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Procrastination: What Exactly IS It?

Today I was procrastinating, mainly on the computer, but I also discovered other ways to waste time as well.   It was just one of those days. My day was spent in a state of meta-awareness that I was not accomplishing anything (I brought up the pre-lit Christmas tree from the basement so it appeared to others that I had done some holiday decorating!).  I was mildly frustrated but also fascinated by it.  Before long, I was on the internet reading about procrastination.

Procrastination: : to put off intentionally and habitually.  According to a 2003 issue of Psychology Today, there are 3 types of procrasinators:

  • arousal types, or thrill-seekers, who wait to the last minute for the euphoric rush.
  • avoiders, who may be avoiding fear of failure or even fear of success, but in either case are very concerned with what others think of them; they would rather have others think they lack effort than ability.
  • decisional procrastinators, who cannot make a decision. Not making a decision absolves procrastinators of responsibility for the outcome of events.

Only three types of procrastinators, eh?  Three types of foot-dragging, time wasting, dilly-dallying slackers? With all due deference to Psychology Today,  I came up with 3 more types of procrastinators:

  • The Lightening Bolt Procrastinator, who requires a jolt of energy or inspiration but who isn”t necessarily seeking the “wait for the last second thrills.” Maybe this type of procrastinator is like a weak car battery that  needs a jump start from time to time.  Perhaps this is a  cousin to the “Arousal Procrastinator.”
  • The Experimental Procrastinator, who is intrigued by a concept and has to test it out further right now. today I wondered if lying on my right or left side would yield different types of thinking or perspectives on a problem (right brain versus left brain thinking styles.)   I had to try it out and I think it does make a difference, by the way.
  • The Investigational Procrastinator, who curiosity is piqued by a topic and who needs to learn about it right away.  The internet is a particular temptation to the Investigating Procrastinator.

Anyway, as I continued my investigation into the roots of procrastination, I remembered that the December/January issue of Scientific American Mind writes about procrastination as it’s feature story(This is an excellent magazine, by the way, the only one I subscribe to). In the article, one scientist states that “procrastination is about not having projects in your life that reflect your goals”   In the same article, a clinical psychologist characterizes the 6 steps that lead to procrastination.  Another contributor states that procrastination is merely a bad habit. Procrastination is rather prevalent. Twenty percent of all adults claim to be chronic procrastinators. Apparently, procrastination plagues 80-95% of all college students!

The more I dug into the topic of procrastination, the more I realized how complex it is.  Is it caused by inner fears? Distractions? Uncontrolled curiosity? Goals that do not resonate within ourselves? I sensed that I had only touched the surface of this topic!  I also realized that you don’t always have to understand all of  the underpinnings of a go nowhere behavior before you can do something about it!

Given that revelation, I resolve to try  5 new strategies that I will use NOW to try to increase my productivity:

1. Worst first. To defeat procrastination learn to tackle your most unpleasant task first thing in the morning instead of delaying it until later in the day.  This small victory will set the tone for a very productive day. I guess that means folding laundry first thing in the morning.

2. Mini-milestones. When you begin a task, identify the target you must reach before you can stop working.  For example, when working on a book, you could decide not to get up until you’ve written at least 1000 words.  Hit your target no matter what.  I used to tape myself to a chair in college until I finished certain portions of my homework. It worked then it should work now.

3. Cone of silence. Take a laptop with no network or WiFi access, and go to a place where you can work flat out without distractions, such as a library, park, coffee house, or your own backyard.  Leave your comm gadgets behind.  I will take household paperwork or documentation for work to the coffee shop. Cell phone stays in my purse.

4.Timeboxing. Give yourself a fixed time period, like 30 minutes, to make a dent in a task.  Don’t worry about how far you get.  Just put in the time.   It’s time to buy a timer!

5. Set time limits on daydreaming. I love to daydream and churn ideas over in my mind. But like chocolate cake, you can have too much of a good thing.  I will allow myself “thinking rewards” but not on an unlimited basis.

So let’s see how this works! By the way, I invite you to comment on what you do to stay focused. Or are you a procrastinator too?



This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. wait! i forgot one that is worse than car maintenance… putting groceries away! as soon as the cold stuff is put away, the rest can sit for hours!

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