Procrastination: The Art of Putting Things Off

Procrastination is something that every human will experience at some point. While it may not be putting off a project or a specific deadline, you probably are avoiding a conversation you know you need to have, or maybe avoiding going to the doctor or seeing a counselor to get help with your health struggles, or an art project you started last year is still sitting unfinished somewhere. There are things that we put off, often driven there by emotions like fear, worry, uncertainty, or hurt.

Since this is a common human experience let’s work to remove the guilt or shame that can sometimes follow along with procrastination. Full admission, I am writing this blog 2 days after I had put the initial deadline on my calendar, how’s that for irony! “Hello, I’m Dr. Kate and I am a procrastinator!”

There are several theories on why we procrastinate that range from it is a task that makes us anxious, or we fear the outcome to the task at hand is unpleasant, like cleaning the bathroom. I think that because our thoughts get involved, we simply find justifications for not doing things that we don’t want to do. And those without an external deadline (placed there by someone’s expectation) can be put off for a long time. So, if we as humans just do this how do we procrastinate less and why is it important?

One reason that paying attention to our level of procrastination is because it is also one of the first symptoms for burnout. Procrastination might be an indicator to help you recognize your own burnout. Burnout can happen with school, work, a leadership position, club membership, or as a volunteer. When you lose the desire to show up in those spaces, putting off tasks for those spaces also comes along. If you find that you are putting off tasks that you would not have a week or a month ago, consider that burnout is likely occurring. Burnout is something you want to address sooner because it doesn’t generally go away on its own.

So, what do we when we find ourselves procrastinating? First it is important to think about what kind of procrastinator you are being. These 4 types, highlighted in Business Insider by Ali Schiller and Marissa Boisvert, may help you to better understand your specific way of procrastination. They are the performer, the self-deprecator, the overbooker, and the novelty seeker.

The Performer: Something you might say as a performer is “I work well under pressure.” You are the person is very deadline oriented and believes that they work best under a time crunch. Your biggest challenge is getting things started. Shift your deadline and set a start date instead of a due date.

The Self-Deprecator: If you are this type you might find yourself saying “I am being so lazy right now.” You are extra hard on yourself when you are the exact opposite of lazy. Rather than admitting that you are tired you blame laziness. You find is very hard to take a break. Give yourself some time to recharge in between tasks. Try going for a walk or have a quick dance party to bring your energy levels back up.

The Overbooker: You will identify with this type if you find yourself saying “I am so busy” often. You always fill your calendar up and often feel overwhelmed. When you can’t get to something it is because you are too busy. You are challenged by creating the chaos so you can avoid things you need to address. Reflecting on the question “what am I really avoiding?” can help you identify those tasks that you need to prioritize. Once identified set a plan for facing those tasks first thing on the following day, or better yet, do them right then in that moment.

The Novelty Seeker: You are person who always has a new idea, and it is always “the best idea ever.” You like new and shiny objects. You are an action taker and have a hard time completing everything you start. Instead of starting on that new idea, take note of it somewhere and then when you finish the work you currently have you can return to start working on that idea.

Procrastination does not have to be an ever-constant cycle. You can take steps to approach your work differently, so you are able to complete more and be more productive. So, the next time you find yourself putting things off, take a moment and reflect on why and what type of procrastination is giving you that reasoning so you can either tackle the task or work to let it go.