What’s the busiest day of the week? Tomorrow. And what’s the busiest time of day? Later. In our fast-paced lives where competing and increasing priorities are rampant, it’s easy to procrastinate. Most of us are guilty of it—delaying and putting things off—but there’s a cost to that behavior, whether it’s in our personal or business lives.
The Science Behind Procrastination
Unfortunately, procrastination has been around since the beginning of time. Around 800 B.C., the Greek poet Hesiod cautioned not to “put your work of till tomorrow and the day after.” One of the first studies to document the ill effects of procrastination was published in 1997 in Psychological Science. Researchers evaluated college students for levels of procrastination and then tracked academic performance, stress levels and general health over a full semester. While students initially showed lower stress levels compared to their peers, the tables soon turned. In the end, the procrastinators earned lower grades and demonstrated higher levels of stress and illness as well as decreased quality of work.
Why We Procrastinate
According to psychologists, people procrastinate for a number of reasons:
- Lack of motivation. Most procrastinators cite lack of motivation as a reason for not completing tasks. Yet, waiting until the mood strikes means the task will likely never get started, especially if it is boring or unpleasant. Action comes before motivation, so taking the first step, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction.
- Lack of skills. If a person lacks the skills necessary to complete a task, it’s natural to avoid it. Procrastination may seem like the better option over facing the need to improve skills. But by identifying the problem, the procrastinator can seek out the help necessary to overcome the challenge.
- Fear of failure. Most people fear failure, criticism and rejection. That’s normal. But it’s important to look at how these responses provide feedback that can help us grow and develop, both personally and professionally. We all make mistakes. Putting things off won’t prevent that.
- Fear of success. Some people fear the consequence of achievement. If we do well, people will expect more from us in the future. Or perhaps success will put us in the spotlight when we prefer being in the background.
Tips for Overcoming Procrastination
If you are a procrastinator, start by forgiving yourself for past transgressions and take the following steps to get yourself on the road to completing your next project:
- Identify the reasons you are procrastinating.
- Seek help to overcome any challenges such as lack of skills or clarification of expectations.
- Identify personal goals, values and priorities.
- Break larger projects down into smaller tasks and establish deadlines for each step.
- Calendar the time needed to complete each step and stick to your plan.
- Reward yourself for completing tasks along the way.
The High Cost of Procrastination
On a personal level, procrastination can lead to a variety of physical and social effects. These include depression, lowered self-esteem, insomnia and illness. In business, procrastination can result in decreased customer satisfaction, challenges with co-workers and missed opportunities. It can restrict your potential and undermine your career. Above all, procrastination in the workplace costs organizations valuable time, money and quality. The first step to overcoming procrastination is to recognize that it is happening. From there, look at the reasons why and use appropriate strategies to manage and overcome it.