Is procrastination a bad thing?

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Procrastinate: put off till another day or time; defer; delay.

Is this such a bad thing? I mean, we’ve all put things off ’til tomorrow, next week etc. Right? i.e. I’ll start my new diet Monday but never do, I’ll start cramming for my exams soon, I’ll wait ’til hubby’s in a better mood to tell him about the latest credit card bill. And who hasn’t made New Year resolutions? Or who’s said, I must start saving for retirement?

For many people, a little procrastination isn’t harmful — like 15 minutes lost in Facebook or putting off doing the ironing for a few days. However, for some people, procrastination can create massive problems at home, at university and in their workplace. In fact, it can impact on every area of their lives.

According to Joseph Ferrari (Professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago and author of Still Procrastinating: The No Regret Guide to Getting It Done), around 20 percent of U.S. adults are chronic procrastinators. Psychology Today UK agrees “Approximately 20 percent of people are chronic procrastinators.” Yet more, a recent poll by Nationwide Building Society found that nearly two-thirds (63%) of those questioned identify themselves as procrastinators (Luke O’Reilly, The Metro, UK, 2014).

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A common misconception is that procrastinators have poor time management skills and tho’ this can sometimes be the case, there could be deeper issues at play. Ferrari says “It really has nothing to do with time-management – to tell the chronic procrastinator to just do it would be like saying to a clinically depressed person, cheer up.”

Neil Fiore (The Now Habit, 2007) also wrote that “procrastination is not typically a function of laziness, apathy or work ethic.” It may be a self-defense behavior that develops to protect a person’s sense of self-worth i.e. better not to start the diet than to start it and admit failure to lose weight or better not to put in the exam paper/essay than to put it in and fail – some would rather be seen as being unable to manage time than fail the task itself.

Maria Lamia (What Motivates Getting Things Done: Procrastination, Emotions, and Success) says our emotions are what motivate our behaviour, and that procrastinators are motivated by their own particular emotional history. She wrote about two types of procrastinator: those who procrastinate and don’t get the job done and those deadline-driven procrastinators who do get the job done (and they almost always do it well).

“Many people who delay and don’t get the job done – they delay and fail – often say ‘my problem is that I’m a procrastinator’. We have to remember that failure, for some, creates shame, and people who continuously fail have a lot of shame. They’re not motivated by emotional responses at a deadline, but rather they’re inhibited by them. So when a deadline passes, they blame it on procrastination in order to save face… what’s better than blaming it on procrastinating, rather than look at the emotional issues that are really interfering with you doing the work?” So there are some psychological and emotional elements at work here. Is it a mental health problem?

Although procrastination itself is not a mental health diagnosis, it is linked to a number of disorders, including ADHD, depression and anxiety. On the other hand, procrastination can prompt depression and anxiety.

My youngest son had a real problem with procrastination a few years ago and, at the time, I hadn’t really understood how much it affected him emotionally or mentally. As Head of the Science Department (at the tender age of 26) for a large inner-London High School his procrastination had him preparing lesson plans last thing on a Sunday evening, ready for Monday mornings. Subsequently, leaving it so late led to anxiety and panic attacks. He obviously did well as the school’s Science grades went from being one of the lowest in England to having the biggest increase in grades that year. However, he then became depressed and I was so afraid for him, knowing what that feels like. Fortunately, he sought counselling, where he was able to discuss what was going on for him and work through the emotional issues affecting him. Thankfully he left that job to return to study and now enjoys being a Physiotherapist. He still catches up with his counsellor now and then and I’m really proud of him for seeking help when he needs it.

I suppose I procrastinate too – it’s taken me three days to get this far through my post. But I don’t think I’m a chronic procrastinator and I don’t believe it’s about emotional issues for me – on this post anyway.

Wow! I swear, I have literally just realised why I’m finding it difficult to complete my post about my Psychotic depression – I started it on the 7th of this month! Duh! Emotional issues.

Are you a procrastinator? Does procrastination impact on areas of your life? I’d really love to know.