The procrastination syndrome

Procrastination can become a lifestyle. A very unsatisfactory one, in fact.

It makes us feel guilty and unaccomplished.  Are you a expert?

To be honest, I have been delaying – thus procrastinating – writing this article.  My life has a renewed sense of busyness after living slowly during the pandemic.  There are several tasks on my to-do list that evade getting done … they even haunt me at times.

So what does this P-word mean?

Procrastination is the habit of delaying an important task,despite knowing that there will be negative consequences for doing soThis is done usually by focusing on less urgent, more enjoyable, and easier activities instead. It is different from laziness, which is the unwillingness to act. Procrastination can restrict your potential and undermine your career. A deadline is not merely a guideline!  Be a person of integrity – stick to your promises.

It is almost a form of masochism or self-harm (very dramatic, I know), but the nagging weight of a task, decision or responsibility, causes feelings of guilt and not feeling accomplished or successful. However, procrastination is essentially irrational.  It tends not to be a one-off behaviour, but a cycle, one that easily becomes a chronic habit.

Procrastination is the action of unnecessarily and voluntarily delaying or postponing something. Also, remember delaying a task could frustrate someone in your close circle.  Not great for relationships!

What type of tasks do we procrastinate about?

Tasks or decisions we find “difficult, unpleasant, aversive or just plain boring or stressful.” If a task feels especially overwhelming or provokes significant anxiety, it is often easiest to avoid it.

The reality is that often it is a minor task to which we give so much airtime:

  • Making a telephone call, answering an e-mail or WhatsApp message
  • Sorting out an admin issue
  • Making a decision about something
  • Small maintenance tasks at home
  • Studying… yes, the deadline or exam date is not negotiable, is it?

Do you agree that sending that e-mail, organising a cupboard, drawer, electronic files, photos on your cell phone, e-mail inbox, etc. seems so unattractive, yet when done, brings satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment?

All decisions eventually have to be made. Most people don’t deliberately make a mistake, so if some past decisions were not the best, use it as an opportunity to learn to make better decisions in the future. Never waste a good mistake!  

Silencing the voice of procrastination will liberate you and give you extra time during the day.  Dopamine (a neurotransmitter that plays a role in pleasure, motivation, and learning) is released in the brain when a task is accomplished. So “be happy, get the task done” could become alternative lyrics to Bobby Farrell’s popular Be Happy song.

Reasons we procrastinate include:

  • Perfectionism – perfect tomorrow rather than good enough today
  • Focusing on urgent, yet often not important tasks
  • Inability to focus or concentrate – being easily distracted
  • Lack of information and then no action plan to get the information.
  • Fear of making the “wrong” decision
  • Prudence, caution – I’m-a-low-risk-person: indecisiveness and fear
  • Lack of a deadline
  • Excessive workload
  • Too high expectations – rather than good enough today, choosing “perhaps perfect” tomorrow
  • Feelings of low mood, depression, and lack of a sense of purpose in life (please apply self-care and get professional help if this is the case)

     Take a quick Pro-test

Statement Often Maybe Never
I invent reasons and look for excuses for not acting on a tough problem      
It takes pressure to get on with a difficult assignment      
I take half measures that will avoid or delay unpleasant or difficult action      
There are too many interruptions and crises that interfere with my accomplishing the big jobs      
I avoid forthright answers when pressed for an unpleasant decision      
I have been guilty of neglecting follow-up aspects of important action plans      
I try to get other people to do unpleasant assignments for me      
I schedule big jobs late in the day or take them home to do in the evenings or weekends      
I’ve been too tired (nervous, upset) to do the difficult tasks that face me.      
I like to get everything cleared off my desk before commencing a tough job      

Ideally, your answers should all be “often”, but you knew that, didn’t you?

How do we then tackle procrastination?

  1. Keep a to-do list and start with the most unpleasant task first
  2. Adopt the start-to-finish principle. Pledge to finish the task you are starting by applying the ABC principle – Apply Bum to Chair.
  3. Challenge yourself to go outside your comfort zone. You do not grow if everything is easy and effortless.
  4. Set a deadline: Remember some pressure produces action:
    • Someday is not a day of the week
    • Tomorrow never comes
    • Give yourself deadlines
    • Don’t leave assignments open-ended
    • Give intermediate deadlines for complex tasks
    • Respect your deadlines – if you stretch them, they lose effectiveness
  5. Do tasks a piece at a time – use the Sosatie approach. Before you know it – the whole task is done
  6. If you need support, go out and get it, ask for it: it’s nobody else’s job to read your mind!
  7. Remember, all decisions eventually have to be made – don’t punish yourself for taking too long.
  8. Delayed gratification works really well – reward yourself with little things when you get a task done – enjoying a cup of coffee or watching some tv or social media feed.

So, I challenge you to tackle one nagging task today… not tomorrow… and start beating the Procrastination beast.

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