It would be a misconception to say that procrastinators don’t get anything done. They do – eventually. For example, when I have an overwhelming writing task ahead of me, particularly something I am not motivated to do, the pile up of dust and papers on my desk will suddenly become Code-Red important. Obviously, I need to clean immediately…with those lemon-scented wipes. And I might as well file these papers – and clean my entire desk. Gotta Febreeze the carpet and chairs, of course. I mean, the bottle is right there. Then, after emptying my half full garbage (or half empty, depending on my philosophy that day), I get back to my writing. So I wasn’t entirely unproductive. Well, depending on how you define “unproductive.”
History is full of famous procrastinators who achieved great things. In his book “The Procrastination Equation,” procrastination and motivation researcher/author Piers Steel reveals a surprising list of high-achieving lollygaggers. Architectural designer Frank Lloyd Wright sketched the blueprints of a project 3 hours before his client arrived. Author Margaret Atwood would get started on manuscripts at 3PM, after spending the entire morning and early afternoon procrastinating. A quick Google search will also drop names of accomplished procrastinators, including Agatha Christie, Albert Einstein, Robert Redford, and Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci.
Now, normally, when we believe someone is procrastinating, we make the mistake of using superficial explanations or judgments. Your boss, teacher or mother will assume that you’re putting things off because you’re just plain lazy, a low achiever, or you simply don’t care. That’s not quite true, according to Queendom’s research and other research studies. There are other underlying reasons why many people avoid doing things.
In an effort to uncover these other reasons (and make me feel better about my own procrastination tendencies) we collected data from 1,655 test-takers for our Procrastination Test. Our results reveal that the most common reasons that major procrastinators put things off is a result of a lack of motivation and a low tolerance for frustration. Our study also found that the most common area where people are likely to put things off, both chronic and occasional procrastinators, relates to health and well-being, like delaying a visit to the doctor.
Gender comparisons indicate that women are slightly more likely to procrastinate on issues related to their health (score of 47 for women, 44 for men on a scale from 0 to 100). Women also tend to procrastinate more than men because of perfectionism (57 vs. 52) and low tolerance for frustration (58 vs. 54). Surprisingly, age analyses reveal that older age groups (25 and older) are slightly more likely to procrastinate than younger age groups, although the younger cohorts are more likely to suffer from a lack of motivation when they choose to put things off.
Certain mental health issues, like depression and attention deficit problems, can lead to procrastination. Depressed individuals are more likely to procrastinate on health matters. Those who have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder put things off in all three life spheres assessed on the procrastination test, namely household chores (score of 43 for ADD people vs. 35 for non-ADD), relationship issues (43 vs. 38), and work/school tasks (45 vs. 37). Reasons for procrastination for the ADD sub-sample include a lack of motivation (57 vs. 49), underdeveloped organization skills (47 vs. 40), low self-confidence (48 vs. 43), and low tolerance for frustration (45 vs. 39).
Despite what some people might think, procrastination, to some degree, does have its benefits. You allow yourself more time to plan things out, to let ideas develop in your head, and to relax a little rather than constantly pushing yourself to get things done. The problem is, if you’re someone who puts things off on a consistent basis, to the point where you completely avoid things that need to be done, this is when it becomes a more serious issue.
If your tendency to procrastinate is having a very serious, debilitating impact on your health, work life, school, or relationships, my suggestion is always to seek the guidance of a professional. For those who have made procrastination an annoying but somewhat less serious habit, here are a few tips:
Add an element of fun to undesirable tasks.
Got something really annoying or just plain boring to do? Try to find a way to make it more enjoyable. Put on your favorite CD while you’re mopping, dusting, and tidying up. Study in a park or in some other appealing (and quiet) environment. This can take the pain out of having to do some particularly unpleasant tasks.
Nip health issues in the bud.
If you’re the type of person who puts off getting a check-up because you’re afraid that you’ll hear bad news, think of it this way: even if your doctor does find a problem, chances are that the diagnosis would have been a lot worse if you had waited to have yourself checked out. In fact, by promptly visiting your doctor, you may turn a potentially serious problem into a minor one.
Take projects one step at a time.
If you have a rather large and formidable task to do, like writing a term paper, break it up into smaller chunks. Think only of completing those smaller portions of the job. For example, if you are having trouble getting started, you can devote a short time to reading one research article. The next day you can take notes and brainstorm and maybe write an outline. The day after you can sit down several times for half an hour each time to write one paragraph. Little by little, you’ll start chipping away at what seemed to be a huge task. Each small step you complete will not only improve your morale, but you might find yourself becoming energized and doing more than you had anticipated.
Display motivational posters or messages to remind you about what you are working towards, whether it’s completing a major project or losing weight. If you find yourself getting discouraged, use these reminders as inspiration to keep you focused.
Give yourself rewards for jobs completed.
Take yourself out to lunch if you complete the first draft of your paper or clean the garage. Buy yourself flowers, take a hot bath, watch your favorite TV show, or go out with friends. There is nothing wrong with giving yourself incentives as long as you take the incentive after you have done what you set out to do. This will reinforce the general sense of well-being that comes with completing tasks.