Just get it done – why procrastination will always hold you back

In a world where approximately 20% of people would identify themselves as procrastinators, we are forced to ask why this problem hasn’t been tackled yet. It has huge impact on productivity, on health and wellbeing, and on finances, yet seems to be something some individuals are prepared to live with, even when it affects their quality of life.

Society doesn’t seem to take procrastination seriously. We are happy to listen to people’s excuses without arguing, even if we feel they are untrue. This doesn’t mean we condone their lies: we are taught by society to not pick fights. To the procrastinator, though, they simply don’t recognise there is a problem. The issue is one of self-regulation, not of poor time management or bad planning. In many cases, it is likely that procrastination was learnt in childhood, either as a form of rebellion to controlling parents or as a result of never learning to control their own activities.

Perhaps more dangerously, there is some evidence that procrastination also indicates increased tendencies towards alcohol as another aspect of that missing self-regulation. There is also a trend towards internalised dishonesty: a procrastinator will believe themselves when they say they will ‘feel more like it tomorrow’ but as humans, we are unable to accurately predict our emotional or physical state over the coming days and the principle is inherently flawed. They also are inclined towards actively seeking out distractions and the trivial activities take up their valuable time, but a distracted brain does not have to engage with its fear of failure – one of the main root causes of procrastination.

According to Joseph Ferrari  and Timothy Pychyl * there are three types of procrastination: arousal based thrill seeking, avoidance, or decisional procrastination. Arousal types get a sense of satisfaction from the adrenalin rush and added pressure as the deadline approaches. Avoidance centres around fear of failure (or in fact fear of success) and is obsessed with what others may think, to the extent that they would rather people saw them not try than saw them not succeed. Decisional procrastination is the utter avoidance of any decision making processes, removing any responsibility from the overall result. But with increased evidence of a physical health toll caused by procrastination, is it not just better to get it done? Through assessing your procrastination style, the root can be identified and dealt with  leading to a happier and more productive work life.

* 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.

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