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The Scoop On Procrastination

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I thought it might be good to explore the subject of procrastination today. I find that even though I'm managing to meet my commitment every day, I'm often waiting until the very last minute to do it.

So, From Wikipedia, we have this wonderful article on Procrastination, what it means, why we do it, and even the different types of procrastinators.

Procrastination refers to the counterproductive deferment of actions or tasks to a later time. Psychologists often cite such behavior as a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision. There are three criteria for a behavior to be classified as procrastination,it must be:

  1. Counterproductive
  2. Needless
  3. Delaying

(This sounds alot like that silly facebook game I got hooked on a while back... what about you guys? Anyone else have a game on facebook (or elsewhere) that is counterproductive, needless, and delaying?)

Procrastination may result in stress, a sense of guilt and crisis, severe loss of personal productivity, as well as societal disapproval for not meeting responsibilities or commitments. These feelings combined may promote further procrastination. While it is regarded as normal for people to procrastinate to some degree, it becomes a problem when it impedes normal functioning. Chronic procrastination may be a sign of an underlying psychological disorder.

The word itself comes from the Latin word procrastinatus: pro- (forward) and crastinus (of tomorrow). The term's first known appearance was in Edward Hall's The Union of the Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancastre and York, first published sometime before 1548. The sermon reflected procrastination's connection at the time to task avoidance or delay, volition or will, and sin.

(So, before 1548 no one was a procrastinator... they (we) were all sluggards. Personally I like the word procrastinator better than sluggard. It sounds more... I dunno... more professional and less lazy!)

Causes of procrastination:

  1. Psychological
    The psychological causes of procrastination vary greatly, but generally surround issues of anxiety, low sense of self-worth, and a self-defeating mentality. Procrastinators are also thought to have a lower-than-normal level of conscientiousness, more based on the "dreams and wishes" of perfection or achievement in contrast to a realistic appreciation of their obligations and potential.

    (I'll bet that this lower-than-normal level of conscientiousness can be directly linked to habitually breaking commitments made to oneself. I wonder which came first, the anxiety, low self esteem, and defeatism - or the not keeping of the commitments.)

  2. Physiological
    Research on the physiological roots of procrastination mostly surrounds the role of the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is responsible for executive brain functions such as planning, impulse control, attention, and acts as a filter by decreasing distracting stimuli from other brain regions. Damage or low activation in this area can reduce an individual's ability to filter out distracting stimuli, ultimately resulting in poorer organization, a loss of attention and increased procrastination.

    Procrastination can be a persistent and debilitating disorder in some people, causing significant psychological disability and dysfunction. These individuals may actually be suffering from an underlying mental health problem such as depression or ADHD.

    (Does it annoy anyone else that nowadays every problem under the sun is a "psychological disorder" or "mental illness?" On the other hand, "mental defect" or "character flaw" don't sound any better. Maybe I just don't want to think there's anything wrong with me ...)

Procrastination and mental health
While procrastination is a behavioral condition, these underlying mental health disorders can be treated with medication and/or therapy. Therapy can be a useful tool in helping an individual learn new behaviors, overcome fears and anxieties, and achieve an improved quality of life. Thus it is important for people who chronically struggle with debilitating procrastination to see a trained therapist or psychiatrist to see if an underlying mental health issue may be present.

People who exhibit procrastination and decreased impulse control appear to be prone to internet addiction.

(ok... so that's something to think about, and it's interesting because it occurs to me that the internet might be a procrastinators paradise! I mean, where else can a person spend so much time "seemingly" doing something, when in actuality, you're just goofing off. I personally love the internet... and while some of what I do is actually productive and necessary - a fair amount of time is spent just fiddling around. And for me, facebook is the ultimate distraction. What about you guys? do you find facebook addictive? or are there other places on the net that suck you in?)

Traditionally, procrastination has been associated with perfectionism, a tendency to negatively evaluate outcomes and one's own performance, intense fear and avoidance of evaluation of one's abilities by others, heightened social self-consciousness and anxiety, recurrent low mood, and "workaholism". According to Robert B. Slaney adaptive perfectionists (when perfectionism is egosyntonic) were less likely to procrastinate than non-perfectionists, while maladaptive perfectionists (people who saw their perfectionism as a problem; i.e., when perfectionism is egodystonic) had high levels of procrastination (and also of anxiety).

(Ok... yeah... perfectionist.. that's me. Sometimes perfectionism is a plus, but some of us take it to extremes... extremists that we are... and then.. well... it causes the sin of procrastination! At least that's what I'm thinking. Anybody else have thoughts on this one?)

