Procrastination: Why We Set Aside Important Tasks

To do listMost people have had the sinking feeling of disappointment and frustration that comes after spending an entire day surfing the web or finishing a week and realizing they’ve completed nothing on their weekly to-do list. Procrastination might be the great unifying trait of contemporary life.

One recent study found that unnecessary interruptions cost the economy $650 billion annually, but procrastination isn’t just a financial drain. Frequent procrastination can interfere with the ability to enjoy leisure time, particularly when people have to make up for lost work or are so stressed by a staggering to-do list that they can’t enjoy their time with their families. And yet people continue procrastinating, even when they’re aware it’s against their best interests. There are a few psychological factors at play, and by understanding procrastination’s causes, you may be able to limit its impact on your life.

Delaying the Painful
At its core, procrastination is an attempt to avoid things that might be unpleasant, difficult, or painful. Challenging tasks seem like they’ll somehow be easier in an imaginary future where life is less stressful and there is more time. This is a cognitive trick the mind plays; the reality is that the longer unpleasant tasks are delayed, the more unpleasant they typically become.

Depression and Low Self-Esteem
Procrastination is a common symptom of depression. For some people, procrastination is the first symptom of depression; in others, the effects of procrastination can make depression worse. Self-esteem also plays a significant role. At some level, many procrastinators believe they aren’t up to the task they have to complete. A woman might delay talking to her boss about a promotion because she’s worried she’s unworthy of the promotion or that her boss doesn’t notice her contribution to the company.

Perfectionism
Perfectionism and procrastination often are a package deal. For people who must complete every task perfectly, even small tasks can be daunting. Perfectionists often judge their worth by the results of one effort or the reaction they get from one person. When they’re afraid their efforts won’t yield a perfect result, this can be a strong incentive to avoid a task. Perfectionism is particularly likely to play a role in procrastination when a person is afraid of the outcome of the task. If you’re not sure if you’ll get a job but have decided that you must get a job in order to be a worthwhile human, you’re much more likely to avoid applying altogether.

Resentment and Rebellion
Procrastination can be a form of passive-aggression. When a task feels unfair, people are much more likely to procrastinate. Children do this all the time by delaying doing their homework, cleaning their rooms, or apologizing to a sibling. But adults are not immune to such behavior. When people feel that they don’t have control over their task list or that they’re being asked to do too much, they’re more likely to rebel by procrastinating.

Physical Symptoms
Sometimes procrastination is a physiological, rather than psychological, phenomenon. When your body’s not functioning at full capacity, it can be nearly impossible to focus on daily tasks. Chronic illnesses and pain can both cause procrastination. These distractions make it difficult to focus on a task and can overwhelm even the strongest will. But more mundane physical issues, such as exhaustion and hunger, can cause people to lose focus and start procrastinating. Taking care of your physical needs can help you avoid this.

References:

  1. 7 common causes and proven cures for procrastination. (n.d.). Marc and Angel Hack Life. Retrieved from http://www.marcandangel.com/2010/11/22/7-common-causes-and-proven-cures-for-procrastination/
  2. Bui, N. (2007). Effect of Evaluation Threat on Procrastination Behavior. The Journal of Social Psychology, 147(3), 197-209. doi: 10.3200/SOCP.147.3.197-209

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  • J.Foster

    J.Foster

    November 13th, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    I fight procrastination every day.I used to be, and still am quite a bit, someone who will delay work until the last minute.

    One of the things mentioned here is definitely present in me, and that is looking for perfection.I always think I can do a job better with much planning but that never happens.Until the last minute.That’s when things start to bother me and I have to work through anything that may be happening at the time. i really should get rid of this completely, although I have reduced such instances now after working on it for several months now.

  • Aaron

    Aaron

    November 13th, 2012 at 4:19 PM

    I am the opposite of a procrastinator-
    I am the person who detests having things sit on my desk overnight-
    I want to try to finish everything that I can the day before I elave so that I don’t have it habging over my head when I come in the next day.
    Of course that comes with its own set of problems, so neither is the most healthy mindset to be in all the time.

  • Jill

    Jill

    November 14th, 2012 at 4:09 AM

    My daughter puts things off until the very las minute and it drives me insane!

    But I think that her biggest problem is that she is so afraid of failing that she doesn’t even want to try until she has no choice but to just buckle down and do the project.

    Usually she does pretty well, and that seems to be enough for her, but I try to tell her how much better she would do if she did not put it off so long.

  • Amy J

    Amy J

    November 14th, 2012 at 7:31 AM

    Well, this certainly explains a lot! My parents are coming to visit next week. We have just moved to a new town and I want to show them the high lights of the surrounding area via day trips. I ordered brochures on line and had some new acquaintances make suggestions. The only problem is that I completely overwhelmed and end up putting off trying to make plans. I am so afraid that I will make a mistake and not plan the “perfect” trip for them that I end up making no plans at all.

  • Zoe

    Zoe

    November 14th, 2012 at 7:32 AM

    procrastination is my middle name. No wait it’s leah. I keep meaning to have it changed but I keep putting if off. hahaha

  • Saul

    Saul

    November 14th, 2012 at 11:22 PM

    Procrastination is akin to alcohol or drug addiction..you know it’s hiring you yet to continue with it hoping against hope that it will help you..it’s more of a mental thing than anything else..and if the battle is to be won it has to be won right there – in the mind.

  • insanity

    insanity

    November 15th, 2012 at 5:28 AM

    has anyone simply stated the obvious fact that many times we are just lazy and don’t feel like doing these little chores that then add up into huge mountains that then feel unconquerable?

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