Did you know that people who procrastinate have higher levels of stress and generally poorer health? When you leave things until the last minute, you become overwhelmed and anxious. Yet, procrastination is something most of us are susceptible to. But is it just laziness, or is there something more going on? Psychologists are now recognizing that there’s more to procrastination than simply putting something off until tomorrow.
The impact procrastination makes
At one time or another, most of us have put off doing something of importance to pursue something “less urgent,” like, say, taking a nap, brushing the cat, or organizing your sock drawer… That’s procrastination at best — a trait that’s counterproductive, especially when it becomes a habit. Yet, you probably seldom think about how procrastination impacts your life. Every time you procrastinate, you choose one thing over another. Surrendering to procrastination is easy when you tell yourself it doesn’t really matter when a task gets done, so long as it’s eventually finished. The problem is, the task you didn’t do never goes away. And the longer you postpone it, the more urgent it becomes. But while it’s easy to chalk up procrastination as being lazy or lacking self-motivation, science tells us there could be something more at play.
There’s more than laziness behind procrastinate
When you procrastinate, you might believe you’re lazy, incompetent, or simply lack motivation. But in reality, there’s a science behind your procrastination. According to UPMC HealthBeat, procrastinating is a battle between the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex. The limbic system in the brain deals with emotions and memory. It also deals with planning, decision making, and reinforcing behavior. The prefrontal cortex deals with intellect, personality, and decision making. Of the two, the prefrontal cortex is less developed and, therefore, weaker. So, it often loses out to the limbic system, which leads to procrastination.
We procrastinate because of “bad” mood
So, if procrastination isn’t about laziness and more about a struggle in our brain, what exactly is going on? Well, according to Dr. Piers Steel, of the New York Times, and author of “The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done,” it’s about self-harm. Apparently, not only are we aware that we’re procrastinating, but also that doing so is possibly a bad idea. But, we do it anyway — making procrastination irrational. And the reason, suggests Dr. Steel: people who can’t manage their negative moods around a task engage in a cycle of chronic procrastination. It’s a flaw in your ability to manage time, linked to your coping skills that surround negative moods — like anxiety, frustration, resentment, boredom, etc. — brought on by certain tasks.
The unhealthy price of procrastination
At one time studies, suggested that there was an advantage to procrastination, according to psychological science.org. When student’s put off work to pursue more pleasurable activities, they experienced temporarily lower levels of stress compared to others. However, in the end, the costs of procrastination far outweighed any temporary benefits. Students who procrastinated received lower grades and added more stress and illness to their lives. Not only did they put off their work until later, but the quality of work suffered as did their health. Researchers concluded that procrastinators often engage in self-defeating behavior by undermining their own best efforts. The price you pay for procrastination is not always instantaneous. It can ripple over time, eventually impacting your personal and professional life and even your wellbeing.
What type of procrastinator are you?
There are many ways to avoid completing a task based on the “type” of procrastinator you are. And whatever category you fall in, you’re not alone. According to Business Insider, even highly-driven and accomplished people can be procrastinators from time to time. Procrastinator personality types include:
- The thrill seeker races to meet a deadline because they enjoy the last-minute rush. They procrastinate to feed this experience, suggests UPMC.
- The perfectionist procrastinates due to fear of being judged. When you’re tight on time, you can’t complete the task to perfection. So, you keep putting it off.
- The indecisive procrastinator procrastinates to avoid getting blamed for mediocre results.
- The self-doubter procrastinates because they blame their inaction on laziness rather than admiting they’re simply tired.
- The overwhelmed procrastinator fills their calendar with tasks and then claims, “I’m so busy.” When being too busy becomes an excuse for not completing a specific task, it’s usually a sign of avoidance. Instead of facing a challenge head-on or simply admitting they don’t want to do something, they place blame on being too busy.
- The “shiny object” procrastinator is constantly looking for new and exciting projects to take on, but quickly gets bored soon after and moves on. They’re quick to start but never follow through.
How to stop procrastinating
Ready to give up the art of procrastination? Overcoming procrastination is difficult, suggests UPMC, but still possible. Here are some tips to get you moving through the process.
- Instead of tackling a project all at once, work a little bit on it each night. By the time your deadline rolls around, the task will be completed.
- Break up your task into a series of smaller tasks to make it more manageable.
- Don’t focus on perfection. Focus instead on getting a head start and finishing the project. All of the free time you’ll gain can be used to perfect your project.
- If needed, get counseling to help you understand why you’re compromising long-term goals for quick bursts of pleasure.
Let’s face it when you put off a task, you’re not only aware you’re doing so, but you also know it’s a bad idea. Yet, you do it anyway. And that only serves to compound the negativity surrounding the task. As a result, you become stressed, anxious, and experience low self-esteem. Becoming self-aware of your flaws is key to figuring out the reason why you procrastinate. Then forgive yourself. Researchers found that students who could forgive themselves for procrastinating when studying for a first exam ended up procrastinating less and generally did better on their second exam. So, go on, stop stressing, forgive yourself, and finish that project!