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What Makes You Procrastinate?

All of us procrastinate on occasion. For some people, itís a chronic problem; for others, itís only a problem in certain life areas. Procrastination is always frustrating because it results in wasted time, lost opportunities, disappointing work performance, and generally feeling bad about oneís self.

When you procrastinate, you allow less important tasks to take up the time and space that should be devoted to more important things. You do things like hanging out with friends when you know that an important work project is due soon. Or, you go shopping instead of doing your homework. It can also be evident in behavior such as talking about trivial things with your partner to avoid discussing important issues in your relationship.

Most people donít have a problem finding time for things they want to do. But, once they see a task as too difficult, painful, boring, laborious, or overwhelming, the procrastination behaviors begin. You are not alone if you have ever made any of the following excuses to yourself:

  1. Itís too cold to exercise outside today. Iíll wait until tomorrow when itís warmer.

  2. Iíve got a lot of other things to do first.

  3. Iíll do a better job when I can concentrate on this project.

  4. I still have lots of time to get this done.

  5. They donít pay me enough to do a more complete job.

  6. The problem is too difficult to talk about. I wouldnít know where to start.

  7. I work better under pressure.

  8. Itís too noisy to work while my kids are home.

  9. I can eat this pie tonight. Iíll start my diet tomorrow.

  10. Yes, I still have the pain. Iíve just been too busy to call the doctor.

Most of the time, these excuses seem fairly innocuous. However, they are not as innocent as they seem, because they cause us to postpone important duties and projects. Ultimately, they can keep us from accomplishing important goals. Consequently, we look bad to others and we feel bad about ourselves.

Why People Procrastinate

If you were hoping for a simple answer to this puzzle, you will be disappointed to learn that there are many reasons why people put things off. Here are a few of the most common (check those that apply to you):

Avoiding Discomfort. Wanting to avoid pain makes a lot of people shift into procrastination. However, the longer we delay, the worse the uncomfortable situation becomes. The rash gets bigger, the tooth hurts more, the pain continues, and the brakes squeak even more loudly.

Perfectionism. Those who believe they must produce only a perfect report may obsess about uncovering every last information source before they can begin and then write draft after draft. Their search for the perfect product takes up so much time they miss their deadline.

Laziness. Sometimes people delay tasks that involve slight inconvenience or minor discomfort. Some people have developed a habit of doing just enough to get by.

Thinking You Are Not Good Enough. Some people are certain that they are incompetent. They think that they will fail, and procrastinate to avoid ever putting their skills to the test.

Self-doubt. If you regularly second-guess yourself, you probably suffer from procrastination. You may avoid new challenges and opportunities unless you are certain that you will succeed. Perhaps you make feeble attempts to begin a project, and you tell yourself that you could do a better job if you put in more effort.

Workaholism. Interestingly, at the other end of the spectrum, many people who work excessively also fall into this category. They drive themselves ruthlessly, reasoning that if they stop working they will not be able to start again or they will fail. Consequently, they put off or neglect other areas of their life that would make them a complete person. Most self-doubters are driven by the belief that they must meet strict standards in order to see themselves as successful.

Why Donít We Just Say NO?

Since procrastination produces mostly negative outcomes, why donít we just change our behavior and eliminate those undesirable consequences? The reason is procrastination reinforces itself. For some reason, it is more difficult for most humans to start change than to keep it going. We avoid getting started by cleverly diverting our attention from the things we should be doing. We do something else instead or make up a story (to ourselves and others) about how we will accomplish the task in the future Ė when we are inspired, or when we have completed a preliminary step, or the conditions are just right, or some other trick.

Although recognizing how these diversions work wonít automatically cure your procrastination, being aware of it is a good place to start working on the problem. Once you are aware of the ways that you procrastinate, you can start to change your behavior. In our next newsletter, we will offer suggestions on how to change your procrastination behaviors and enable yourself to be more productive.

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Alliance Center for Change

1943 Armstrong Drive, Lansdale, PA 19446
Phone: 215-699-2437

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