Why procrastination is bad for you
Sometimes, procrastination is good for you, like when you spend an hour tidying up your room before you start studying practice I fondly call productive procrastination.
However, most of the time, procrastination is really bad. It can be compared to bad habits or activities such as eating all the chocolate in the pantry or scratching an itch that you really shouldn’t. If you were a dog, it is the same as licking your stitches, which is prevented due to the vet's precautions: the cone of shame. Ah, if we only had a cone of shame to help us stop procrastinating!
This is a real problem indeed, which many people, if not all, deal with. I even asked Google and he (it..she?) said that there were 13 million hits on this particular topic! 13 million! We all do it and not just at work, folks! We put off dentist appointments, phoning our moms, cutting our hair, etc.
Yeah, I love deadlines… I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by. Douglas Adams asked, "But seriously, what is procrastination in any case? What are the effects of it in our lives? And why, if we know we shouldn’t, do we do it anyway?"
What is Procrastination?
Basically, procrastination is the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished. It is the practice of doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones, or carrying out less urgent tasks instead of more urgent ones, thus putting off impending tasks to a later time (Thanks Wikipedia). And that “later time”…the magical never-never land of the procrastinators…always becomes “tomorrow morning” or “due now”.
The problem is that putting something off induces a panicked-fuelled frenzied all-out mad attack at the task, which if you’re lucky, gets in on time. Somehow pulling it off at the last minute gives you such a high that may very well become addictive.
But, honestly I could do without the anxiety and trauma, along with the niggling feeling that I would have done so much better if I had only started earlier.
Don't use excuses!
- “I just work better under pressure”
- "I'm more creative after 2 sleepless nights and 20 cups of coffee”
That is simply not true. It’s the adrenaline lying to you. If you’re honest with yourself, deep down, you know you could have done better.
Who does procrastination affect?
Interestingly enough, 20% of people identify themselves as chronic procrastinators. This is where the habit overflows over into their everyday life and literally cripples them.
Even a mild habit of procrastination can have a negative effect on your life and well-being. Health wise, procrastination can make you more susceptible to colds and flu as the constant stress tanks your immune system. This can cause other problems such as:
- Stomach upsets
In your working life, it can damage team effort and people will no longer trust you to deliver. In your personal life, your people will no longer feel they can rely on you and this can cause a build-up of resentment.
It’s damaging and yet trivialized. We all do it, we all complain about it and we all do nothing about stopping it. We procrastinate even about ending procrastination.
Why do we procrastinate?
So if we know it’s bad, why do we do it? Because, it feels good. Note: I said feels, not is good. Basically for human beings, mental effort is costly and painful. We assign subjective value to the task at hand, and if posed with the choice of instant “small” gratification now and postponed “larger” gratification later, we will choose the instant pleasure now. We can blame it on the society we are in, but I think it all boils down to perception and self-regulation.
Whenever faced with a task, we face a choice of do or don’t do. It’s like Yoda said, “do or do not, there is no try.” When our minds perceive a task as difficult, it will look for an easier or more pleasant (and often less important) task to work on. It is all about comfort and pleasure. This happens even though we all have experienced the surprise and I dare say pleasure of discovering that once begun, the task was not as bad as we thought.
How do we overcome procrastination?
Simply put, just do. But as we all know it takes a bit more than that. The idea is to eat your frog first, but in small pieces with some hot sauce to make it go down easier.
If that went over your head, basically the idea is to start with your hardest task first, but break it down to smaller pieces and make it manageable for your brain to process. This will then change your perception of the task – your brain will stop seeing it as hard and impossible to achieve to seeing it as a task that is manageable.
Take small steps with tiny goals, small amounts of progress on a continuous basis is better than no progress at all. And above all else, let go of the idea of having a “perfect” product. Perfectionism is actually another symptom and excuse of procrastination. Instead, you should focus on getting it done.