Procrastination

Problem or Plus?

I am simply lazy.
I don't like my professor, so why should I do the work.
It is exciting to 'pull off' my assignments at the last minute.
I want my work to be perfect.

Many people believe these statements and tend to live their lives accordingly. Often the result of this thinking is procrastination, a universal human behavior. In fact, everyone procrastinates on occasion. Whether procrastination becomes a problem or not depends on how much negative impact procrastination has on each person's life. Some people put off doing tasks, but finally complete them; yet others cannot ever seem to get assignments finished.

Read on to understand (1) when and where procrastination is a problem, (2) six basic reasons people procrastinate, and (3) helpful strategies for overcoming and coping with procrastinating behavior.

Typically, procrastination is seen as a problem when it disrupts some area of a person's life. Judith Provost (1988) has proposed seven conditions that reflect a level of disruption due to procrastination. The following check list has been adapted from Provost's conditions. Check this list to determine whether or not procrastination is a problem for you.

  1. I sometimes feel sick from the physical and psychological stress of putting off work that I know needs to be done.
  2. I sometimes feel depressed and not in control, having lost self-confidence and self-esteem because of my procrastinating behavior.
  3. Sometimes I feel paralyzed and unable to act and to make decisions.
  4. I feel that I have lost the respect of others because of my procrastinating behavior.
  5. The quality of my academic work is less than what I know I can do.
  6. I have had serious conflicts in my relationships because of my procrastination.
  7. My procrastination has created an obstacle to the achievement of my significant personal goals.

If you checked two or more of these items, procrastination seems to be affecting your life in a negative manner. Yet, because all people procrastinate at some time or another, it is important to determine which parts of your life are most prone to procrastinating behavior.

It is extremely rare for any one person to procrastinate in all areas of life. Most people are selective in their procrastination. The following check list has been adapted from Burka and Yuen (1983). Mark those areas where procrastination seems to effect you most.

Personal

__Eating properly

__Getting enough sleep

__Exercising

__Getting a haircut

__Health care (doctor, dentist)

__Bathing

__Balancing your checkbook

__Recreation/hobbies

__Other: ____________________

School

__Going to class

__Doing homework

__Studying for tests

__Writing papers

__Doing projects

__Reading

__Paying bills

__Getting financial aid forms

__Finding a place to live

__Going to the library

__Talking to an instructor

__Taking care of parking tickets

__Pre-enrolling for class

__Joining a club

__Other: _________________

Work

__Going to work

__Getting to work on time

__Completing tasks

__Looking for a job

__Preparing a resume

__Calling a perspective employer

__Other: ______________________________________________

Home

__Calling a repair person

__Cleaning

__Doing laundry

__Grocery shopping

__Paying bills

__Doing dishes

__Other: ______________________________________________

Relationships

__Talking with friends

__Writing letters

__Calling friends

__Going out

__Asking someone for a date

__Giving a party

__Ending a bad relationship

__Visiting relatives

__Calling relatives

__Clearing the air with a friend

__Other: ______________________________________________

What area in your life tends to be most affected by procrastination?

Now let's look at some reasons why you may be procrastinating. All people procrastinate at some time or another, and most are aware of how procrastination works against them. Yet, for most people, procrastination can also work for them. For instance, you can delay making decisions or doing work in order to give yourself time to get your thoughts in order. You can also choose to put off a task because it has a low priority. But procrastination can also serve as a way to avoid something. That something may seem to you to be even worse than the consequences of the procrastinating behavior.

The following are six basic reasons why you may procrastinate. As you read this section, check those reasons that seem to apply most to you. These categories are not mutually exclusive. You may see some of yourself in more than one section.

But, I Don't Know How
A skill deficit is one of the most basic reasons for procrastination. If you lack the skills to complete certain tasks, it is only natural to avoid doing them. For example, you may be a slow reader. If you have several lengthy articles to read before you can write a paper, you may postpone the reading because it is difficult. You may even have trouble admitting to your poor reading skills because you do not want to seem dumb. Procrastinating may seem better than facing your need to improve your reading skills.

The key to solving skill problems is to identify what the problems are. Often a counselor, an instructor, or another professional can help you to make this determination. When you know the problem, then you can take action to correct it. There are many resources at Kansas State University that can help you solve skill problems (see the resource section of this brochure).

This Stuff Is Just Plain Boring
Lack of interest seems to play a role in procrastination. All students from time to time lack interest in a course. However, not all of these students delay in studying or completing assignments.

