Thursday, December 6, 2012

Procrastination hurts - really

Procrastination by imotov
Procrastination, a photo by imotov on Flickr.
C'mon, you know you do it.  It would probably be accurate to say that everybody does it.  It might be mostly at work, it might be house chores, or it might be as simple as setting an appointment for the dentist.  But procrastination is an almost universal condition.

There are many cited consequences associated with putting things off until tomorrow (or the next day) that you should be doing today.  But there is one that doesn't get a lot of attention:  procrastination hurts.

When you think it's out of your mind it really isn't.  You carry the task's weight around, and it circles in your short-term memory loop, popping up periodically saying, "Don't forget!"  And once you're well into a behavioral pattern of procrastination you're probably carrying more than one around in there.  The mental and emotional weight of those things that are still undone creates stress, which creates cortisol, which adds to your physical weight and the potential for other negative physical symptoms.  Stress depresses your libido, and for some of you that should be reason enough not to procrastinate!  Stress from procrastination not only compromises your results - it steals your health and interferes with your relationships.

It's relevant here to create a distinction between tasks that are deadline-driven and those that are not, because the procrastination is different and its impact is different.  Let's take the example of filing a federal tax return, a deadline-driven task.  A lot of people don't like to start the process because their information is not organized, or because they know that they will be writing a check when they submit their tax return.  So they wait.  Ultimately, though, they have to suck it up and do their returns if they want to be legal.  And as of April 16th, even if they procrastinated until the second-to-last minute the task is ultimately done, and they can heave a sigh of relief.  Until next January, when the process likely will repeat itself.

A task not driven by a deadline might be something like exercise.  There's no drop-dead date.  Well, there is, but by then it's too late, isn't it?  Nobody besides you, your loved ones, and perhaps your physician is requiring you to walk for 30 minutes per day starting today.  It's easy to put it off because it's not convenient, or because you're not dressed for it, or because you ate a lunch that was too big.  Ultimately you will see the consequences of your procrastination, perhaps in a paunch around the middle or shortness of breath.  Buying new, bigger clothing hurts your wallet, and shortness of breath can be physically painful or scary.  But unless the negative consequences are big enough you might just relegate the non-deadline actions like your exercise program to "Someday Isle".  And it will stay there, lurking in the back of your mind and eroding your image of yourself as a competent, confident person.

Procrastination is the battle between

  • I should
  • I have to, and by ___
  • I don't want to
  • I want to
  • I'm afraid to
  • I don't know how to
  • What if it doesn't work
  • I'm not ready to
and the rewards of taking action now, some of which are evident and some of which are not.  You might have a hard time believing that the benefits of taking this immediate action will be big enough to make it worthwhile.  You might even be having a hard time believing that you deserve a good outcome.

Doing something right now might hurt a little bit.  It might not be convenient, or comfortable, or glamorous.  But if you wait you run the risk that it will hurt a lot.  On the tasks that you're procrastinating right now, some of the consequences might not be dire, but some will have long term implications for you.  If it's going to hurt a little bit, get it over with and check it off your list.  Then go get a Band-aid (or a cup of coffee) if you need one and get on with your day.

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