Procrastination is a complex psychological behavior that affects everyone to some degree or another. With some it can be a minor problem; with others it is a source of considerable stress and anxiety. Procrastination is only remotely related to time management, (procrastinators often know exactly what they should be doing, even if they cannot do it), which is why very detailed schedules usually are no help.
The procrastinator is often remarkably optimistic about his ability to complete a task on a tight deadline; this is usually accompanied by expressions of reassurance that everything is under control. (Therefore, there is no need to start.) For example, he may estimate that a paper will take only five days to write; he has fifteen days; there is plenty of time; no need to start now. Lulled by a false sense of security, time passes. At some point, he crosses over an imaginary starting time and suddenly realizes, "Oh no! - I am not in control! There isn't enough time!”
At this point, considerable effort is directed towards completing the task, and work progresses. This sudden spurt of energy is the source of the erroneous feeling that “I only work well under pressure.”
Actually, at this point you are making progress only because you haven't any choice. Your back is against the wall and there are no alternatives. Progress is being made, but you have lost your freedom.
Barely completed in time, the paper may actually earn a fairly good grade; whereupon the student experiences mixed feelings: pride of accomplishment (sort-of), scorn for the professor who cannot recognize substandard work, and guilt for getting an undeserved grade. But the net result is reinforcement: the procrastinator is rewarded positively for his poor behavior. (“Look at the decent grade I got after all!”) As a result, the counterproductive behavior is repeated over and over again.
Positive reinforcement for delay (a good grade) is a principal contributor to continued procrastination.
The procrastinator may struggle with feelings of low self-confidence and low self-esteem. He may insist upon a high level of performance even though he may feel inadequate or incapable of actually achieving that level.
I'm Too Busy
Procrastination may be used to call attention to how busy he is. “Obviously I cannot do such and such because my affairs are so complicated and so demanding. That is why I am late, etc.”
The procrastinator may even spend considerable time justifying his reasons, time that could be spent doing the work.
Procrastination may be used as an expression of stubbornness or pride: “Don't think you can push me around. I will do it when I'm good and ready.”
Procrastination may be used to control or manipulate the behavior of others. “They cannot start if I am not there.”
Let's face it: deliberate delay drives others crazy.
Coping with Pressures
Procrastination is often truly difficult to eradicate since the delay behavior has become a method of coping with day-to-day pressures and experiences. Obviously if one is cured, others will put new demands and expectations upon you. It's easier to have an excuse, to delay, to put off.
A Frustrated Victim
The procrastinator often feels like a victim: he cannot understand his behavior or why he cannot get work done like others. The whole thing is a frustrating mystery. The reasons for his behavior are hidden from him.
Benefits of Overcoming Procrastination
What are the benefits of overcoming procrastination? Peace of mind, a feeling of strength and purpose, and healthy feeling of being in charge of your life. While procrastination makes you feel weak, useless, and helpless, taking charge of your life will make you feel strong, competent, and capable. You will experience increased personal freedom!
Four Simple Reasons for Procrastination
Difficult - the task seems hard to do; we naturally tend to avoid difficult things in favor of those which seem easy to us.
Time-consuming - the task will take large blocks of time, and large blocks of time are unavailable until the weekend.
Lack of knowledge or skills - no one wants to make mistakes, so wait until you learn how before you start.
Fears - everyone will know how you screwed up.
The simple cure? Do everything opposite. Tell yourself: this isn't so hard, it won't take long, and I am sure that I know how to do it, or that I can learn while I'm doing it. And no one else really cares because they are all so busy with their own problems.
Steps to the Cure
Realize you are delaying something unnecessarily.
Discover the real reasons for your delay. List them.
Dispute those real reasons and overcome them. Be vigorous.
Begin the task.
Procrastination is reinforcing - Every time you delay, it reinforces your negative attitude toward that task. Every time you put off something you dislike, you:
strengthen the habit of not doing;
practice avoidance instead of participation;
avoid acquiring training and skills, and
indoctrinate yourself with fears.
Active participation in anything tends to give you a positive attitude toward that activity; inactivity helps acquire an unfavorable attitude. In other words, the reason you dislike calculus is because it's hanging over your head, worrying you. Since you haven't acquires skills in it, you can't do the assignments, so why try? Also, there's a test coming up soon, and you MUST do well on it -- except you know you can't. Suddenly everything seems terribly unfair (class is too hard) and you become angry towards the teacher (he goes too fast, and he seems indifferent to my struggles.) The truth is, the sooner you get involved in your studies, the better you will feel.
Common Impediments to Overcoming Procrastination
Procrastination is relatively hard to overcome since you can delude yourself about it so easily. The following is a list of things we often tell ourselves:
Mañana - "I'll do it tomorrow."
Contingent mañana - "I'll do it tomorrow, if ..."
Grasshopperism - "I need to have some well-earned fun first."
(In aesop's fable, the grasshopper fiddled and played all summer while the ants stored up winter supplies. When winter came, the grasshopper suffered.)
Escapism - "I've got to get out for a while to clear my mind."
Impulsiveness - "My problem will be solved if I change my major, or attend a different college, or... "
Music and reading - "I'll relax a while and then get started."
Cavalry to the Rescue - "The professor will get sick and cancel finals!"
Now that you understand how procrastination works, and how you can greatly reduce its' influence in your life, you'll experience more freedom and greater personal self-satisfaction.
Keep working on it. You may still procrastinate, but now you'll be able to resolve the situation much more quickly which in turn will enhance your feelings of self-confidence. When you do succeed, take time to savor the moment so you will remember how good it feels. This will help the next time you need encouragement.
Treat the discovery process like a game, and have some fun with yourself.