This article originally appeared in a wellness publication in March, 2003. It is as relevant now as it was then.
"I was going to stop procrastinating, but I decided to put it off."
I have put off writing this article on procrastination for three months now.
We could crack jokes forever about procrastinating, ( or we could put them off), but it is not really funny.
Procrastination uses up powerful amounts of energy. Occasionally a client will come into my office and say, "I am just lazy. I put off everything in favour of sitting on the couch, or sleeping, or watching TV." Procrastination is not about laziness. Laziness implies an unwillingness to work or a lack of caring. Procrastination is a desire to work, while agonizing about the process! And it usually comes with a lot of concern and worry and pain.
The procrastinator tends to emotionally beat himself up mercilessly, telling himself what he should be doing, what he would have done and how bad he is for not having done it. He feels doubt and stress. He works at excuses, he alternates between fear ( of the consequences) and anger ( toward himself and the rest of the world). In a society which values achievement above all else, procrastinators either fear their lack of achievement (failure) or their success, which comes with the consequences of responsibiility and having to be successful again.
Performance is such a strong social value in our western culture that it is attached to our feelings of personal worth. When we put things off, we feel badly about ourselves. When we feel badly about ourselves, we put things off and so it goes. The longer I put it off, the worse I feel and the worse I feel, the less likely I am to be able to do what I need to do.
Blaming yourself, the weather, exhaustion, your mother, your husband, laziness, whatever comes to mind, will not get the job done, nor will it get you moving. All this thinking leads to more thinking at a time when you need to be taking action. Soon you have a habit - the habit of procrastination.
All bad habits give us something we need. Smoking, for example, provides stress relief, relaxation. Eating chocolate offers comfort...ask yourself what you get out of procrastinating. Very often it saves us from failing. We can't fail if we don't do anything. It provides a great excuse if we do fail. Now we can console ourselves with the fact that we didn't have enough time to succeed since we did it at the last minute.
Look at your personal procrastination style. Few people procrastinate in all areas of life. Do you procrastinate with work projects but not play projects, with chores but not hobbies, with things requiring personal accountability (doctor and dentist appointments)?
Look at how you talk to yourself when you are putting something off. Research has shown that procrastinators, like workaholics, see themselves as always burdened by unfinished work, undeserving of a rest, with little hope that they'll ever be organized enough to enjoy life. Procrastinators view themselves as needing discipline to create motivation and pressure. They respond to self-created pressure by feeling overwhelmed and immobilized.
Enough thinking. If procrastination is making a mess of your life, get some help. Talk to a counsellor or psychotherapist. Sometimes, procrastination is a symptom of a more serious problem, such as: abuse not dealt with, self-esteem issues, fear, inability to move on after a separation or loss. Change is easier when we have support.
One little trick that works for me is setting a kitchen timer and devoting ten minutes to the task at hand - it stops my brain going around and when the ten minutes has passed the job doesn't look so daunting. Other times, the ten minutes is long enough to get me over the hurdle and get me going.
Dale Carnegie said it best when he said, " One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon - instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our window today."
Don't let procrastination keep you from enjoying life.
Do SOMETHING today.