According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of procrastination is “to put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done.” But if we really think about it, what does procrastination really do for any of us? In most cases it simply postpones the inevitable.
According to an article in Psychology Today, twenty percent of people admit to being chronic procrastinators. For these people procrastination is a lifestyle and it applies to everything they do. We all know people like this: they are the ones who let their bills become overdue because they never pay them on time and their credit rating suffers. They are the ones to miss out on events because the tickets are sold out before they get around to buying them. They don't cash gift certificates or checks and are late filing their income taxes every year. Many of these are among the people you see rushing through stores on Christmas Eve because they have put off their shopping till then.
Each of us has our own personal gorilla(s) to wrestle with and it is important to determine why this is so. Why do we go to such lengths to avoid the “wrestling” part? There are various reasons—these are just some.
· We feel overwhelmed.
· We don’t know where to start.
· We are easily distracted.
· We can’t do it alone and need help but there’s nobody to ask for help.
· We are rebelling against someone or something.
· We are pressed for time.
· We have difficulty making decisions or commitments.
· We are afraid of failure.
· We have to get out of our comfort zone.
· We don’t understand what is required or the instructions are unclear.
· We are trying to avoid something we consider unpleasant or uncomfortable.
· We don’t feel like it or are not in the mood.
While we think of procrastination as involving only our own behavior, we may not realize that it can have a cost to others as well. Our avoidance behavior often shifts the burden of responsibility onto others, and can also foster resentment and embarrassment. For example, how might our friends or family feel when we make them late or miss something important because we couldn’t get our own act together? How might our co-workers feel when we make them look bad or miss out on a reward because we failed to finish our part of a project on time?
I personally am not a procrastinator (well not much of one anyway), but for years I have had a problem with all the stuff that crosses my desk that I don’t know what to do with. My solution was to develop a system involving a special “inbox” into which I toss everything that falls under the category of “I’ll get back to this later,” or “I’m not sure whether I want (or need) to keep this, so I’ll just put this here for now.” My theory has always been that if I ignore something long enough, it will just somehow magically go away and I won’t have to deal with it. (Sometimes this works really well!) Since I tend to procrastinate about going through this box, quite often I find when I do, much of what’s in there has already expired or is no longer relevant. Voila! I don’t have to do anything and can just throw the stuff out without any further consideration. Of course, this will not work with bills, legal documents that require further action, or urgent correspondence. But then, these types of items would never find their way into this box anyway.
Unfortunately, many things cannot be put out of sight, ignored, or left to work themselves out on their own. At some point we have to bite the bullet and face the demons. Procrastination is learned and it is a habit that develops over time, and like all habits it takes time to overcome it. Serious procrastinators may need behavior modification with a professional to overcome this problem, but here are a few suggestions for the rest of us.
Determine what is really important and do those things first. We spend so much of our time on useless or meaningless tasks that we often have no time left over for those that are important. If we get done what is most important first, we feel less pressured about everything else.
Break down tasks into manageable chunks. Often we put things off because the task at hand seems too big and overwhelming. Don’t try to tackle everything at once. Start out by doing something that is manageable and tackle the rest a little bit at a time.
Set a time limit. We tend to put off those things that we fear will involve endless amounts of (like cleaning the clutter out of the basement). If you are facing such a task, limit the time you spend on it. You can set a timer for a half hour or an hour and stop when the time is up. Repeat this over however many days are needed to complete the job.
Ask someone to help you. We tend think we have to do everything ourselves, but remember the old saying, “Many hands make light work.” There may be a friend, family member or co-worker who would be willing to help you out.
Trade tasks with someone else. Maybe someone else will like something you hate and vice versa. This can work well at home with other family members, and depending on the nature of your job, it might even work with a co-worker.
Ask for clarification. When we are unclear about what we are supposed to do, it’s easy to put off doing it. To speed things along, ask for explanations and directions. It will make it much easier to get started.
In the final analysis, if you keep putting off something you think you should do, stop and ask yourself “Is this really important?” Sometimes procrastination is simply an indication that a task need not be done at all.
Judith Albright is a stress management specialist who uses energy healing techniques to help people counteract stress, release trapped emotions, and change negative subconscious beliefs. She is also the author and facilitator of courses entitled When Will I Be Good Enough, Prosperity: Are You Blocking Yours, and Taking Control: How to Overcome Limitations and Create a Limitless Life. More information about Judith and her courses is available at www.limitlessliving.org