Procrastination is a word almost all students know well, the act of delaying an action. It usually increases stress, worry, and in the end makes you work harder. When you procrastinate, you are not as efficient or productive. Experts define procrastination as the voluntary delay of some important task that we intend to do, despite knowing that we’ll suffer as a result (Jaffe, 2013). Many believe procrastination is a “bad” characteristic, signifying a flaw in the person who does it; this is why so many have searched for a solution. However, experts have found this not to be the case. They have found that procrastination is actually a warning sign (Wade, 2011).
Dryden and Gordon (1993) identify three typical causes of procrastination: anxiety, low tolerance/frustration levels and rebellion. Unfortunately, according to Kanus (1993), people who procrastinate experience delay in two key personal areas: self-development and personal maintenance. This means that procrastination will most likely lead to negative impacts on personal growth and development.
Is Procrastination Driven By Emotions?
Procrastination is thought to come from an emotional reaction to whatever it is you’re avoiding. Researchers call this phenomenon “mood repair”, where we avoid the uncomfortable feelings associated with our work by spending time on mood-enhancing activities, like playing games. (Cooper, 2016). As Timothy Pychyl, an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University, explained it “putting off the task at hand is an effective way of regulating this mood. Avoid the task, avoid the bad mood” (Pychyl, 2008).
“Procrastination is the fear of success (or failure). People procrastinate because they are afraid of the success that they know will result if they move ahead now. Because success is heavy and carries a responsibility with it, it is much easier to procrastinate and live on the – ‘someday I’ll’ – philosophy,” says Denis Waitley. (Obih-Frank, 2010)
“It really has nothing to do with time-management,” Joseph Ferrari, psychology professor at DePaul University, says. “As I tell people, to tell the chronic procrastinator to just do it would be like saying to a clinically depressed person, cheer up” (Jaffe, 2013).
“I think the basic notion of procrastination as self-regulation failure is pretty clear,” says Timothy Pychyl of Carleton University, in Canada. “You know what you ought to do and you’re not able to bring yourself to do it. It’s that gap between intention and action.” (Jaffe, 2013).
Dilbert: The Procrastinator at work… (Obih-Frank, 2010)
Why Do We Procrastinate?
Why do we procrastinate? It boils down to one reason; you don’t want to do an action. This could be for a number of reasons ranging from: you don’t know how to do the action, it is difficult, you just don’t like doing it, or you feel there are other things that you enjoy or take precedence over the action.
Sometimes procrastinators will try multitasking to try to boost their productivity and not procrastinate. Researcher Zhen Wang was able to show that, on average, multitaskers are actually less likely to be productive. (Grabmeier, 2012)
Worse yet, Stanford researcher, Clifford Nass, examined the work patterns of multitaskers and analyzed their ability to: filter information, switch between tasks, and maintain a high working memory, and found that they were terrible at all three. According to Nass: “We were absolutely shocked. We all lost our bets. It turns out multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking.” (Nass, 2010)
Do you ever procrastinate doing things you want to do that you are excited for? No, because you enjoy doing them. So if you procrastinate a lot, then it means you are trying to do things you don’t like to do.
Thus, the question becomes, “Is it good to do things you don’t like to do?” Studies have shown when people do what they like to do, they work harder, they are more successful, and they procrastinate less (Caprino, 2016; Orr, 2015). Happiness leads to success twice as much as success leads to happiness (Orr, 2015).
Procrastination May Not Be Bad
Maybe procrastination is not a “bad” characteristic, maybe it is a sign that you are not doing the right things. Maybe it is a sign that you are in the wrong classes, school, degree, job, etc. There is a prevalent idea that sometimes you must do things you don’t want to do to be successful. However, there is no validity to this idea. Bill Gates said he would always ‘hire a lazy person to do a difficult job’ at Microsoft ‘because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it’ (Burn-Callander, 2015). Yes, you will do things you don’t want to do, but the only reason we do them is because we don’t know any better. Studies have found that people who know who they are and what their strengths are do not do things they don’t want to (Caprino, 2016).
Tobi Lütke, the CEO of the e-commerce platform “Shopify,” couldn’t be bothered to work with difficult customers anymore, so he got rid of them to spend more time focusing on valuable customers. “If you go into business school and suggest firing a customer, they’ll kick you out of the building,” Lütke says. “But it’s so true in my experience. It allows you to identify the customers you really want to work with.”
Some ask the question, “What about a child who doesn’t want to learn to read?” My answer is yes; you can try to force a child to learn to read, but it will take a lot of effort and time. If you let the child grow, eventually they will want to learn on their own, and at that time, they will learn quickly. When people do things when they see value in them, they tend to do it quicker, better, and with less effort.
So what is the cure? Do only things you like! If you see yourself procrastinating an action, maybe it’s not the right time to do it. Maybe, it is something that you don’t have to do. Maybe it’s a sign that you are headed down the wrong path.
Appendix: Procrastination Statistics
Burn-Callander, R. (2015, February 6). Why being lazy and procrastinating could make you wildly successful. Retrieved December 02, 2016, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/jobs/11387292/Why-being-lazy-and-procrastinating-could-make-you-wildly-successful.html
Caprino, K. (2016, September 11). Successful People Who Love Their Work: 4 Career Moves They Avoid. Retrieved December 05, 2016, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2016/09/11/successful-people-who-love-their-work-4-career-moves-they-avoid/#400ccdeb7e8e
Cooper, B. (2016, March 7). Beyond time management: Why we really procrastinate and how to finally stop. Retrieved December 05, 2016, from https://blog.todoist.com/2016/03/07/strategies-for-overcoming-procrastination/
Gaille, B. (2013, December 6). 17 Lazy Procrastination Statistics. Retrieved December 05, 2016, from http://brandongaille.com/17-lazy-procrastination-statistics/
Grabmeier, J. (2012, April, 30) Mutltitasking May Hurt Your Performance, But It Makes You Feel Better. Retrieved December 02, 2016, from http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/multitask.htm
Jaffe, E. (2013, March 29). Why Wait? The Science Behind Procrastination. Retrieved December 02, 2016, from https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/why-wait-the-science-behind-procrastination
Nass, C. (2010, February, 2) Interview – Clifford Nass. Retrieved December 02, 2016, from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/digitalnation/interviews/nass.html#2
Obih-Frank, E. (2010, October, 18) Warning: Top 10 Signs You Procrastinate and Tips to Help You take Massive Action! Retrieved December 02, 2016, from https://mirthandmotivation.com/2009/10/18/warning-top-10-signs-you-procrastinate-and-tips-to-help-you-take-massive-action/
Orr, C. (2015, April 29). Why Happy People Are More Successful. Retrieved December 05, 2016, from http://www.therichdaily.com/why-happy-people-are-more-successful/
Pychyl, T. (2008, April 25). Giving in to Feel Good: Why Self-regulation Fails. Retrieved December 02, 2016, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dont-delay/200804/giving-in-feel-good-why-self-regulation-fails
Wade, L. (2011, October 24). Procrastination and Work: A Deadly Combination. Retrieved December 05, 2016, from http://www.theprivatebusinessowner.com/2011/10/procrastination-and-work-a-deadly-combination/