By Hara Estroff Marano, published on October 1, 2003 - last reviewed on November 25, 2009
Maybe you tell yourself you perform better under pressure. Or that the work you do when you're not feeling in the mood to work isn't very good. Or you think that you can't do anything well unless you're feeling at the top of your form.
Uh-oh, you've got the earmarks of a procrastinator. Of course, you've got lots of company. Twenty percent of people identify themselves as chronic procrastinators. These are people who don't pay their bills on time, who miss opportunities for buying tickets to concerts, who leave Christmas shopping until Christmas Eve. Let's not even talk about income taxes!
College seems to bring out the procrastination in people. In the college setting, up to 70 percent of students identify themselves as procrastinators.
Of course, it won't help you get things done any faster to know that procrastination isn't good for your health. But putting things off creates higher levels of stress and sends all those stress hormones coursing through your body, wearing it out faster. And it puts you at risk for poor health because you're just as likely to delay seeking treatment for medical problems as you are to delay everything else.
Procrastination actually weakens your immune system. It keeps you awake at night. And it doesn't do a thing for your relationships either. It makes loved ones resentful, because it shifts the burden of responsibilities onto them.
Procrastinators are made and not born. That's both the good news and the bad news. Good because it's a learned response, and what's learned can be unlearned. The bad news is that while it's possible to change, it takes a lot of psychic energy and you don't necessarily feel transformed internally.
You should know that some people who think of themselves as procrastinators really aren't. In a world of unending deadlines, they just put too many things on their "To Do" list. They're not avoiding tasks, the mark of a bona fide procrastinator; they're getting things done, just not as many as they would like.
It's easy to tell whether you're a real procrastinator. According to Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at De Paul University in Chicago, real procrastinators tell themselves five lies:
• They overestimate the time they have left to perform tasks.
• They underestimate the time it takes to complete tasks.
• They overestimate how motivated they will feel the next day, the next week, the next month -- whenever they are putting things off to.
• They mistakenly think that succeeding at a task requires that they feel like doing it.
• They mistakenly believe that working when not in the mood is suboptimal.
Procrastinators also actively look for distractions, especially ones that don't take heavy-duty commitment on their part. Checking e-mail is just about tailor-made for this purpose. The dirty little secret is that procrastinators distract themselves as a way of regulating their own emotions, such as fear of failure.
So face it. Some tasks are never going to be thigh-slappers no matter how long they marinate on your desk. You've got to do them now.
How to tackle procrastination? Dr. Ferrari recommends these strategies for reducing procrastination:
1. Make a list of everything you have to do.
2. Write a statement of intention.
3. Set realistic goals.
4. Break it down into specific tasks.
5. Make your task meaningful.
6. Promise yourself a reward.
7. Eliminate tasks you never plan to do. Be honest!
8. Estimate the amount of time you think it will take you to complete a task. Then increase the amount by 100%.