Everyone procrastinates, but for about 20 percent of Americans it’s a chronic way of life. Not only can this tick off your boss but it can seriously impact your health and quality of life. Let’s face it … it’s nearly impossible to feel calm and positive when you’re trying to finish a weeks’ worth of work in one day.
And if you procrastinate about other matters, such as paying your bills, you’ll be hit with hefty fees as a penalty. Even worse, if you procrastinate about eating healthier and exercising, you’re setting yourself up for chronic disease.
Quite simply, procrastinating is not conducive to happiness. So why do so many of us do it? It’s not a matter of time management or even motivation … it’s about our struggle with self-control. We know what we should be doing, logically speaking. But emotionally there’s that little voice saying … “but I don’t want to!”
Adding to the problem, most of us have an inability to accurately predict how we’ll feel in the future[i] (or we simply alter our prediction to please us in the moment). For example, putting off your most unpleasant tasks now will make you feel worse tomorrow, when they’re still waiting to be done, probably now along with even more.
But in the moment, when you’re putting off said tasks, you tell yourself that you’ll feel more motivated, inspired or energized to do them tomorrow. That’s rarely true. As Psychology Today put it:[ii]
“Procrastinators may say they perform better under pressure, but more often than not that’s their way of justifying putting things off.”
There are, in fact, many proven ways that procrastination may harm your life. For instance, procrastinators:[iii]
- Show evidence of compromised immune systems and suffer from more colds, flu and gastrointestinal problems
- Shift the burden of responsibility onto others and in so doing destroy teamwork in the workplace and at home
- Are more likely to drink greater amounts of alcohol and often drink more than they intend to
- Miss out on opportunities and often sabotage their own success
- Often have insomnia
How to Stop Procrastinating
If you’re a chronic procrastinator (or even an occasional one), change is possible. Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at De Paul University in Chicago, is a leading researcher in the study of procrastination. He has published numerous works on the topic, including how to overcome procrastination (which he refers to as a “maladaptive lifestyle”).[iv] Below are his top strategies for reducing procrastination:[v]
“1. Make a list of everything you have to do.
Write a statement of intention.
Set realistic goals.
Break it down into specific tasks.
Make your task meaningful.
Promise yourself a reward.
Eliminate tasks you never plan to do. Be honest!
Estimate the amount of time you think it will take you to complete a task. Then increase the amount by 100%.”
Other important tools include:[vi]
9. Reduce distractions: Most procrastinators welcome distractions, but this is self-sabotage. It’s estimated that it takes about 23 minutes to get back on track after an interruption. The average worker is interrupted every three minutes[vii] … so you can see why it may feel so difficult to get anything done if you don’t actively avoid distraction.
10. Do the most unpleasant tasks first: Your willpower grows tired with use, just like a muscle. This means come afternoon or evening, it will be far harder to stay on course than it is first thing in the morning. Get your toughest tasks of the day out of the way first.
11. Be honest about what tomorrow will bring: Try to imagine the consequences of your procrastination today, right now. If you’re putting off saving for retirement, what will your “golden years” be like? If you put off exercising, what will it mean for your health in five or 10 years?
Written By: Updated: December 7,2014