Don't delay dealing with procrastination

Procrastinating behaviour can be changed, experts say. We'll do it tomorrow

Every week it’s the same story. I tell my husband I’m sitting down to write my column. Ten minutes later, he looks over my shoulder and points out that it doesn’t look like I’m writing my column. That’s when I admit I’m just uploading photos of the snow in Dunedin, checking my email or any one of a variety of other not-writing-my-column things.

According to a chapter on Mental Help Net, there's an interesting dichotomy with procrastination.

“Its purpose seems to be to make our life more pleasant but instead it almost always adds stress, disorganisation, and frequently failure.”

It summarises the process pretty well — you want to achieve something but you delay, coming up with reasons for why it makes sense to wait. Then, of course, delay even more and either start berating yourself for your behaviour or perhaps making more excuses. Then, you guessed it …you delay even more, until it just has to be done and done speedily. Of course, you swear you’ll never put yourself through that again right before doing exactly the same thing again (although some people may justify the behaviour by saying whatever task they were doing wasn’t that important).

Mental Help Net says there are two types of procrastinators — tense ones and relaxed ones.

Tense types, goes the theory, judge themselves by what they do and worry they’ll be found wanting. So they procrastinate in order to get some brief respite by trying to relax, “but any enjoyment gives rise to guilt and more apprehension".

The relaxed type on the other hand, “often feels negatively toward his or her work and to such a person, the gain is not worth the pain, especially since the necessary work is seen by them as so distasteful or boring or stupid that they just can't do it.”

The good news is that procrastinating behaviour can be changed. The Mental Health Net chapter advises trying some simple behavioural methods first, such as To Do lists, a daily schedule, and “a simple record-keeping and reward procedure”.

However, in an article originally from Psychology Today and reproduced on Yahoo Health, Hara Marano quotes one expert who says procrastination isn’t about time management.

"Telling someone who procrastinates to buy a weekly planner is like telling someone with chronic depression to just cheer up," the article quotes Dr. Joseph Ferrari.

Mental Health Net says if the simple behavioural methods mentioned above don’t work, then you may need to address the underlying fears that cause procrastination in the first place.

One tip is to reduce your dislike and anxiety about the work at hand — don’t always be negative about the work or your ability to do it.

Another is to not let yourself get away with action cop-outs (doing something that isn't a priority like watching TV); mental excuses (you’ll do it later because that suits better) and emotional diversions (“taking drugs, listening to music, reading novels”).

If you’re a tense type, then reduce your fear of failing by seeing that your “worth is not totally determined by an assignment at work”. Have alternate plans if you don’t succeed and tell yourself that if you do fail it won’t be the end of the world.

According to a Career Planning article, procrastination is linked to an inability to distinguish between urgency and priority; getting distracted, forgetfulness and lumping: “the errant perception that most tasks come as an inseparable whole (a ‘lump’) that cannot be subdivided and dealt with systematically”.

Fear and perfectionism are also big factors and the article suggests "dechunking" - breaking a task down into manageable chunks so it doesn’t seem so daunting.

So are you a procrastinator? Are your workmates? Is IT any more or less prone to procrastination than other fields? Let me know your thoughts.

Mills is a Dunedin-based writer. She can be contacted at

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