Go ahead, procrastinate, but just a little!


Be honest, are you getting lost for hours in Facebook statuses of long lost "friends" instead of doing the report due at 5:00? Cleaning you office instead of having that heart-to-heart talk with your boss or maybe even your partner? Or maybe simply playing with your iPhone instead of making your weekly check-in call with great aunt Sally. Well, you might be guilty of procrastinating. Don't be upset, we all do it. Believe me. But the important question we might want to ask; How much is too much and is it impeding your productivity?

Procrastination has always been thought of as a major stumbling block to success. We need to be “on” all the time, ticking off our to-do lists and tackling our projects with a constant flow of energy and enthusiasm. That if we're wasting time trying to avoid difficult or unpleasant tasks that we set ourselves up for failure. True? I’m not so sure.

Lets look at why we procrastinate? According to my research, there are two major causes of procrastination. The first category is Avoidance. We procrastinate to avoid overwhelming tasks, difficult tasks, tasks we don’t like and sometimes to avoid change. The second category is Fear and Anxiety. We procrastinate because of our fear of failure, fear of success, fear of criticism, fear of making mistakes and fear of rejection. Yup. been there, that sounds pretty accurate to me.

There are also said to be three different types of procrastinators. Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at De Paul University in Chicago, and Timothy Pychyl, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada identify three basic types in Psychology Today:

  1. Arousal types, or thrill-seekers: They enjoy waiting to the last minute for the euphoric rush of trying to finish on time (that is kinda me).
  2. Avoiders: They may be avoiding fear of failure or even fear of success, but in either case, are very concerned with what others think of them; they would rather have others think they lack effort than ability.
  3. Decisional procrastinators: This group, they simply cannot make a decision. They get caught up in their own paralysis of reaching a decision. Not making a decision absolves procrastinators of responsibility for the outcome of events.

According to Psychology Today, there are significanyt costs to procrastination. Health being a big one. Just over the course of a single academic term, procrastinating college students showed evidence of compromised immune systems (more colds and flu), more gastrointestinal problems and insomnia. In addition, procrastination has a high cost to others as well as oneself; it shifts the burden of responsibilities onto others, whom become resentful. Procrastination destroys teamwork in the workplace and private relationships.  Ever work with any of those people? smiley.

Procrastination may result in stress, a sense of guilt and crisis, severe loss of personal productivity, as well as social disapproval for not meeting responsibilities or commitments. These feelings combined may further procrastination. While it is regarded as normal for people to procrastinate to some degree, it becomes a problem when it impedes normal functioning. Chronic procrastination may be a sign of an underlying psychological disorder. Such procrastinators may have difficulty seeking support because others beleive that these people are just being lazy or not focused.

O.K. So now we know the who and the why of procrastinors, but what are procrastinators actually doing (or not doing)? Well apparently there are two ways to procrastinate.  One is by doing something of much lower value than the activity you are putting off (like looking at pictures of the family reunion in Ohio of the neighbor you have not seen in 20 years) and the other is by doing something of higher value than the activity you are delaying (like my choosing to go for a run on a beautiful day instead of doing my filing or researching an article).

I am even proposing that maybe if you are doing a higher value activity well most of time you aren’t really wasting time at all, maybe just prioritizing. For example, I admit it, I care more about exercising than having an organized office. Obviously there are limits to this line of thinking–eventually you have to file your taxes, feed your kids and do your job. You can't choose to do something different.

For me, procrastination has a positive side in addition to all of the negative press. That is as long as you are shifting to an activity that you value more. Maybe that feeling of “I don’t really want to do this” is our subconscious signaling to us that the activity we are about to do really isn’t that important to us and we actually should be doing something different. When that signal forces us to change our plans, reevaluate or prioritize differently, I think this can be a great thing.  

I suggest that the first step is to recognize the “feeling of procrastination” (we all know it) and then thoughtfully decide what to do next. Take a few moments to decide whether the task you want to put off really needs done at all (maybe that load of laundry, errand or gardening is really not as important as you thought it was). And, even if it is important and does need to be done, perhaps it doesn’t need to be done at that particular moment. That taking a few minutes to day dream or play with your kids or whatever you choose, is just more important at that moment in time.

Sometimes you’ve got to let yourself do something else at the expense of what you think you should do. Sadly, most of what we need to do is not so fun so it’s easy to become frustrated and burned-out. Unfortunately, we can't change that but sometimes you need to allow yourself to deviate from the plan and the "must-dos" and give yourself permission to shake it up. Because with that comes a feeling of liberation, knowing you have some control over your day, and a rejuventation of the spirit, that to me, are truly the ingredients of great creativity and productivity.  So procrastinate, a little, I think it will do you some good.  


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