Procrastination is a strange phenomenon. Its purpose seems to be
to make our life more pleasant but instead it almost always adds
stress, disorganization, and frequently failure. Ellis and Knaus (1977)
and Burka and Yuen (1983) describe the process: (1) You want to
achieve some outcome, usually something you and others value and
respect--"I've got to start." (2) You delay, briefly thinking of real and
imagined advantages of starting to change later--"I'll do it tomorrow
when I don't have much to do." (3) You delay more, becoming self-
critical--"I should have started sooner"--and/or self-excusing--"I really
couldn't have left the party early last night, my best friends were
there." You may hide or pretend to be busy; you may even lie about
having other obligations. (4) You delay still more, until finally the task
has to be done, usually hastily--"Just get it done any old way"--or you
just don't have time--"I can't do this!" (5) You berate yourself--"There
is something wrong with me"--and swear never to procrastinate again
and/or you discount the importance of the task--"It doesn't matter."
(6) You repeat the process almost immediately on other important
tasks, as if it were an addiction or compulsion.
The wisest course of action, most of the time, would be to simply
do the unpleasant task as soon as practical, while we have enough
time to do the job right and get it over with, not prolonging our agony.
But we put it off. Why? There are many possible reasons: (1) we feel
good about setting goals and declaring that we are going to change or
succeed "sometime," (2) by procrastinating we shorten the time we
actually have to work on the task, and (3) much of the time we avoid
the unpleasant task altogether. Research has shown that 70% of New
Year's resolutions are abandoned by February 1.
Discipline is... 1. Do what has to be done; 2. When it has to be done; 3. As well as it can
be done; and 4. Do it that way every time.
In recent years, most psychologists have come to believe that the
act of procrastinating can best be understood by identifying the
emotions associated with or underlying the behavior. Actually,
procrastination is an attempt to cope with our emotional reactions.
What are these emotions? Fear of failure or success is the most likely
emotion (this includes panic when we set impossible goals). Anger is
another possible emotion (this includes rebellion against control).
Dislike of the work that needs to be done is another. Obviously,
depression can slow us down (and failing due to procrastination can
depress us). Seeking pleasure is another disruptive motive. So the
task for the procrastinator becomes (1) correctly identifying your
form(s) of procrastination and (2) finding a solution for your specific
emotional reaction. Not an easy job.