The News and Views of Alliance Center
Published On-Line Quarterly
What Makes You
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
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
cold to exercise outside today. Iíll wait until tomorrow
when itís warmer.
Iíve got a
lot of other things to do first.
Iíll do a
better job when I can concentrate on this project.
have lots of time to get this done.
pay me enough to do a more complete job.
is too difficult to talk about. I wouldnít know where to
better under pressure.
noisy to work while my kids are home.
I can eat
this pie tonight. Iíll start my diet tomorrow.
still have the pain. Iíve just been too busy to call the
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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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