Don't Delay

Understanding procrastination and how to achieve our goals

Unnecessary Illusions and the Truth about Procrastination

10 illusions about procrastination and strategies for change.

Moller Franz Illusion
I recently delivered an invited talk for an authors' series around the theme of "unnecessary illusions and truth." The theme fit what I've learned about procrastination over the past decade. Here are 10 illusions about procrastination with relevant research that challenges each.

Although I begin with the "illusions," my focus is more on strategies for change. I've kept it very brief with a sentence or two related to each illusion. I do provide links to previous posts that provide more information if something resonates with you.

ILLUSION #1: Procrastination can be beneficial. Delay can be beneficial, and we need to delay often as we plan, organize and optimize our use of time. Procrastination, on the other hand, is a needless form of delay that is self-defeating as a form of self-regulatory failure. Learn more with this previous post: Active Procrastination: Thoughts on oxymorons or consider some of the more existential issues related to procrastination with this post about the regrets of the dying.

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ILLUSION #2: It's just a matter of a few "all-nighters," it's not really harmful. Procrastination has been shown to undermine performance, well-being, even our health. Learn more with this post: I'll look after my health later.

ILLUSION #3: It's just poor time management. No, it's about self-regulation and willpower. Learn more about making more effective intentions with this post: Implementation Intentions facilitate action control or the importance of enhancing interest in a task. Learn more about self-regulation and how to strengthen willpower with this series of posts: Self-regulation failure: Eight tips to strengthen willpower

ILLUSION #4: Worry helps me cope. We have many irrational beliefs that contribute to our procrastination. Learn more with these posts Worry helps me cope, Frustration Intolerance and What do procrastinators think?

ILLUSION #5: I'll just check my email, it will only take a minute. Yes, it may only "take a minute" (or a few seconds to "check your mail"), but a minute later you face the same decision. Hours later, you're still checking mail, updating your facebook . . . where did the task go? Rational decions over irrationally short periods of time is the problem. Learn more with this post: I'll just check my email, it will only take a minute or Why I finally cleaned out my fridge.

ILLUSION #6: I work better under pressure. No you don't. You ONLY work under pressure. Research provides no evidence of an arousal procrastinator. Learn more by reading: In search of the arousal procrastinator.

ILLUSION #7: That assignment is due months from now, it's not that important. Oh, how we like to discount future rewards. Future tasks seem abstract and lack a sense of urgency. It really is an illusion of our task perception.  Learn more by reading: Biased Planning and Procrastination or Want to start a task sooner? Make it concrete!

ILLUSION #8: I'll feel more like it tomorrow! No you won't, but you may do the task tomorrow because "your back is up against the wall." We're very bad at predicting how we'll feel in the future. We focus too much on our present feelings or some single aspect of a task or the future plans. Learn more with this post: Affective forecasting, intentions and why we procrastinate and a strategy for change with Time traveling to reduce procrastination

ILLUSION #9: (After a poor performance due to procrastination) It could have been worse! Ok, this isn't truly an illusion, but we are deceiving ourselves to make ourselves feel better in the short term. We focus on downward counterfactual thinking to make us feel better now (read about "giving in to feel good"). We fail to learn from our mistakes. Learn more about procrastination and downward counterfacturals with this post: Avoiding what might have been

ILLUSION #10: Oh, procrastinators are perfectionists. Not so, only those perfectionists who have internalized maladaptive standards, often involving a lot of negative self talk.  Learn more starting with this post: The pernicious perils of perfectionism or What flavor of perfectionist are you?

There are more to consider, as we have many quirks of our brains that contribute to our needless task delay, but that's enough for today. The key thing is to just get started! (it will take you a long way past the typical excuses and guilt you've been feeling for the procrastination in your life).

Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., is an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, where he specializes in the study of procrastination.

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