When it comes to making New Year's resolutions, 20 percent of Americans will put "stop procrastinating" at the top of their list, yet most resolutions are abandoned within a few weeks. If you're guilty of putting things off, “Today” contributor Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist at New York Presbyterian Hospital, has tips for overcoming that nasty habit called procrastination.
Procrastination is defined as putting off doing something, especially out of habitual carelessness or laziness: to postpone or delay needlessly. And it's something many people think about and struggle with at this time of year.
There are two fundamental types of procrastinators:
1. The sometimes-procrastinator: Research shows that 20 percent of us think of ourselves as a procrastinator from time to time. There may be a particular chore that induces procrastination.
2. The chronic procrastinator: The individual that procrastinates in all areas of his life. Procrastination is a lifestyle and cuts across all domains of that person's life. For example, it can go from not paying bills on time to shopping for Christmas gifts on December 24, to putting off work projects or school work.
Most people fit into one of these categories and it is important to be honest with oneself. Ask yourself, is this a recurring problem? Does your spouse nag all the time about getting things done? Are you continuously leaving things to the last minute? How many of these questions do you answer "yes" to?
The first step is to understand why you procrastinate. Remember the answers are often complex and if it were an easy thing to change, we'd all do it.
Why do people procrastinate?
Fear of failure: Having the attitude that they won't be able to accomplish this task at all. A fear of letting another individual down, as well as letting themselves down. Both cases suggest a concern about what others think of them.
Perfectionism: Having the attitude that if they can't do it perfectly they won't do it at all. Also, having such high expectations that no amount of work towards the finished product is good enough.
Indecisiveness: Lacking the confidence to make a decision. Some people have to weigh the decision to the point of being unable to move forward. This is lack of self-confidence and often is a result of over critical parents or parents who made all the decisions for their children.
Last-minute syndrome: Subscribing to the myth that time pressure makes them more productive. Thrill-seekers think this is the best way to be creative. Unfortunately, they do not turn out to be more creative; they only feel that way. They squander their emotions on avoiding.
There are health costs to procrastination too. Procrastination leads to stress and stress leads to health problems such as insomnia, colds, stomach aches. Procrastinators tend to drink and smoke more when very stressed.
Not only do adults procrastinate, but so do kids. Students are notorious for procrastination. Students often have trouble managing time wisely. It is difficult for them to set priorities. As a result, social activities get priority status over academic projects. Students may also be overwhelmed with the task, and thus have difficulty concentrating or actually doing the work. This feeling often promotes delay and frustration. A fear of getting a bad grade can also lead to spending time worrying about the exam rather than completing them. The same characteristics listed above apply to student behavior.
How to overcome procrastination:
Set priorities: Discipline yourself to use time wisely and try to make a list that is realistic. Do the most important tasks first. Look at each task, not the whole list. This will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Recognize self-defeating motives: Recognize the qualities about your self that are causing procrastination, such as fear of failure, indecisiveness, and poor time management.
Modify goal of perfection: Try to get the task done without being perfect. See if that works for you. The goal is to do the best job possible in the time permitted.
Discipline yourself: Use your time wisely and don't set unrealistic goals. If you set out to do a chore for five minutes, do not allow any distractions to get in your way. The same thing applies to students.
Be a positive role model: Remember to let your children make decisions. Allow them to fail without being overly critical. Let them know you support their decisions. Keep in mind, children will follow your lead.
Change old habits step by step: It is possible to change, but old habits die hard. Take it one step at a time so you can begin to create healthy habits.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.”