What is procrastination?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it’s “to put off; to delay taking action; to wait until later”. It’s most frequently associated with laziness or ‘not being bothered’ – but it’s often more complex a human behaviour than people give it credit. Procrastination goes deeper than sheer laziness, but that certainly does not mean that it can’t be solved with some behaviour change!
How can we address the underlying issues?
Time management courses and detailed ‘to do’ lists will never work with procrastinators. They usually know exactly what they should be doing, even if they can’t bring themselves around to doing it!
The classic behaviour of a procrastinator (in conversation with themselves) would be:
- How long would it take to do?
- About 4 hours…
- How long to I have?
- Two days…
- Excellent! I’ll start it tomorrow lunchtime!
Are you in denial?
A procrastinator (and I can speak from experience as I most certainly am one) frequently uses the phrase “I work best under pressure”. This only partly true, as procrastinators leave themselves no other option! The only possible outcome is stress and pressure.
Yes – you read that right – there are upsides to procrastination! If there weren’t, as human beings, we simply wouldn’t do it… The main emotional payoffs are:
- Avoidance of responsibility – “It’s too difficult right now”
- It’s easier not to do anything – “Work pays off eventually; laziness pays off right now!”
- Stubbornness – “I’ll do it when I’m ready, you can’t make me”
- Victimhood – “Poor me, I have so much to do – look how busy I am”
- Avoidance of threat – “I’ll be found out as a fraud if I have an empty ‘to do’ list!”
The second step on the road to non-procrastination is simply to realise that the possible self-satisfying payoffs of procrastination are far outweighed by the costs to you, your work and your home life. These may be costs to your relationships (both work and professional), stress, upset, being seen as weak and a general feeling of loss of control.
Four simple steps to the cure for procrastination
1. Realise you are actually procrastinating
2. Discover the real reasons for your delay and list them down
3. Dispute those real reasons and overcome them – be vigorous!
4. Begin the task
I leave you with a simply amazing quote from Martin Luther King:
“We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood – it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.”
By Tom Robinson