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Are You a Procrastinator?

Posted on March 21, 2018 in Procrastination

If you ask the average person “are you a procrastinator?” they will often grin sheepishly and reluctantly tell you about all the things they ‘put off’ doing in their lives. Most people identify with procrastinating on certain tasks at certain times in their life. Studies have found that around 20% of adults in the general population are chronic procrastinators, and it is often much higher in school or university settings (75%-95%). This means procrastination is a fairly typical behavior for a lot of people, so remember you are not alone! However, there is a difference between general procrastination, which we all do at certain times, and more problematic procrastination.

What Is Procrastination?

Often people mistake procrastination for “laziness.” They talk about it as if it were some nasty character flaw. We hope that as you will soon realize that procrastination has nothing to do with being lazy. If it isn’t laziness, what do we really mean by the term ‘Procrastination’? People will often use definitions like, “putting off”, “postponing”, “delaying”, “deferring”, “leaving to the last minute” – all of which are valid. What we mean by procrastination is; making a decision, for no valid reason, to delay or not complete a task or goal you’ve committed to. You can see from this definition that procrastination is in some way an intentional decision.

Prioritizing

Having said that, it may happen very quickly, almost automatically, and become a habit, so often you may not even realize that you’ve made the decision. Another element of procrastination is that you needlessly put off or don’t complete something you made a commitment to doing. You generally substitute the task for something that is a lesser priority. And most importantly you do this despite there being a lot of disadvantages to procrastinating. What tends to distinguish more general ‘putting-off’ or ‘delaying’ from a more serious procrastination problem is how bad the negative consequences are that follow the procrastination.

What Do You Procrastinate About?

Being a procrastinator doesn’t mean you are necessarily a person who puts off doing everything in life, although this may be the case for some. There are so many different areas of our lives in which we can procrastinate. Some of these areas may be more obvious (i.e., study or work projects) and others may be more subtle (i.e., health check-ups, changing our diet or exercise routine). Really any task we need to complete, any problem we need to solve or any goal we might want to achieve, can be a source of procrastination. For many people, there will be certain areas of their life they are able to keep on top of, and certain areas where procrastination reigns.

Self-Assessment

To help you assess what it is you procrastinate about and what facets of your life you put off, for the next week carry a small note pad around with you. Use this to help yourself become more aware of your day to day actions. Any time you notice that you have put off something important in favor of doing something less important, even though you know it won’t be good for you in the long run, jot down the activity, task, problem or goal you put off. That way you can start to collect some information about what areas of your life you procrastinate on and what areas you follow through on.

Raise Your Awareness

Having paid more attention to your actions over the week, and also remembering past things you have put off, look through the list below and highlight the types of tasks and goals you tend to procrastinate about. This list could include tasks or goals related to work, study, finances, self-development, household chores, health issues, social life, family commitments and relationships.

Now think about which of these causes you the most grief, distress, negative consequences and problems in your life. Choose one of those tasks or goals to work on daily. It may even be a good idea to start with the easiest task or goal first. We know you may want to tackle all of them at once. But remember procrastination is an old habit. To develop a new habit of following through on things, you need to start slowly, and take it one step at a time.

Action Plan

We will still expect our old unhelpful rules and assumptions to be activated when faced with certain tasks or goals. Our unhelpful rules and assumptions have generally been around for a long time, so we can’t expect them to disappear overnight. The key is that instead of being led by these unhelpful rules and assumptions, we choose to do things differently at this point, which puts us on the path to ‘doing’ rather than procrastinating. Over time these unhelpful rules and assumptions may relax, and may not be as easily activated.

So when our old unhelpful rules and assumptions are activated we instead:

  1. Adjust our unhelpful rules and assumptions by challenging them, devising new helpful rules and assumptions, and putting these into practice.

  2. Practice tolerating discomfort using mindfulness techniques (i.e., being aware, watching and observing without judgment, and letting go) and gradually increasing our time sitting with discomfort.

  3. Dismiss our procrastination excuses by challenging and testing any unhelpful conclusions we hold about being better off postponing a task or goal to another time, and instead developing more helpful conclusions It is best for us to make a start on things now.

  4. Use motivational self-talk rather than self-criticism to encourage ourselves to do the task.

Changing your procrastination habit takes time, practice, persistence and patience. Expect setbacks, use your action plan, get support, and recognize your achievements – doing this will help you stay on the path of becoming a ‘doer’ rather than ’procrastinator’.

We will soon make available an on-line course for those of us who procrastinate to the point that it interferes with our ability to realize our potential. Stay tuned for the release date of the incredibly effective online course.