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Procrastination is a form of self-regulation failure that involves prioritizing short-term mood repair over the long-term pursuit of intended actions (Sirois & Pychyl, 2013). Basically, it’s more fun to watch TV or read a book than to clean the toilet. At least, in the moment. The problem is that the toilet isn’t going to clean itself. Long-term, its dirt weighs on you. It’s also important to note that making dinner for the family instead of getting that report out is not procrastination. That’s delay. Children, partners, pets, and other things out of our control are not procrastination. Procrastination is avoidance.
25% of adults procrastinate, and that shoots up to 80-95% in college or university students (Steel, 2007). And it’s not just a work problem. When I ask the question, “What is the one thing that you are not doing everyday that, if you did do it, would have a significantly positive impact on your life?” most people do not talk about work. They talk about things like exercise, healthy eating, and meditation. When we procrastinate on things to do with our mental and physical health, it can lead to anxiety, depression, poor sleep, and other nasty side effects.
It’s a misconception that procrastination is a time management problem. It’s not poor time management, it’s poor mood management. People procrastinate on tasks that are boring, frustrating, unpleasant, lacking meaning, or lacking structure. These kinds of tasks cause negative moods and humans are wired to avoid those feelings. It turns out that people who don’t procrastinate aren’t better at time management. They’re better at mood management.
Unfortunately, while it might feel better in the moment to stay up late watching the latest show on Netflix, procrastination ultimately leads to guilt, shame, and stress, which will ultimately cause more negativity and entice you to stay up late again the next night to try to feel better. Of course, that only causes more guilt, shame, and stress. The vicious cycle gains momentum spiralling toward despair.
“But what if I do my best work when working to a deadline?” Well, you may feel that way. But the research has shown that people who report working better to a deadline, in fact produce higher quality of work when they haven’t procrastinated.
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