Wednesday, 4 January 2012


Do you sometimes tidy up your desk instead of preparing an important meeting because you rather start working on the preparation mañana, tomorrow? Do you clean your house instead of studying for an important exam or check your e-mail again and again instead of writing the report or paper you need to have finished soon? Do you feel the pressure and stress increase from day to day because the deadline is approaching? And do you do all this because you work better under pressure? Okay, you could call it being able to deal with stress and high pressure. But you could also be suffering from procrastination, completing low priority tasks instead of high priority ones and ever postponing the latter ones. This habit can lead to extreme stress, even depression, and is not a healthy thing to do. What are its reasons, and what can we do about it?

In last week’s post on New Year’s resolutions, we learned that one reason why we often have difficulties achieving our goals is the fact that our present self is usually stronger than our future self. This is also the reason for procrastination. We know how we feel now (we don’t want to prepare next week’s important meeting) and want to make this moment as comfortable as possible, but it is hard to imagine how we will feel tomorrow or next week (most likely very bad because the pressure will be enormous).

The effects of procrastination can be very detrimental to health and well-being. Procrastination leads to higher stress and thus higher release of stress hormones, weakens the immune system and is detrimental to the quality of sleep. Procrastinators perform more poorly than others. Consequently, their well-being is negatively affected. And it puts a burden on family, friends, and colleagues. Saying that you work better under pressure is likely to be an excuse for procrastinating. But the good news is that procrastination is learned (often in college), not inherited.

Piers Steel from the University of Calgary published an article about the causes and effects of procrastination in the Psychological Bulletin. There is an outline of the “disease” on PsychologyToday, along with ideas on what you can do in order to end procrastination: support your future self against your present one and organise yourself differently. Use concrete images to give you an idea what you will feel like in the future when you have given in to your procrastination habit. When you feel bad because you have to start the task right now, just bear the bad feeling. It will eventually go away. Write your tasks down, then set realistic goals and break them down into steps you need to take on the way. Remember what we wrote last week about SMART goals: they are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based. After estimating how much time it will take you to complete the task, double the amount of time to make sure you will meet the deadline. And, finally, think about something you want to reward yourself with once you have achieved your goal.

Now that you’ve learned all this, there is no excuse: get started. Now. Not mañana.

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