Procrastination goes well beyond simple laziness. Serious consequences can ensue when you constantly put off until tomorrow what you should have done yesterday.
Fees can accrue if you don’t pay bills on time. Friends can seethe if you always arrive late. Careers can suffer if you force others to pick up the slack. It’s no surprise that chronic procrastinators are stressed and anxious.
If procrastination can cause so many problems, why do people procrastinate? Well, here are some reasons:
- Fear of failure. Procrastinators are often perfectionists who would rather not try than risk failure. Being average isn’t good enough. They worry others will appreciate them only if they perform well.
- Fear of success. Yes, this is fear-of-failure’s evil twin. The worry here is that success might make others envious. Besides, procrastinators might never live up to their own ever-higher standards. Again, it is easier not to try.
- Need for control. Some procrastinators enjoy being rebellious and defiant. They are secretly glad their delays cause problems for others.
- Thrill seeking. Conflict and drama are more exciting than peace and quiet. Procrastinators like the crises they create by waiting until the last minute.
If you really are serious about overcoming procrastination, I suggest you start by figuring out what fear, or need, your behavior is filling. Notice what situations trigger procrastination: When you must make a choice? Meet a deadline? Complete an unpleasant task? Interact with people you dislike? Choose between fun and work?
Once you understand your trigger factors, you can work on practical and concrete solutions:
- Prioritize. Make a list of tasks. Eliminate unnecessary ones, and spent your energy on important ones. Don’t let unimportant time-wasters crowd out significant things. You don’t need to check your e-mail nonstop, for example. It can wait 10 minutes.
- Keep track of things with a clock or calendar. Block off times to work and play. In fact, you can use play as a reward. Work steadily for an hour and reward yourself with a Sudoku puzzle. Make a dreaded phone call and reward yourself with a call to a friend.
- Test your beliefs. So you claim you must perform a task perfectly? Try doing it imperfectly and see what happens. The sky won’t fall in.
- Stop saying yes. Don’t mislead people into thinking you will do something you won’t. It’s better to tell a friend you cannot drive her to the airport than to be late and make her miss her flight.
- Create interim deadlines. There’s a reason you always hear you should break a task down into manageable parts. It works. And you get a solid sense of achievement from actually finishing something, no matter how small. Keep up the momentum.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Procrastination isn’t inevitable. The more you demonstrate that to yourself, the easier it is to continue the positive changes
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie,” by Dr. Gail Saltz. She is also the author of "Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts," which helps parents deal with preschoolers' questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .