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Procrastination: Study investigates why people put it off until tomorrow
Cleveland - Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.
CLEVELAND — Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.
It was Mark Twain's philosophy, and it has been adopted by 20 percent of Americans, but not without its share of negative consequences.
According to psychologists, procrastination remains a bane to modern times especially in an age of efficiency and high-density scheduling.
Anxieties stemming from delaying tasks or lack of sleep can be prevented when a person recognizes a problem exists and takes steps to eliminate it. Procrastination is a psychological condition caused and fueled by personality type combined with a specific situation.
The procrastinator is optimistic about his/her ability to complete a task on a tight deadline, says Dr. Tim Pychyl, associate professor, Carlton University, Ottawa, Canada. The problem may be more prevalent for people with busy schedules like veterinarians.
"It is human nature to put off distant goals," he says, "For example, if a paper is due in two months, a person might think he/she does not have to begin now. This is called temporal discounting."
Although Pychyl's study was conducted on students, he says procrastination occurs across the board — professionals included.
"Professionals have very busy lives," Pychyl says. "Balancing work and home can be very difficult. Often something is sacrificed that needs to be done, or delayed because it seems too daunting with piles of additional tasks needing to be completed."
If it is estimated that a task will take X amount of time to complete, a person feels there is an ample amount of time to perform the job later. Lulled by a false sense of security, time passes. When a person seemingly suffers no repercussions from procrastinating, they keep up the cycle.
"When I have goals set for the hospital — for example a refresher for technicians on diabetes, I make it a personal goal to prepare for my presentation," says Dr. Gwen Schneider, owner of Twelve Mile Animal Clinic in Gresham, Ore. "I announce a date and allocate a time, so I know I have to accomplish the task or let down the staff."
Students fall victim to procrastination more than other groups, authorities say. Virtually every college is poised to advise students on ways to avoid procrastinating, says Sheila Reindl, Ed.D., Harvard counselor at the Bureau of Study Counsel, Center for academic and personal development.
Dr. Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago says at least 20 percent of Americans are chronic procrastinators.
Ferrari's research focuses on people who tend to procrastinate or do little other than procrastinate. Ferrari found the most common reason procrastination perpetuates is because there aren't significant repercussions stemming from the delay. In cases where health suffers, due to procrastination, there may not be a way to undo actions.
"I am very self-motivated," Schneider says. "I grew up with an Irish mother who didn't let children be lazy. She ensured the trauma of being lazy was worse than the chore at hand."
On average procrastination is inadvertently rewarded in the business world with incentives such as last-minute shopping discounts and services such as travel, catering and flowers.
Ferrari agrees businesses perpetuate procrastination, but says the most pronounced group of procrastinators are students.
"Students are under constant evaluation," Pychyl adds. "Not everything students are assigned is interesting to them, they might not see the reward from performing the task."
Types of procrastinators
- Low self-confidence: The procrastinator may struggle with feelings of low self confidence and low self-esteem. He/she may insist on a high level of performance even though inadequate or incapable of actually achieving that level.
- I'm too busy: Procrastination may be used to call attention to a person's workload. This type of procrastinator may even spend considerable time justifying his/her reasons for delaying completion of tasks, which is also time that could be spent doing the work.
- Stubbornness: Sometimes procrastination is used as an expression of stubbornness or pride "I will do it when I'm good and ready."
- Manipulation: Procrastination can be used to control or manipulate the behavior of others. "They cannot start if I am not there."
- Coping with pressures: Procrastination is often difficult to eradicate since the delay behavior has become a method of coping with day-to-day pressures and experiences. "If I am cured, others will put new demands and expectations upon me."
- The victim: The procrastinator often feels like a victim: he/she cannot understand why he/she cannot get work done like others.
Hoping for a cure?
Pychyl says the limiting behavior of procrastination can be conquered. The person needs to realize he/she is delaying something unnecessarily, discover the real reasons for the delay, list them, dispute the real reasons and overcome them. "Be vigorous and begin the task," Pychyl recommends.
"When you place value on a goal, I find I'm much more likely to make it happen." Schneider adds. "In a veterinary practice, chores can be set aside due to lack of manpower or they appear to be too difficult to handle on your own. Procrastination occurs on many different levels, and I feel a good self-evaluation can prevent it from happening."