There is an epidemic running wild through the world and it has affected generations of people. It’s not COVID-19 or a plague of any sort. Assuming you read the title, you might have guessed that the epidemic in question is: procrastination. This attitude towards work or condition of the mind has made getting things done a challenge for everyday people, like you or me. It especially affects me, but why? What IS procrastination and why do procrastinators act the way they do? How is it affecting people negatively?
The simple definition of procrastination is the action of postponing or delaying something. This condition, that has plagued adults and children alike, has been the bane of many undergrads and CEOs alike. It is speculated that procrastination may be due to the pleasure principle, coined by Sigmund Freud, where people will procrastinate to avoid stressful tasks. Procrastination manifests itself in unhealthy coping mechanisms for stress, like avoidance or distraction. Anything to justify or make someone feel better about procrastinating.
If it is so harmful, why do we do it? Going back to Sigmund Freud’s “pleasure principle”, Freud said that the human brain will always want to do the thing that is most pleasurable. That’s easy to understand. No one wants to do something they don’t like, but why is it becoming a bigger problem now? The answer probably is as simple as there are a lot of ways to distract yourself in today’s world. I may sound like someone’s grandparents when I say this, but it is true. Never in history have we had this much technology at our disposal. We have all the tools we need to distract ourselves from the things we don’t like. The amount of admitted procrastinators has nearly quadrupled from the amount in the late ’70s. The fact of the matter is, procrastination is easy and fun, and work is hard and stressful. Even when writing this article, I almost went down an internet rabbit hole of Freudian teachings. It may just be the culture today. , but our current society is full of instant gratification, which is a procrastinator’s favorite thing.
The habits of a procrastinator may look bizarre to someone on the outside looking in, and that’s because they simply are. I have put off doing projects and papers until the night before it’s due more times than I can count, but I will say it made those projects that much more exciting. It’s an awful idea and I will never recommend it, but the pressure of having to complete it that night made me more motivated and able to stay on task. This may be how many procrastinators think as well. Putting off several days of work until the last minute, and then doing it all in one day, with no breaks, is ridiculous. However, the work ethic seen in that one day is unmatched. Why could this be? Tim Urban gave a really good Ted Talk about procrastination ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arj7oStGLkUhere’s the link if you’d like to check it out) where he illustrated what goes through his mind when he procrastinates. He explains that everyone has a rational thinker in their brain.; someone who is on top of to-do lists, understands the big picture behind doing the work, etc. However, procrastinators have something called an “instant gratification monkey” that takes the procrastinator away from his work, and wants to do something that is fun and easy instead. The monkey has full control and makes it hard to do any type of work. That is, until the “panic monster” wakes up. He wakes up when your brain realizes that you are out of time to procrastinate, and that you need to work. The panic monster scares the instant gratification monkey away and enhances your work ethic, mainly through fear of failure and public humiliation. When I heard Tim Urban explain it this way in his talk, it all made sense to me. Again, I really don’t recommend putting things off.
Procrastination, even if someone says it’s helpful, is still damaging. Procrastination doesn’t just affect your work ethic, it affects your relationships and mental health as well. You may be putting off a serious talk with a spouse or significant other, or not hanging out with friends. This could severely damage a relationship, or even ruin it completely.
There are several ways to help overcome procrastination. You can act as you go by, completing tasks as you are given them. That way you will always be on top of your work. Minimizing distractions is also a good idea. I try to not look at my phone or emails while I’m working on my to-do list. If there are some things you especially don’t want to do, you can try starting your day by “eating an elephant beetle.” This means you pick a particularly grueling, or just not so fun, task and doing it early on, that way you don’t have to worry about it for the rest of the day.
Procrastination is an interesting subject to look into, and I think it’s worth trying to find out what makes a procrastinator tick. It affects a lot of people’s lives and can cause a lot of harm. Are you a procrastinator? What are some things you do to stay productive? Let me know in the comments below!