Thursday, January 20, 2005


I heard the word "procrastination" twice yesterday. The first time I had complained to my friend Mike that I was having a bad day, that I couldn't think clearly, and I just didn't feel like cleaning the house. He said, "procrastination's a bitch." I heard it the second time from Roxi, and inveterate procrastinator herself, while we were talking about putting off finishing our stitching projects. She told me I was procrastinating.

I decided to learn something about procrastination. I discovered that procrastination is caused by other underlying issues -- fear of failure, for example, or fear of success. Other causes are irrational beliefs, for example that everything must be perfect or done well, a need for control ("other people can't tell me what to do") or using procrastination to preseve a relationship or to prevent closeness. One author types procrastinators as follows:

...Sapadin and Maguire (1997) have also classified procrastinators into types: the "perfectionist" who dreads doing anything that is less than perfect, the "dreamer" who has great ideas but hates doing the details, the "worrier" who doesn't think things are right but fears that changes will make them worse, the "defier" who resists doing anything suggested or expected by someone else, the "crisis-maker" who manages to find or make a big problem in any project (often by starting too late), and the "over-doer" who takes on way too many tasks.

There are two types of procrastinators -- laid-back and tense. The laid-back procrastinator has irrational beliefs, such as "I can't do it because it's boring" or some other excuse. I am going to quote this author again:

The tense-afraid type of procrastinator is described by Fiore (1989) as feeling overwhelmed by pressures, unrealistic about time, uncertain about goals, dissatisfied with accomplishments, indecisive, blaming of others or circumstances for his/her failures, lacking in confidence and, sometimes, perfectionistic. Thus, the underlying fears are of failing, lacking ability, being imperfect, and falling short of overly demanding goals. This type thinks his/her worth is determined by what he/she does, which reflects his/her level of ability. He/she is afraid of being judged and found wanting. Thus, this kind of procrastinator will get over-stressed and over-worked until he/she escapes the pressure temporarily by trying to relax but any enjoyment gives rise to guilt and more apprehension.

Geesh, I see myself as both a laid-back procrastinator and a tense one! The point is, though, that procrastination must be addressed in two ways -- dealing with the problem(s) behind it, and establishing systems that prevent it. Some of these are:

1. Keeping schedules, to-do lists, and generally writing things down. These solutions are often short-lived because they don't address the underlying problems. It takes time to overcome procrastination.

2. Breaking tasks into small pieces, e.g. spending five minutes doing something.

3. Keeping a journal of feelings and thoughts about procrastination. What keeps you from getting going?

4. Dealing with why you hate work -- and other similar issues.

5. Getting cognitive behavioral therapy. It is clear from what I have read that procrastination is caused by irrational beliefs, something that cognitive behavioral therapy addresses. John Perry, in an article called Structured Procrastination argues that procrastination is a form of self-deception. In short, therapy helps.

Well, what about me? I think I have all these characteristics! I'm lucky though -- I have a cognitive behavioral therapist. But I think my friend Mike lit a fire under me when he said, "procrastination's a bitch." I promptly went downstairs and reorganized the entire kitchen. Now I have to get over being "bored" by the stitching project I'm supposed to be working on.

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