If your natural interests are not stimulated by the course content, one solution to procrastinating may be to just do it (i.e., simply continue to attend class and do the assigned work on time). This will give you more guilt-free time to do those things that are more interesting to you. Of course, it won't necessarily make the class or assignment interesting, but at least you will not cloud the good times with worry.Consider that the problem is actually the unrealistic standards that have been set, not your failure to meet them. The problem, and thus the failure, may be that you begin to believe that you are not a worthy human being. You may procrastinate to such an extent from fear of failure that you are actually paralyzed. Thus, you do not complete the task and achieve a more realistic level of success.

I Don't Feel Like Doing It
Lack of motivation for a task is a commonly given reason for not attending to an unpleasant task. Most procrastinators believe that something is wrong with them if they do not feel motivated to begin a task. This simply is not true. How many folks do you imagine feel motivated and energized by the prospect of raking leaves, or changing the oil in the car, or doing taxes? These tasks are often seen as unpleasant and less than exciting.

To believe that you must feel motivated in order to begin has the order of events in reverse. In The Feeling Good Handbook, Burns (1989) writes that the doing comes first, and the motivation comes after. Starting a task is the real motivator, rather than motivation needing to be present prior to beginning. Often just taking the first step, regardless of how small, can serve as an inducement for further action.

Another strategy involves taking an attitude check. Ask yourself: Does my attitude prevent me from being motivated? If your answer is yes, then it is time to figure a way to make an attitude adjustment. This may mean giving up on the idea that everything in life must be interesting or that I have to like all my classes for them to be worthwhile. It may also mean re-evaluating your goals and determining the steps that do or do not fit into the larger picture. If succeeding in the boring class seems to be a necessary step to achieving your larger goals, that fact alone may motivate you.

But What If I Can't Cut It?
Fear of failure is another reason people procrastinate. It goes something like this: If I really try hard and fail, that is worse than if I don't try and end up failing. In the former case, I gave it my best and failed. In the latter, because I really did not try, I truly did not fail.

For example, you may postpone studying for a major test and then pull an all-nighter. The resulting grade may be poor or mediocre, but you can say, "I could have done better if I had had more time to study". Similarly, you may delay researching and writing papers until the last minute, turning papers in late or incomplete. You then can also say, I know I could have gotten a better grade on that paper if I had had more time.

The payoff for procrastinating is protecting yourself from the possibility of perceived "real" failure. As long as you do not put 100 percent effort into your work, you will not find out what your true capabilities are. Another variation on this theme is that you may often fill your schedule with busy-work so that you have a legitimate reason for not getting around to more important tasks.

Perfectionism often underlies the fear of failure. Family expectations and standards set by parents may be so high that no one could actually live up to them. Procrastination steps in to derail parental expectations and standards and prevent you from really failing.

How Can I Top This?
Fear of success seems to be another side of fear of failure. Here you procrastinate because you are fearful of the consequences of your achievements. Perhaps you fear that if you do well, then next time even more will be expected. Or succeeding may place you in the spotlight when you prefer the background.

Procrastination of this kind may indicate an internal identity conflict. If your self-worth is tied to your level of achievement, then you may constantly question yourself about how much you must do to be good enough. Each success only sets you up for the next bigger challenge. If your self-worth is tied to family acceptance, then what more does it take for them to be satisfied? Each success only opens the door to greater and greater expectations.

Often this leads to a feeling of losing your identity and perhaps no longer being able to claim your successes as your own. Inaction or procrastination may be the outward expression of this feeling of being lost. In other words, procrastination may be how you cope with the pressures you feel to constantly try to be good enough.

You Can't Make Me
Rebellion and resistance constitute the final set of issues that can underlie procrastinating behavior. Delaying tactics can be a form of rebellion against imposed schedules, standards, and expectations. The expectations are often those of parents, teachers, and friends. Procrastination in this instance is the acting out of a power struggle, usually not on a conscious level.

For example, your father has an accounting business and has always planned on having you become his partner after college. You are enrolled in the College of Business Administration and like accounting, but since you started college you have been wanting to explore some other careers unrelated to business. Your father says, No, you'll stick to accounting and like it. As a result, you turn in work late, forget to do assignments, and earn low grades, sometimes flunking a course.

Rebellion against external evaluation is another facet of this sort of procrastination. For example, if a teacher has offended or angered you in some way, you may retaliate by turning something in late or procrastinating indefinitely. You can also use these same tactics on classmates in a cooperative venture or with parents. The thing to remember is that you ultimately lose (i.e., getting the bad grade, loss of self-respect, etc.).

Rebellion and resistance are reactions not actions, thus the control of your behavior rests with whatever or whomever you are rebelling or resisting. If you are rebelling against your parents, then they have a great deal of power in your life probably more than you really want. Decide what you want for your life don't just react to someone else.