A return to blogging…The Joys of Procrastination

When I first set up this blog for the New Perspectives, Inc. web site, I had high hopes for myself. I was ready to sit down nightly and type out information which could be useful to any reader. But……I looked back to my last entry and saw that I had typed about summertime and here it is December 2009. What happened to my plan? What happened to all my hopes and goals? Did life just get in the way?

NFL hall of fame coach of the Dallas Cowboys Tom Landry once said, “Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan.” Obviously, Coach Landry speaks to the idea of procrastination. Procrastination refers to the deferment of actions or tasks to a later time. Psychologists often cite such behavior as a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting and/or completing any task or decision. There are three criteria: for a behavior to be classified as procrastination, it must be counterproductive, needless, and delaying.

Procrastination may result in stress, a sense of guilt and crisis, severe loss of personal productivity, as well as disapproval by others for not meeting responsibilities or commitments. These feelings combined may promote 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 underlying psychological disorder.

This would simply beg the question, “Do I have a disorder because I procrastinate?” Not necessarily. A psychological disorder is often associated with the dysfunctional behavioral actions creating severe distress in the person or people around that person. Procrastination, as previously mentioned, must be counterproductive, needless, and delaying. Often procrastination is not harmful, but it may be hurtful. For example, if I was to promise to copy a report for someone by 4 pm and I knew it would take an hour to copy the report, waiting until 3:30 pm to copy it would be counterproductive. It would be hurtful to the person I promised, but it probably would not be harmful. Basically, the person would not die because I did not copy the report. I say this, but there are situations where procrastination may be harmful. For example, if someone is having a heart attack and I take my good old time to administer CPR, I am very certain this will cause harm.

Procrastinators often have great difficulty in seeking help, or finding an understanding source of support, due to the stigma and profound misunderstanding surrounding extreme forms of procrastination. One of the symptoms, known to psychologists as task-aversiveness, is often mischaracterized simply as laziness, a lack of willpower or loss of ambition.

Procrastination can be a persistent and debilitating disorder in some people, causing significant psychological disability and dysfunction. These individuals may actually be suffering from an underlying mental health problem such as depression or ADHD. While procrastination is a behavioral condition, these underlying mental health disorders can be treated with medication and/or therapy. Therapy can be a useful tool in helping an individual learn new behaviors, overcome fears and anxieties, and achieve an improved quality of life. Thus it is important for people who chronically struggle with debilitating procrastination to see a trained therapist or psychiatrist to see if an underlying mental health issue may be present.

While academic procrastination is not a special type of procrastination, procrastination is thought to be particularly prevalent in the academic setting, where students are required to meet deadlines for assignments and tests in an environment full of events and activities which compete for the students’ time and attention. More specifically, a 1992 study showed that “52% of surveyed students indicated having a moderate to high need for help concerning procrastination”. It is estimated that 80%-95% of college students engage in procrastination, approximately 75% consider themselves procrastinators. One source of procrastination is underestimating the time required to analyze research. Many students devote weeks to gathering research for a term paper, but are unable to finish writing it because they have to review many contradictory opinions before they can offer their own perspective on the subject. Despite knowing how to consult resources, they struggle to perform their own analysis. Student syndrome refers to the phenomenon that many students will begin to fully apply themselves to a task only just before a deadline. This leads to wasting any buffers built into individual task duration estimates. Students have also difficulties to self-impose deadlines.

With all this said, I have a few simple ways to end procrastination and achieve goals:

1. Set daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals. Remember to make each goal moderately difficult. If a goal is too difficult or too easy, procrastination will set in.

2. Get yourself hooked or wired in. We all have cell phones, PDAs, planners and so on. Use technology to your advantage. Programs such as Microsoft Outlook can be utilized along with your blackberry or PDA to keep you informed of appointments and tasks necessary to complete the goals.

3. Give yourself time to complete the goals but don’t give yourself too much time because that will breed procrastination.

4. Always build in rest and stress management techniques. The more anxious and tense you become, the less productive you are.

5. Recruit some help. Family, friends, and loved ones may be willing to help you achieve your goals with friendly reminders and simple encouragement.

6. When you hit a stumbling block, pick yourself up and dust yourself off. We are all human and sometimes we will fail. Just realize you will be able to get passed that failure and learn from it.

7. Relax and remember you can only do one thing at a time. If you plan ahead, you will be surprised at all the things you can accomplish.