PROCRASTINATION - General Info
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1 PROCRASTINATION: It is often cited by psychologists as a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision. For the person procrastinating this may result in stress, a sense of guilt, the loss of productivity, the creation of crisis, and the chagrin of others for not fulfilling one's responsibilities or commitments. While it is normal for individuals to procrastinate to some degree, it becomes a problem when it impedes normal functioning. Chronic procrastination may be a sign of an underlying psychological or physiological disorder. CAUSES OF PROCRASTINATION Psychological The psychological causes of procrastination vary greatly, but generally surround issues of anxiety, low sense of self-worth and a self-defeating mentality. Procrastinators are also thought to have a higher-than-normal level of conscientiousness, more based on the "dreams and wishes" of perfection or achievement in contrast to a realistic appreciation of their obligations and potential. Author David Allen brings up two major psychological causes of procrastination at work and in life which are related to anxiety, not laziness. The first category comprises things too small to worry about, tasks that are an annoying interruption in the flow of things, and for which there are low-impact workarounds; an example might be organizing a messy room. The second category comprises things too big to control, tasks that a person might fear, or for which the implications might have a great impact on a person's life; an example might be the adult children of a deteriorating senior parent deciding what living arrangement would be best. Graduate students are frequent subjects of academic procrastination studies, often because they do not finish their dissertation (sometimes referred to as "ABD" for "all but dissertation"). A person might unconsciously overestimate or underestimate the scale of a task if procrastination has become a habit. From the behavioral psychology point of view, James Mazur has said that procrastination is a particular case of "impulsiveness" as opposed to self control. Mazur states that procrastination occurs because of a temporal discounting of a punisher, as it happens with the temporal discount for a reinforcer. Procrastination, then, as Mazur says, happens when a choice has to be made between a later larger task and a sooner small task; as the absolute value of the task gets discounted by the time, a subject tends to choose the later large task. From the behavioral stand, there's no such thing as anxiety or unconscious decisions, everything is in the environment. Physiological Research on the physiological roots of procrastination mostly surrounds the role of the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is responsible for executive brain functions such as planning, impulse control, attention, and acts as a filter by decreasing distracting stimuli from other brain regions. Damage or low activation in this area can reduce an individual's ability to filter out distracting stimuli, ultimately resulting in poorer organization, a loss of attention and increased procrastination. This is similar to the prefrontal lobe's role in Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), where underactivation is common.  Procrastination and mental health 2 Procrastination can be a persistent and debilitating disorder in some people, causing significant psychological disability and dysfunction. These individuals may actually be suffering from an underlying mental health problem such as depression or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). While procrastination is a behavioral condition, these underlying mental health disorders can be treated with medication and/or therapy. Medication can improve an individual's attention span (in the case of ADHD) or improve overall mood (in the case of depression). Therapy can be a useful tool in helping an individual learn new behaviors, overcome fears and anxieties, and achieve an improved quality of life. Thus it is important for people who chronically struggle with debilitating procrastination to see a trained therapist or psychiatrist to see if an underlying mental health issue may be present. Severe procrastination and/or ADD can cross over into internet addiction or computer addiction. In this instance the individual has a compulsion to avoid reality by surfing the web or playing video games (see Game addiction) or looking at online pornography (see Pornography addiction). Although these are relatively new phenomena, they are being considered as psychiatric diagnoses by mental health professionals. Perfectionism Traditionally, procrastination has been associated with perfectionism, a tendency to negatively evaluate outcomes and one's own performance, intense fear and avoidance of evaluation of one's abilities by others, heightened social self-consciousness and anxiety, recurrent low mood, and workaholism. Slaney (1996) found that adaptive perfectionists were less likely to procrastinate than non-perfectionists, while maladaptive perfectionists (people who saw their perfectionism as a problem) had high levels of procrastination (and also of anxiety). Academic procrastination While academic procrastination is not a special type of procrastination, procrastination is thought to be particularly prevalent in the academic setting, where students are required to meet deadlines for assignments and tests in an environment full of events and activities which compete for the students' time and attention. More specifically, a 1992 study showed that "52% of surveyed students indicated having a moderate to high need for help concerning procrastination". Some students struggle with procrastination due to a lack of time management or study skills, stress, or feeling overwhelmed with their work. Students can also struggle with procrastination for medical reasons such as ADD/ADHD or a learning disorder. Student Syndrome Student syndrome refers to the phenomenon that many students will begin to fully apply themselves to a task just before a deadline. This leads to wasting any buffers built into individual task duration estimates. The term originated in Eliyahu M. Goldratt's novel style book, Critical Chain, and the principle is also addressed in the book entitled Agile Management for Software Engineering: Applying the Theory of Constraints for Business Results by David J. Anderson, and Eli Schragenheim. For