Managing Procrastination

Most of us are pretty creative when it comes to excuses to cover up for our procrastination. It’s a habit we develop in school when we drag our feet over assignments only to come up with brilliant excuses later. But psychologists see this as the road to stress and anxiety.

Understanding procrastination

All of us put off doing things at some time or the other – especially irksome things like making stressful phone calls or organizing the cupboard. The difference is that procrastinators do this most of the time. Psychologists see it as the result of a personality trait in such people. They theorize that it could be a response against authoritarian parenting.

Dr Joseph Ferrari, one of the world’s leading experts on procrastination, classifies procrastinators into three types:

  1. Arousal types who wait till the last minute before finishing a task, mainly for the euphoric rush it brings.
  2. Avoiders who evade tasks out of fear of failure or even fear of success. According to Dr Ferrari, most procrastinators suffer from low esteem and self-doubt and prefer to create an impression that they did not put in the effort rather than let people “find out” that they lacked ability.
  3. Decisional procrastinators who cannot make a decision. Not making a decision absolves them of the responsibility for the outcome of events.

Are you a procrastinator?
 The Procrastination Inventory by Dr William J.Knauss identifies these traits in procrastinators:

  • I normally begin and complete projects at the eleventh hour or later.
  • I fall behind in my correspondence.
  • I avoid situations where I believe I won’t be very successful.
  • I dwell upon injustices.
  • I feel there is one crisis after another in my life.
  • I don’t want to deprive myself and thus I indulge in that extra dessert or snack.
  • I put off scheduling myself for routine medical or dental evaluations.
  • I don’t attempt to keep up with developments in my career area.
  • I need to feel inspired or motivated to begin and finish a difficult or unpleasant task.

Effects of procrastination

You could be paying with your health by procrastinating. According to a study, procrastinators tend to become stressed under time constraint that impacts their immune system negatively, and causes chronic health conditions. Another study found that students identified as high procrastinators suffered from more cold, flu and insomnia.

Procrastinators also drink or eat more than they intend to due to problems of self-regulation. Substance abuse, especially chronic alcoholism, is common among procrastinators.

Dealing with procrastination

Procrastination is not a time management or planning problem. “Telling someone who procrastinates to buy a weekly planner is like telling someone with chronic depression to just cheer up,” explains Dr Ferrari. Overcoming procrastination takes effort and may even mean long-term psychotherapy. These are some things to help:

  1. Find the triggers: Identify “What am I afraid of?” A lot of procrastination is fear motivated. A person trying to find a job over an extended period may fear being rejected again. A medical student finds it tough to complete even a single assignment on time because of his fear of the material itself, possibly stemming from lack of aptitude for the chosen field. Thus, the fear and its source must be confronted before the behaviour can be addressed.
  2. Learn the job: A lot of intelligent, talented people are bad with deadlines simply because they are indecisive or lack the knowledge to approach tasks. Seeking right help, getting relevant information or even just plunging into work can help.
  3. Divide and conquer: Most procrastinators tend to “lump” or “chunk” tasks i.e. they mistakenly perceive work as one big inseparable whole. A good approach is to break the job into simple, manageable portions and then work on one at a time.
  4. Set endorphins free: Difficult or stressful tasks produce minimal endorphins (the happy messengers in the brain), making us choose easier tasks to “feel good”. You can break the trap by setting goals to complete tasks and rewarding yourself upon completing the task. Over time, you will associate feeling good with completing tasks without procrastinating.
  5. Keep ends in mind: The best way to conquer procrastination is to visualize what lies at the end of the stressful, mundane or scary work. By staying focused on the goal of the project, the effort required to get there may not seem intimidating anymore.

Procrastination can become a lifelong habit with detrimental effects in all areas of your life. So, don’t delay working your way out of this trap.

This post originally appeared in the LinkedIn.