As I finally sit down to write this blog I realise that I’ve been procrastinating. The beds have been changed, the washing is in the machine. I’ve played with the dog, checked my e-mails and now I find that I’m running out of excuses, although I do feel the need for another cup of tea!
Everyone procrastinates sometimes but if you find that you regularly avoid difficult or challenging tasks and actively look for distractions then you may be a chronic procrastinator. With around twenty per cent of the population admitting to frequently putting things off you are not alone.
For most of us the odd bout of procrastination is harmless but for those that are chronically affected it can be destructive and can prevent them from fulfilling their potential.
So how do you know if you are a procrastinator or just very good at prioritising? Here are some useful indicators that will help you identify whether you’re a procrastinator or not.
- If you sit down to start a high priority task and then immediately finding something else to do, like make a cup of tea.
- If you overestimating the time you have in order to complete a task
- If you ignore an item on your to do list for several days even though you know it’s important.
- If you underestimating the time it takes to complete a task.
- If you complete a lot of low priority tasks instead of the high priority one.
- If you read and re reading e-mails without acting on them or making a decision about what to do with them.
- If you overestimate how motivated you will feel to do a task… in an hour, a day, next week etc.
- If you believe that working when not in the mood is a bad idea.
If you say ‘yes’ to unimportant tasks on a regular basis instead of getting on with what you should be doing.
- If you believe that in order to complete a task you need to feel like doing it.
So if it’s so bad for us why do we do it? Dr Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at De Paul University in Chicago argues that people procrastinate for different reasons and has identified three basic types.
- Thrill seekers who need that last minute rush.
- Avoiders who may be putting things off through a fear or failure or success and who would rather have other people believe in their lack of effort rather than their lack of ability.
- Those that can’t make a decision because by not making a decision they cannot be held responsible for the outcome.
Further research suggests that we procrastinate partly because we find the task at hand unpleasant in some way and partly because we are not confident in our ability to perform it which ties in with Ferrari’s point.
However at the core of procrastination says Dr Piers Steel, a professor at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business is our impulsiveness – we don’t like waiting for rewards.
Temptations like a cup of tea or updating facebook are attractive because although the reward is small the delay is virtually nonexistent. In contrast although writing an article or saving for retirement have potentially large rewards they are so distant that they seem unimportant. We only become motivated to do them when time brings them closer and they become more of an immediate task.
Whatever the reasons behind procrastination the results are often the same. Procrastination creates a cycle of anxiety, avoidance, guilt and inadequacy. The good news is that you can create strategies that help.
To avoid procrastination make your goals small, immediate and easily accessible.
Create your own rewards. Anything from checking e-mails to having a biscuit after you’ve completed your task can be seen as a reward
Peer pressure works. Get someone to check that you have completed your task.
Rather than think about doing the task, think about the unpleasant consequences of not doing it.
When you set yourself goals put a time to complete on them. You are more likely to work towards a deadline especially if that deadline is approaching.
If your task seems overwhelming cut it down into bite size pieces.
Focus on how good you will feel after you’ve completed it.
There are various reasons why you may find yourself procrastinating. Once you’ve recognised that you are doing it you may be able to understand why and build strategies to help yourself overcome it. It may not happen overnight but like all behaviour that becomes habitual it can be changed if you are persistent.
‘ We can all be procrastinators, but does that have to result in procrastinating behaviour? It doesn’t, if you recognize your own limitations.’ Dr Steel.