “putting off”, “postponing”, “delaying”, “deferring”, “leaving to the last minute” – all of which are valid. For the purposes of this blog, let us agree that
Procrastination is deciding, for no valid reason, to delay or not complete something you have committed to, and instead doing something of lesser importance, despite there being negative consequences to not following through on what you had set out to do.
This definition means that procrastination is in some way an intentional decision. That said, it may happen very fast, almost automatically, and be like a habit, so often you may not even realise that you’ve even made the decision. Another part of it is that you needlessly put off or don’t complete something you made a commitment to do. You substitute the task for something that is a lesser priority. And, crucially, you do this despite there being negative consequences to procrastinating. What tends to distinguish more general ‘putting-off’ or ‘delaying’ from a more serious procrastination problem is how bad those negative consequences are.
What Do You Procrastinate About?
Being a procrastinator doesn’t mean you are necessarily a person who puts off doing everything in life, although this may be the case for some. There are so many different areas of our lives in which we can procrastinate. Some of these may be more obvious (i.e., study or work projects) and others may be more subtle (i.e., health check-ups, changing our diet or exercise routine). Really anything we need to complete, any problem we need to solve or any goal we might want to achieve, can be a source of procrastination. For many people, there will be some areas of their life they are able to manage, and some areas where procrastination is the order of the day.
Take a look through the list below and highlight the things you tend to procrastinate about.
Now think about which of these causes you the most grief, distress, negative consequences and problems in your life. Choose one of these to work on.
It may even be a good idea to start with the easiest thing first. I know you may want to tackle all of them at once. But remember procrastination is an old habit. To develop a new habit of following through on things, you need to start slowly, and take it one step at a time. So choose one thing to start applying the techniques we will discuss in these blogs, and when you have made some progress, you can then choose something else to tackle. Doing things this way will increase the likelihood that you will stop procrastinating and start doing.
Things I would like to stop procrastinating about are:
How Do You Procrastinate?
When you procrastinate, you tend to substitute an important task or goal that you have committed yourself to, with another activity that isn’t a priority at that time. So let’s have a think about the typical sorts of things you do instead of the task or goal at hand. These are your Procrastination Activities, that is, all the things you do that take you further away from the task or your goal.
Below are some common avoidance strategies. Try to identify the ones that seem to be most relevant to you.
It’s important to be aware of the things that tend to distract you from the things you have committed to do. It is not that these activities are bad in themselves and need to stop. We all need things that bring joy into our lives, we all need a break from harder tasks by balancing these with things that are more routine, we all need social time and leisure in our lives, and a bit of daydreaming can be a nice escape sometimes. These things are only a problem, when they stop us completing stuff that is really important. So next time you notice yourself doing one of the above activities you can ask yourself “Am I doing this as a way of procrastinating?” If the answer is “No – there isn’t something more important I need to be doing right now”, then keep going. If the answer is “Yes – I am using this to avoid doing something very important”, then it might be a good idea to rethink what you’re doing.
In the next blog we will look at the main reasons people procrastinate, as well as the consequences of procrastination and how these work to keep you procrastinating. For now, I’d like you think about how your monkey brain hooks you into procrastination.
Choosing to do something other than what you have committed to can feel uncomfortable. Deep down we often think we “should” be doing a more important task and we “shouldn’t” be procrastinating. As such, we may feel a great deal of guilt or shame for having delayed tasks that are important. So, to help us get by and feel less guilty, we will often come up with some justification for our procrastination activities, making it OK that we have put things off.
Below are some common Procrastination Excuses. Think about the ones that you know you have used a lot in the past.
It’s a good idea to get to know stories you tell yourself to excuse your procrastination. This way, you will be more able to defuse from them.
“I’m too tired, I’ll do it tomorrow”
“I don’t have everything I need, I can’t start it now”
“I don’t have enough time to do it all, so I will wait until I do”
“It is too late to start it now”
“I won’t get much done, so I’ll just leave it for now”
“It is better to do it when I am in the mood or feeling inspired”
“I will miss out on the fun happening now, I can do it another time”
“It is too nice a day to spend on this”
“I will do it once this other thing is finished”
“I’ve got to organise my desk/kitchen/laundry, etc first”
“I’ve got to exercise first”
“I am too busy to do it now”
“I have plenty of time, so I can do it later”
“I work better when I am stressed, so I will leave it to the last minute”
“It might not be good enough, so why bother doing it”