No Time to Delay

Not all delay is procrastination.

Posted Mar 24, 2008

We all delay. Everyone does. How could we not delay when our lives are full of competing priorities, long to-do lists and, well, just more interesting possibilities than the task at hand. It can be wise to delay a task. It can be wise because we may need more information to proceed. It may be wise because the delay may allow you to muster additional resources. I could go on, but I think you see the point here. Delay happens.

So, if delay is ok, what about procrastination? Aren't these the same? No. Procrastination is a needless, often irrational, voluntary delay of an intended action (or task) even when we know that this delay will most probably compromise our performance or task completion itself. Procrastination is not a delay based on priorities. Procrastination is delaying an important task in favor of some alternative task that we really know is not as important, needn't be done right now, but seems more attractive, more rewarding.

Procrastination means that we have an intention to act. We often have a very explicit intention like, "I'll start that first thing Monday morning." The "that" in this case is something we regard as important. We know we're already "cutting it close" by putting it off until Monday, but even on Monday we avoid the task. Instead, we find ourselves reorganizing our iPod playlists, cleaning the desk (or even the fridge!) and moving from one task to another while guilt peaks through our best efforts to distract ourselves.

Why do we do this? What is the nature of this self-defeating behavior? What is it in us and the situation that undermines our "best intentions" like this? That is what we'll write about together a little at a time, weaving our own stories with research findings and insights from psychology more generally.

Tonight, I just wanted to get started. In fact, "just get started" is my personal mantra for beating the procrastination habit. I think of it as "priming the pump." But, this gets me ahead of my story and our writing together. We've started. I've introduced the distinction between delay and procrastination. Our conversation has begun. It's your turn. No time to delay.