By Sheila Stinnett
As the last days of summer are upon us, I would like to discuss a behavior which continually haunts me, is unproductive and generally just makes me feel bad, my urge to procrastinate. When I glanced at my refrigerator this morning, I saw plastered to its front, my ambitious list of summer “to do projects”. This list was obviously made in the spring when I was thinking warmer weather would be a key component in my transformation to a DIY super hero.
With my flower beds in shambles, my garage a disaster area, and my windows waiting for a fairy godmother to magically make the fabric on my dining room table turn into curtains, I am not puzzled by why these projects are not finished, but more by why I couldn’t I even get started.
I do know that I am not alone, as many as twenty percent of us identify ourselves as chronic procrastinators. Missing deadlines, late with bills, surrounded by unfinished projects, spouting a continual stream of excuses, procrastinators appear to be the real world version of Alice’s White Rabbit constantly muttering “I’m late, I’m late”. Looks, however, can be deceiving. Procrastination is not considered a time management issue, but rather a problem with an individual’s ability to self-regulate.
Research has shown that there are three different types of procrastinators. The first type is the thrill seeker. These individuals thrive on the intense stress generated by the last second rush of finishing tasks. Second type is the avoider. Overcome with fear of failure or driven by perfectionism “avoiders” often substitute a preferred task for a non-preferred task, looking for anything they can use as a distraction. Last are the decisionally impaired. Unable to make any final decisions, these people use ambivalence and confusion as a tool to distance or remove themselves from taking responsibility should a situation or project turn out poorly.
Individuals who procrastinate often tell lies to themselves and others causing difficulties in their relationships with family, friends and co-workers. They may experience financial problems due to the squandering of resources on supplies for projects which will never be finished. Stress caused by procrastination can result in health related issues such as insomnia, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, elevated blood pressure, and substance abuse. Procrastinating can weaken a person’s immune system causing an increase of infections.
The good news is procrastinators are made, they are not born. It is a learned behavior which can be unlearned with work and support. Strategies which can be utilized to reduce procrastinating behaviors are as simple as setting realistic goals, writing out a statement of intentions, learning how to say no, working to break large tasks into smaller more manageable ones, and setting up a reward system for yourself once a task has been completed.
List making can be helpful. However, once it is made it is important to continually edit the list by eliminating tasks that you never really plan on doing or by removing tasks that have been on your list longer than a year. Most importantly when estimating the amount of time you think it will take you to complete a task always increase the time by 100 percent.
If procrastination is significantly impacting your health, your ability to maintain employment or engage in functional personal relationships, professional help may be needed. A highly structured cognitive behavioral therapy program seems to be most effective in assisting individuals in overcoming struggles with procrastination.
As for my struggles with procrastination, unfortunately I will have to wait to address them until tomorrow as this article is due today and I must get it turned in ASAP.