example, if a group of students goes to a professor and asks for an extension to a deadline they will usually defend their request by noting how much better their project will be if they are given more time to work on it; they request this with the intent to distribute their work time across the remainder of the time until the deadline. In reality however, most students will have other tasks or events that place demands on their time. They will often 3 end up close to the same situation they started with, wishing they had more time as the new delayed deadline approaches. This same behaviour is seen in businesses; in project and task estimating, a time- or resource-buffer is applied to the task to allow for overrun or other scheduling problems. However with Student syndrome the latest possible start of tasks causes the buffer for any given task to be wasted beforehand, rather than kept in reserve. Like students, many workers do not complete assignments early, but wait until the last minute before starting, often having to rush to submit their assignment minutes before the deadline. A similar phenomenon is seen every year in the United States when personal tax returns are due Post Offices remain open until midnight on the final day as people queue to get their tax return postmarked. TYPES OF PROCRASTINATORS The relaxed type The relaxed type of procrastinators view their responsibilities negatively and avoid them by directing energy into other tasks. It is common, for example, for relaxed type procrastinating children to abandon schoolwork but not their social lives. Students often see projects as a whole rather than breaking them into smaller parts. This type of procrastination is a form of denial or cover-up; therefore, typically no help is being sought. Furthermore, they are also unable to defer gratification. The procrastinator avoids situations that would cause displeasure, indulging instead in more enjoyable activities. In Freudian terms, such procrastinators refuse to renounce the pleasure principle, instead sacrificing the reality principle. They may not appear to be worried about work and deadlines, but this is simply an evasion. The tense-afraid type The tense-afraid type of procrastinator usually feels overwhelmed with pressure, unrealistic about time, uncertain about goals and many other negative feelings. Feeling that they lack the ability or focus to successfully complete their work, they tell themselves that they need to unwind and relax, that it's better to take it easy for the afternoon, for example, and start afresh in the morning. Usually have grandiose plans rather than being realistic. Their 'relaxing' is often temporary and ineffective, and leads to even more stress as time runs out, deadlines approach and the person feels increasingly guilty and apprehensive. This behavior becomes a cycle of failure and delay, as plans and goals are put off, penciled into the following day or week in the diary again and again. It can also have a debilitating effect on their personal lives and relationships. Since they are uncertain about their goals, they often feel awkward with people who appear confident and goaloriented, which can lead to depression. Tense-afraid procrastinators often withdraw from social life, avoiding contact even with close friends. See also Deferred gratification Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder Time management Getting Things Done Temporal Discounting References 4 1. ^ Fiore, Neil A (2006). The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt- Free Play. New York: Penguin Group. ISBN 9781585425525. p. 5 ^ Procrastination. Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (1989). ^ a b Strub, R. L. (1989). Frontal lobe syndrome in a patient with bilateral globus pallidus lesions. Archives of Neurology 46, 1024-1027. ^ McGarvey. Jason A. (1996) The Almost Perfect Definition ^ R P Gallagher, S Borg, A Golin and K Kelleher (1992), Journal of College Student Development, 33(4), 301-10. ^ a b Procrastination, How To Stop Procrastinating Allen, David (2001). Getting things done : the art of stress-free productivity. New York: Viking. ISBN 9780670889068. Fiore, Neil A (2006). The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt- Free Play. New York: Penguin Group. ISBN 9781585425525. Lakein, Alan (1973). How to get control of your time and your life.. New York: P.H. Wyden. ISBN 0451134303. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Books External links Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Procrastination Procrastination Central - A resource website at University of Calgary, Haskayne School of Business. Includes information from the Psychological Bulletin article "Nature of Procrastination," which reviews all procrastination research. Procrastination. CalPoly - Procrastination - Another excellent link with in depth-analysis of procrastinating behavior and possible cures Procrastination Research Group - Information and research related to procrastination, Dept of Psychology, Carleton University. iProcrastinate Podcasts - lectures on the psychology of procrastination by Dr. Pychyl, Procrastination Research Group, Carleton University. Self-Help Brochure - Self Help Brochure by University of Illinois, Counselling Center Procrastination: Habit or Disorder? - A paper discussing the biological origins of procrastination Overcoming Procrastination: Counseling Services, University at Buffalo - Yet another great link with some reasons for procrastination and some ways to overcome procrastination. Also has some places in Buffalo of where one can find help with procrastination Structured Procrastination - a slightly tongue-in-cheek look at putting procrastination to work in accomplishing many useful tasks. 5 Perfectionism, Procrastination and Paralysis - Article on avoiding this common vicious circle, by Gina Hiatt, Ph.D. Getting Back To Work: A Personal Productivity Toolkit - a tutorial to overcome procrastination doItLater.com - A procrastination-themed entertainment site for embracing rather than overcoming procrastination. Good and bad procrastination by Paul Graham. Overcoming Procrastination: Getting Organized to Complete the Dissertation by Tara L. Kuther, PhD. Article regarding studies on procrastination 1. Leaving tasks until the last minute when they become urgent or just can't be put off any longer. 2. Don't want to think about it right now - "I'll leave it until tomorrow". 