The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines procrastination as “to put off intentionally and habitually” or “to put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done.”
While this definition seems pretty straightforward, California Polytechnic State University, calls procrastination “…a complex psychological behavior that affects everyone to some degree or another” that “…is only remotely related to time management…”
Whether you are a full-fledged procrastinator or only occasionally put certain tasks off, some tips from the experts might set you on a better course.
Why do people procrastinate?
Motivational speaker, author, and founder of the FIT Leader Formula Lorraine Bossé-Smith, cites procrastination as the number one time trap, responsible for more disappointment and pain than any other time trap. “It is the only time trap that we create ourselves, meaning it is an internal issue. People often procrastinate because they believe the pain is greater in doing something than not. The key is to honestly assess the pain and weigh out the options,” she says.
Bossé-Smith encourages people to use what she calls an “opportunity scale.” She says, “On one side is what needs to be done, and on the other side are the consequences of inaction. In some cases, procrastination simply means we really don’t want or need what we originally set as a goal. In these cases, we need to evaluate our intent and motivation.”
When procrastination begins to cause a serious problem, Bossé-Smith recommends creating a compelling “why” and then taking quick action. “Schedule and block out time daily to work toward [your ‘why’], doing the most difficult things first to get them out of the way. The energy from that victory will take you through the rest,” she says. “We all must remember that what we often imagine is usually never as bad as we thought. Chunk it down and get it done!”
Pushing through procrastination
Although it might sound counter-intuitive, identifying your desired end result first could be one way to “push through procrastination,” according to Mitzi Weinman, speaker and founder of TimeFinder, and author of It’s About Time! Transforming Chaos into Calm, A to Z. “Starting can be the most difficult part of any project. Break the project down into small actions and reward yourself after completing each part,” she says.
As you work through each action, consider what obstacles you might face and how you can overcome them, Weinman suggests. Ask yourself if you are solely responsible for completing this task, she says. “Do you have enough information or do you need to seek support and help to accomplish the task? And if you’re unsuccessful, what is the worst possible outcome?”
Weinman points out that tackling a task you dread can be draining, so limit the amount of time you spend on the task. “For example, work for fifteen minutes and then stop. Take a break, do something else, or if you are making headway, continue,” she says. “If you like tension, action, and risk-taking, look for other ways to get your adrenaline rush. Don’t procrastinate to get that fix.”
Additionally, Weinman suggests evaluating any benefits you derive from procrastinating. “What do you gain by actually doing whatever it is that you are procrastinating? Does it outweigh not doing it?” she says.
Procrastination can lead to “self-sabotage” and contributes stress to our lives, according to Weinman. But “planned procrastination” – deliberately putting something off or not doing it all – can be a proactive approach to taking control over how you manage your life. “Either decide it isn’t something you need to do at all or schedule it for a better time,” she says.
The potential up side
Caleb Halulko DC, River of Life Chiropractic and Wellness, PLLC, lifelong, self-proclaimed procrastinator, views procrastination a bit more favorably. “People that would be classified as Type A personalities, those that are high strung, anxious, and prone to stressing out over everything, do not typically struggle with procrastination as much,” he says. “However, those that are like me, Type Z personalities, very relaxed and not high strung, we can be more susceptible to procrastination — which is not bad.”
“One good benefit of procrastination is that the primary and most important things get done first. When it’s time, it will get done. I’m a goal setter,” says Halulko. “If you set achievable and specific goals, typically you are more likely to follow through. Having accountability is also an important factor in completing necessary tasks on time.”
Proud of his procrastinator personality, Halulko asserts there is a difference between “…being crazy and not accomplishing anything, from being productive and accomplishing those things which are most important at that time.”