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Are You a Procrastinator?

It's not always about procrastination. If you think of procrastination as a trait, then we all have a certain amount within us.

We have to start with the definition of procrastination. In general, procrastination is the gap between intention and action. You wake up with the intention to write a report. But for some reason it is aversive, and you keep putting it off. A key point—procrastination involves actively putting something off, not just letting something slide in front of it from a too-long to-do list.

Only you can tell whether you are a procrastinator. It usually involves some negative feeling when you put off a task, like anxiety or guilt.

If you think of procrastination as a trait, then we all have a certain amount within us. It's related to conscientiousness, your sense of orderliness, of dutifulness. People who are low on the trait of conscientiousness also tend to be procrastinators. But for most of us, the "procrastinating" that we do is not problematic. Most likely, we are unduly beating ourselves up for being procrastinators when the real problem is that we live in a world that is loaded with deadlines. And we're just engaging an a kind of after-the-fact task management.

College, for example, makes procrastinators of many people. Or, rather, it brings that trait out even in people who have low levels of it. There are constant deadlines, apprehension about evaluation comes with the territory, and and projects are constantly being foist upon students that compete for their time.

The point is, not all deferring of tasks is procrastination. Dr. Pychyl insists that we make the distinction. There is such a thing as the planning fallacy. Most of us are overly optimistic, especially about what we are going to get done. We drag home bulging briefcases for the weekend, even if we know at some level that we can't possibly do all of it.

We live in a world with lots of deadlines. We put things off as a matter of good task management, but we wind up beating ourselves up and mistakenly attribute it to procrastination. When realistically we probably put too many things on our plate.

But the waters get a bit muddy here because true procrastinators rationalize away their own self-injurious behavior by invoking the press of competing demands. Unlike the rest of us they are not de facto prioritizing their activities, they are actually actively expending mental energy to put something off.

Here's another way that not everything that looks like procrastination is procrastination. Like procrastination, depression involves a failure to act. It's one of the things that characterizes depression—lack of energy and motivation. People who are depressed are likely to beat themselves up for procrastinating, when in fact in their case procrastination is the surface symptoms of mental illness. And it must be handled differently.

So before you beat yourself up for procrastinating, check to see whether you make a career out of it. If you don't do it in most of the areas of your life, then probably you are not a procrastinator. Now you really have no excuses… so get moving!!