Procrastination is a complex behavioral and psychological issue that affects everyone to some degree. While for some it can be a minor irritation; for others it can be source of considerable difficulty – causing stress and anxiety. Procrastinators sabotage themselves and often are less effective and successful than they could be. Researchers have identified that twenty percent of people define themselves as chronic procrastinators where the habit of putting tasks off to the last possible minute is a maladaptive lifestyle that impacts personal and professional areas of life.
The causes of procrastination can be psychological. When procrastination is a persistent and debilitating disorder there may actually be an underlying psychological issue such as Depression or Attention Deficit Disorder. These underlying mental health issues can be treated with medication and/or therapy and professional assistance should be sought.
However, for most, procrastination is a behavior problem which impacts some but not all areas of life. A main reason people find it difficult to work on a particular goal is that they don’t enjoy the tasks involved in achieving the goal. There is a sense of dread and avoidance associated with difficult, unpleasant, and/or complex tasks. To help with this issue it is important to balance tasks with rewards. Guarantee the fun parts of your life first, and then schedule your work around them. The most successful among us are those who live balanced lives. Additionally, it is important to break down complex tasks into realistic manageable goals. Some tasks are overwhelming when examined in totality but easily conquered when seen as a series of smaller steps.
Perfectionism is often associated with procrastination. Most procrastinators do not think of themselves as perfectionists but the extremely critical spirit of the perfectionist can be paralyzing. Believing that you must do something perfectly is a recipe for stress and will likely prevent you from getting started on important tasks. Work to replace perfectionism with permission to be imperfectly human.
Procrastination becomes less likely on tasks that you openly and freely choose to undertake. When the goals are set and evaluated by others – particularly others in authority - procrastination can serve as a form of rebellion. This is very often seen in students with rigid and demanding teachers or parents.
One of the things that perpetuate procrastination is positive reinforcement (reward) when things are delayed. When a looming task is thrown together at the last moment and the result is accepted or even praised by others, the procrastinator may convince themselves of statements such as: “I work best under pressure” or “I had to be ready – and when I was – I got it done”. These “lies” will make it easier to accept the anxiety and stress when the next episode of procrastination occurs. It is unlikely that goals accomplished with great pain and anxiety couldn’t be met more effectively using successful time management skills.
Three basic types of procrastinators have been identified by psychologist, Dr. Joseph Ferrari:
** Arousal types, or thrill seekers, who wait to the last minute for the euphoric rush.
** Avoiders, who may be avoiding fear of failure or even fear of success. Concerned with what others think of them; they would rather have others think they lack effort than ability.
** Decisional procrastinators, who cannot make a decision. Not making a decision absolves procrastinators of responsibility for the outcome of events.
If you identify yourself as a procrastinator with negative consequences on your life, it may be helpful to work to find a more comfortable work style with less stress and frenzy.