It’s time to read this article on procrastination.

August 8, 2011 | By | 2 Replies More

Scientific American Mind published a well-written article on procrastination back in December 2008, but I keep putting off writing a little note on that article.    Today, however, I decided to get to it because the stark irony of putting it off anymore was annoying me to no end. I should re-emphasize: I really do suffer from procrastination, and I have really put off writing about this article.

The article was written by Tricia Gura, and it is titled “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

What is procrastination? It’s not merely the tendency to schedule some tasks for later times. The term more properly applies where someone puts off tasks that have greater urgency than the tasks they are going to do instead. Gura explains that procrastination “carries a financial penalty, endangers health, harms relationship and ends careers.” Yet many of us continue to procrastinate– the article estimates that 15 to 20% of adults “routinely put up activities that would be better accomplished right away.” Procrastination can also be seen as a symptom of a deeper problem: “Procrastination is about not having projects in your life that really reflect your goals.”

If procrastination can be harmful, why in the world would anyone procrastinate? One obvious reason is that sometimes procrastination provides a real-life short-term benefit of avoiding disagreeable tasks. It is somewhat agreeable to avoid doing things that seem disagreeable.

Image: Creative Commons

The personality traits most strongly linked to procrastination include lack of conscientiousness and impulsivity. Gura’s article cites psychologist Timothy Pychyl: “People who are impulsive can’t shield one intention from another, so they are easily diverted by temptations– say, the offer of a beer– that crop up in the middle of a project such as writing a term paper.” Gura’s article also cites anxiety as a reason for much procrastinating; people are worried that they might not shine and getting a project done. Procrastinating brings relative comfort, because it avoids the project, at least for a while. Those who are indecisive also are at risk to procrastinate. But aren’t procrastinators addicted to the thrill of last-minute almost-disasters? Pychyl has ruled out thrill-seeking as a reason for procrastinating, claiming on the basis of a study that it is not the thrill of the last-minute deadline that people seek, but rather the avoidance of unpleasantness.

I fear that my version of procrastination is a combination of all of the above. I have a lot of distractions in my life, so I can easily do one to avoid another. I can always claim: “Sorry, I can’t get to THAT, because I’m busy with THIS. And I admit that I often hesitate jumping into a project because I see it as a daunting or exhausting commitment. And I sometimes notice that I struggle with indecisiveness. Sometimes, these struggles are real, as I clamor for more and better information with which to make my final decision. But not always. I can clearly see it in other people that “struggling to make a decision” is a indirect way of refusing to move forward on a project.

How does one avoid procrastinating? It is important to avoid “running on autopilot.” The experts cited in the article advise detailed scheduling, including built-in timing to keep the project running smoothly and on target. Those who create these kinds of schedules are almost 8 times more likely to follow through on a commitment. Deadlines that trigger penalties are also effective. Studies have shown that when students are actually forced to encounter the task they are avoiding, their perception of the task is much more positive than when they are avoiding the task. This observation is spot on regarding my version of procrastination. There is no better way to get positive about a project than jumping in and doing it, even if there are numerous hurdles in the project and even if some of those hurdles seem insurmountable. If I’m actually engaged in the project, my mood is much better than when I’m avoiding the project. Unless, of course I delay long enough that someone else jumps in and does it–perhaps the fact that this can actually happen, even once in a while, is another reason many of us procrastinate. Ergo, people should stop coming to the rescue of procrastinators!

This ends my avoidance of writing this post. Now I will start avoiding something else.



Category: Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (2)

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  1. Another method is identifying the reasons why you procrastinate. Usually they are either 1. Wrong goals
    2. Unclear focus 3. No Action plan or 4. Mental barriers
    there are specific solutions for each one of these.

  2. Ben says:

    My half-baked solution: Make a list of all the things on your plate. Then you can feel confident that all that stuff will get done eventually. This gives a sense of accomplishment and leaves one free to think about other things. Just be aware that the act of writing down ONLY the things on your mind can lead you to believe that those are the ONLY important things, when in reality those are just the things you have identified as being important. The fun part is finding the list a month or two later and being able to cross a few things off.

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