We are half way till the end of the year already, and there’s no better time to remind ourselves of procrastination. Everyone procrastinates. From the ‘I’ll do it later’ excuse to the ‘Aw man, I can’t believe I put this until the last minute!’ worrying, procrastination is ruining our lives! We put things off because we don’t want to do them, or because we have too many other things on our plates. Putting things off — big or small — is part of being human.
Sooner or later — preferably later — every writer has to do a piece on procrastination. Actually, maybe I already have. I’ve written so many pieces over the last months and still don’t have all of them on a spreadsheet or whatever it’s called; I certainly can’t recall every subject I’ve covered. But I probably haven’t done it yet, because a piece on procrastination is certainly the kind of thing you put off.
To get started on my careful analysis of procrastination — which I’ll put on hold for just a moment while I go get a cup of hot tea. After all, procrastination is one of the longest words in relatively common usage. In fact, it’s so long and takes so much effort to say, that I suspect many people even procrastinate about calling themselves procrastinators.
If you are reading this, however, it is likely that your procrastination is troubling you. You suspect that you could be a much better at whatever you do if only you didn’t put off those projects until the last minute. You find that just when you have really gotten going on a task, it’s time to turn it in; so, you never really have time to revise or proofread carefully. You love the rush of adrenaline you get when you finish a task ten minutes before it’s due, but you (and your body) are getting tired of pulling all-nighters. You feel okay about procrastinating while in college, but you worry that this habit will follow you into your working life.
If you think you are a hopeless procrastinator, take heart! No one is beyond help. The fact that you procrastinate does not mean that you are inherently lazy or inefficient. Your procrastination is not an untamable beast. It is a habit that has some specific origin, and it is a habit that you can overcome. For most procrastinators, however, there are no quick fixes. You aren’t going to wake up tomorrow and never procrastinate again. But you might wake up tomorrow and do one or two simple things that will help you finish that draft a little earlier or with less stress.
You may not be surprised to learn that procrastinators tend to be self-critical. So, as you consider your procrastination and struggle to develop different work habits, try to be gentle with yourself. Punishing yourself every time you realize you have put something off won’t help you change. Rewarding yourself when you make progress will.
Procrastination and perfectionism often go hand in hand. Perfectionists tend to procrastinate because they expect so much of themselves, and they are scared about whether or not they can meet those high standards. Perfectionists sometimes think that it is better to give a half-hearted effort and maintain the belief that they could have written a great paper, than to give a full effort and risk writing a mediocre paper. Procrastinating guarantees failure, but it helps perfectionists maintain their belief that they could have excelled if they had tried harder. Another pitfall for perfectionists is that they tend to ignore progress toward a goal. As long as the writing project is incomplete, they feel as though they aren’t getting anywhere, rather than recognizing that each paragraph moves them closer to a finished product.
Look around you. How much perfection do you see? For example, look at our government leaders and those running for office. On a second thought, don’t. So the solution is simple: Forget perfection. In fact, don’t even worry about competence. Go ahead. Do it. While you’re procrastinating, other people are making deals and making money. There is no freedom quite like the freedom of not caring about how well you do.
Just as buying things on a credit card is using borrowed money, procrastination is really borrowed time. For both, the fun ends when you have to pay up. So, Next time, when you’re tempted to procrastinate, consider what that borrowed time will really cost you when it comes down to crunch time.
Procrastination is the enemy of our success on multiple fronts. Waiting until the final possible moment to tackle an important chore will more often than not result in decreased potential and performance, and in extreme cases can cause failure. Putting off a work report, an academic essay, or even failing to handle your personal life in a timely manner can damage your desired outcomes and make you appear unprofessional, sloppy, or uncaring. To be blunt and to the point, the adage of “you can either pay now, or pay later” is epitomized when we make the conscious decision to succumb to our own laziness.
So, get on that project, apply to that role, complete that certification before the year runs out! Don’t dwell on the past. Get on with your future, and do it now! All of us are our own worst critics, but now is not the time for that. Psych yourself up to your tasks and don’t be weighed down by past inefficiencies. The time is now! Happy mid year, and see you on the other side.