Sometimes we have too much time. We take things slow. There’s no rush. We say things like “I’ll do that tomorrow” and “why do tomorrow’s work, today?”. We watch TV for that extra hour, we sleep just a little later and we mark that email unread for tomorrow.
Sometimes we’ve run out of time. Everything is a rush and a whirlwind. We say things like “I wish I had more time” and “if only I had gotten started a little earlier”. We slap together whatever we have, we drive like a lunatic on the road and we apologise for being late.
Procrastination is the avoidance of doing a task which needs to be accomplished. Procrastinators love instant gratification. It is the practice of doing more pleasurable things instead of less pleasurable ones.
Do you remember sitting in matric English class? The teacher was explaining your latest assignment due in two weeks time. You were so smug, this was going to be real easy. You were sitting in the shade of the tree next to the tuck shop, laughing with your friends at how silly this assignment is and how you are going to class just so that you can collect you’re “A”. Do you remember how you kept putting off doing the work, there were so many things to do. You finished that 5000 piece puzzle and you knitted that jersey you will need for next winter. Then you got that sinking feeling, it’s 6 o’clock, the night before the due date and you have to pull an all-nighter to get the work done. You got whatever you could together and told yourself that marks aren’t that important, there’s more to life than an English assignment.
Research has shown that up to 20% of adults report being chronic procrastinators. That number could have been higher if most of the procrastinators had actually gotten round to filling in the survey.
Procrastination can also have negative health effects. When stressed, our bodies release a steroid hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is known to interfere with learning and memory, lower your immune function, and is linked to increased risk of depression and generally lower life expectancy. We’ve all felt that stress, when your stomach is tied in a knot, you feel the hair on your arm stand up and you have that nervous swallow.
Is pre-crastination the solution? pre-crastination, is the urge to start a task immediately and finish it as soon as possible. As soon as that email arrives, you bang off a reply. You write that toastmasters speech two weeks before you give it over. For the pre-crastinator, progress is oxygen, postponement is agony, distraction is the enemy.
When tackling complex tasks, one needs creativity. Is one more creative when procrastinating or when pre-crastinating? An experiment was set up at the University of Wisconsin. Two groups of people were tasked with coming up with a new business idea. One group was told to start immediately, the other group was told to play solitaire for 5 minutes and then start. The business ideas were rated and the procrastinator’s ideas were judged to be 28% more creative. Why? Because pre-crastination can stifle creativity and suck up the oxygen that an idea needs to breath. Sometimes ideas need to percolate. You might go back to your toastmasters speech which you wrote two weeks ago and say “what on earth was I thinking, who would write such nonsense?”
As with most things in life, it’s about balance. Too much procrastination can mean more stress and failed potential. Too much pre-crastination can mean still born ideas and stifled creativity.
At the end of the day the job needs to be done, how do you avoid the destruction of procrastination? Here are a few tips:
- Imagine the consequences of you failing spectacularly and that anxiety might get you into gear.
- If you’re procrastinating because you are disorganized, set yourself time bound tasks and an action plan. Keep a to do list.
- If you are finding the project overwhelming, break it up into smaller pieces and start with the easy tasks first. Small victories go a long way.
- Remember that the task is probably not as unpleasant as you imagine. Give it a try, you might find that it’s not so bad.
- Lower your standards for progress and perfection. Perfectionism is an unattainable trap.
My fellow toastmasters, I had a very busy weekend. I built a model airplane, I watched the super bowl, I read war & peace and I solved a Rubik’s cube. I was so busy. I must admit that I ran out of time and I couldn’t write a conclusion for this speech. I, as a seasoned procrastinator, would tell you, in the bigger scheme of life, is a conclusion really that important?