3. Hoping it will go away, no one will notice or someone else will do it. 4. Put off more important tasks for the easier, less important tasks. (How much housework gets done when you know there's something more important to do?) 5. Not ready to make the decision - may not have all the facts and figures or just can't decide. 6. Put off something mundane to focus on something more interesting. The main types of procrastination. Why procrastinate? First, understand the reason behind your procrastination. Why are you putting off a particular task? What is it that you're resisting? Take a few minutes to think about it overwhelm, fear, lack of knowledge or skills, poor planning. Looking at the reason can help identify ways in which to stop it from happening or at least to start dealing with it. There must be a benefit to procrastinating, some pay-off the person gets from putting something off. This can be positive or negative but the advantage of procrastinating outweighs the disadvantage of actually getting the task done. People will naturally tend to do something that is more interesting, exciting or that they feel more comfortable doing, in preference to the more difficult, mundane or boring tasks. However, these can be equally important and are likely to become critical or costly if left too long. Like putting off doing your Tax Return, paying a bill. Not that I don't enjoy writing - I do, but somehow it always seems like a BIG task. However, breaking it down into Not all procrastination is bad. Sometimes people procrastinate because something doesn't 'feel right'. How many times have you had a decision to make or something that needs doing and by delaying the need disappears or the decision becomes clearer? If you hadn't procrastinated you'd have ended up doing something you didn't really want to do. That's not an excuse to procrastinate, just an indication to look at where the resistance is coming from and why. What are the effects of procrastination? Procrastination results in a waste of time and effort. The person worries about the task they're putting off without actually doing anything about it. It makes them feel guilty, easily distracted. It can affect their sleep pattern, eating habits and if it goes on for too long increases stress and can cause depression. 6 The person is always tending to re-act to the urgent tasks because they've left things so long that now it HAS to be done. A certain level of stress is good and having put something off for long enough - the buzz and relief of finally getting it done feels great but this is not a good pattern of behaviour to have. In financial terms (especially for the self-employed) what is the procrastination actually costing them. The fear of actually doing something is usually far worse than actually doing the task itself. How can procrastination be combated? 1. Spending just a few minutes each day planning what needs to be done will make a real difference to how productive you are for the rest of the day. What's the most important thing you need to do in order to achieve your objective and your longer-term goals. 2. Prioritise what's important - be honest. Is it really important or just a 'nice, fun thing to do', when there's something more important that needs doing? Take your biggest, most important task and make sure you do it first, before anything else distracts you. Nothing else is more important and once you've done it, you can move on to the next thing. 3. Ask yourself - "Is what I'm doing now the most important, best use of my time right now?" Making sure the outcome of each task is aligned with your goals, whether it's business or personal, otherwise it's wasting further time and effort. Plan time into your schedule in advance - especially if you're in the habit of leaving things until the last minute. 4. If you have a large overwhelming task, break it down into smaller tasks. What's the very first thing that needs to be done? Do that. This might be as simple as writing down a few notes on paper, making a phone call or sending an email. Now you're ready for the next step. Just get the ball rolling. Once you get started it's surprising how much easier it can be to keep going. 5. Quick bites - putting off a pile of filing which just builds up and up and gets worse the longer you put it off ... just spend 10-15 minutes on a task. Putting a time limit on tasks - increases the rate at which you work so you actually get more done. Also, only 10 minutes doesn't seem as bad as having to tackle the whole pile in one go! 6. Just Do It! Putting something off like a phone call or an email? Instead of saying to yourself, ' I'll do it in a minute, or I'll do it later ... do it now! Just go for it and get it out of the way and then you can move on and stop worrying. I find this technique works really well. Catch yourself putting something off and just do it. 7. Get someone else to do it. If you hate cleaning, filing, admin, doing your books, mowing the lawn, you're probably going to put these tasks off until you absolutely have to do them. If you can't afford a cleaner - get the family to help out. Get a book-keeper to do your books once a month - etc. Is it better use of your time to do the task yourself or pay someone else to do it? 8. Put systems in place to make life easier and remove the excuse for procrastination. Pay all your bills by direct debit. Organise paperwork as it comes in. Do your filing on a regular basis. Keep your work/living space clear and uncluttered, so you don't get distracted by other things that 'need doing'. 7 9. Set a date and make yourself accountable - tell a friend, colleague or mentor (or coach) what you're going to do and you're more likely to get it done. If you tell someone else about what you need to do and when you're going to do it, not only are you more likely to achieve it. It will keep you motivated and they can help to keep you on track. 10. Give yourself a pat on the back - reward yourself as you go. Do some of the fun tasks AFTER you've done the most important one. When I've completed X I'll take a break for a coffee or sit and read my book. When I finish project Y, arrange to meet a friend for lunch to celebrate or book a weekend away, depending on the size of the task and effort involved. 11. Celebrating with a trip to the theatre or concert may be a good reward for completing your Tax Return or finishing a report. Book it in advance so you have a timeline to work towards. 12. If a job's worth doing - do it. If it's not, then just let it go and stop worrying about it.