Types of procrastinators

  1. The relaxed type
    The relaxed type of procrastinators view their responsibilities negatively and avoid them by directing energy into other tasks. It is common, for example, for relaxed type procrastinating children to abandon schoolwork but not their social lives. Students often see projects as a whole rather than breaking them into smaller parts. This type of procrastination is a form of denial or cover-up; therefore, typically no help is being sought. Furthermore, they are also unable to defer gratification. The procrastinator avoids situations that would cause displeasure, indulging instead in more enjoyable activities.

    In Freudian terms, such procrastinators refuse to renounce the pleasure principle, instead sacrificing the reality principle. They may not appear to be worried about work and deadlines, but this is simply an evasion of the work that needs to be completed.

  2. The tense-afraid type
    The tense-afraid type of procrastinators usually feel overwhelmed with pressure, unrealistic about time, uncertain about goals, and many other negative feelings. They may feel a sense of malaise. Feeling that they lack the ability or focus to successfully complete their work, they tell themselves that they need to unwind and relax, that it's better to take it easy for the afternoon, for example, and start afresh in the morning. They usually have grandiose plans that aren't realistic. Their 'relaxing' is often temporary and ineffective, and leads to even more stress as time runs out, deadlines approach and the person feels increasingly guilty and apprehensive.

    This behavior becomes a cycle of failure and delay, as plans and goals are put off, pencilled into the following day or week in the diary again and again. It can also have a debilitating effect on their personal lives and relationships. Since they are uncertain about their goals, they often feel awkward with people who appear confident and goal-oriented, which can lead to depression. Tense-afraid procrastinators often withdraw from social life, avoiding contact even with close friends.

    (When it comes to procrastination, which type are you?

    I think I'm a pretty good blend of both! More the first than the second, but I do definitely see myself in that second role of constantly wanting to unwind and relax right now, thinking I'll start "fresh" in some perfect future moment. I do love that phrase about "refusing to renounce the pleasure principle, and instead sacrificing the reality principle." It's interesting, since I don't find myself experiencing much pleasure... instead, it's mostly pressure.)

So there we have it guys! The scoop on procrastination complete with commentary. And how are we doing with our daily commitments? Anyone else got the procrastination bug? Or is it just me? If I'm not the only one, and if you've got it bad, here's a link to Procrastination Central. There might be something there you can use. And if it works for you, let me know. I need all the help I can get!


Shirley Twofeathers said...

One thing I have noticed is that since beginning this project, my activity on Vampire Wars (that facebook game I've been hooked on) has decreased markedly!

I didn't know why until I posted this article on procrastination. Looks like I might be making progress in that area already!

Karla said...

Personally, I like "Sluggard" and plan to use it every chance I get! Great word! I think I have a mental disorder known as "Reversus Procrastinationus" where the afflicted person takes care of all the responsibilities and delays fun, social activity or self-care. "I can read a book later, I should really mop the floor", "I'd like to call my friend, but perhaps I should wait until after I start dinner," and then I never call. Then I get to the end of the day and the place inside that needed those things is empty. "Oh Darn, ran out of time again!"

My goal is to be a sluggard but I don't know how!

Funny you posted this topic yesterday because I didn't get my sit ups done until late at night! I forgot!

Sudha said...

Me too ! These past 2-3 days by the time I finish "my thing" (the drawing a day), its the last thing I'm doing for the day .... :-(

Looks like I'm a procrastinator too. I need to snap out of it !!!

Shirley Twofeathers said...

"Reversus Procrastinationus" ... I like it, Karla!

And I agree that putting work before self care, friends, and fun is not always the better choice.

On the other hand... Not activating my debit card until it has expired and then I can't find it because I keep putting off cleaning off my desk but I don't have time to look for it because I still have to keep my commitment to myself, post on the prosperity project, make a flyer for a friend, and finish a website I have been procrastinating for weeks... and then suddenly realizing that I still haven't filed my income tax yet...and where the heck are my w2's in all this mess and OMG did I forget to get catfood again? And how the heck am I going to put gas in my car now that my debit card is expired? Especially since I don't have any cash and totally blew off ordering more checks... So, instead of taking care of any of that (because now I'm exhausted - and rightly so, having worked a long hard 10 hour day) I'm thinking I'd like to call my friends, chat for a while, turn on the TV and have a beer, (after a game or two of freecell) and does that make me a sluggard? or does that make me... um... well... the word overloaded comes to mind.

There... I think I feel better, but I'm not sure why! And of course I'm going to totally blow off the flyer, the taxes, and the website, but not our project, the commitment, or the beer....

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