Procrastination is something we often shrug off or joke about down the pub with colleagues. Perhaps we even think of it as a kind of ‘badge of honor’ and are proud of the fact that we struggle to get work done. Being efficient isn’t very popular after all…
But procrastination is not something to be proud of or ignored. Actually, it is a significant problem that affects countless people and there’s a good chance that tackling it could drastically improve your quality of life.
If you’re feeling tired or overwhelmed, if you’re struggling to get into shape, or if you’re feeling yourself drift from your friends because there aren’t enough hours in the day… then procrastination is likely right at the cause of those problems. If not, it is certainly exacerbating them.
Let’s look at why that is and at just why this is such a serious issue.
How Procrastination Affects Us
The first and most obvious way that procrastination affects us is by stopping us from doing the things we need and want to do. The significance of that is something that must not be underestimated.
If you procrastinate for an hour every time you go to answer your work e-mail, work out, call a friend, send an important letter or file your taxes… then ultimately you will either not get that job done, or it will take longer to complete. And as a result of that, you will then either get into trouble or you will have less time to spend doing the things you want to do in your free time. Or the next thing that you need to do.
Never seem to have time to phone that old Uni friend? If you had just procrastinated a little less before making the call then you probably would have had plenty of time.
Still out of shape despite making it your new year’s resolution to lose weight for the past five years running? Again, if you could finish work faster and get home half an hour earlier, then you would have ample time to be in shape. Assuming you could motivate yourself to do that.
And here’s the thing about procrastinating: when you do it, you aren’t enjoying yourself. We procrastinate because we don’t want to work but what we end up doing is no better. Instead you end up absent mindedly watching videos on YouTube, looking through old Facebook photos or obsessively checking your e-mail. And while you do these things you feel stressed. Even if you did nothing with the extra time, you could at least actually enjoy spending the time to relax and do things you actually want to do.
If you didn’t procrastinate then you’d be less stressed, your house would be tidier, you’d have a better relationship with your friends, you’d probably be earning more, be better read and you’d be healthier. Even if you could just get one hour back per day, imagine what you could do with that time…
If all this sounds a little extreme and unlikely to apply to you then think again: the statistics make it more than clear that procrastination affects a large proportion of the population to a very serious extent.
One survey conducted by the Procrastination Research Group asked ‘to what extent is procrastination having a negative impact on your happiness?’. A whopping 46% of the 2,700 responders said ‘quite a bit’ or ‘very much’ while 18% said it had ‘an extreme negative effect’.
Another survey says that one out of five people are likely to procrastinate to the point where it actually jeopardizes their careers, credit, relationships or health. 40% of people have experienced financial loss as a result of it.
The Worsening Problem
And all the research backs up the idea that procrastination is on the rise. It really is an epidemic in the literal sense of the word. This also tells us that procrastination shouldn’t just be seen as ‘normal’ but as a worsening problem that is likely symptomatic of our current lifestyles. The fact is that most of us are stressed and overworked and are bombarded with distracted media.
One possible explanation for the fact that our procrastination is getting worse is that it’s the result of the internet. These days we constantly have access to all the information we could possibly need, literally at the touch of a button. We never have to wait and if we don’t instantly find what we’re looking for, we will look elsewhere. There is evidence to suggest that using media has literally changed our brains resulting in shorter attention spans – potentially contributing to our procrastination.
Procrastination and Health Issues
Those are the surveys but in controlled laboratory experiments procrastination has similarly been exposed as a dangerous phenomenon. One study looked at procrastinators and non-procrastinators and then measured the differences. They found that people who procrastinate are more likely to experience:
- Poor sleep
- Higher alcohol consumption
- Extreme anxiety
- Obsessive compulsive disorder
- Even memory loss
Procrastination and Stress
Let’s focus on that alcohol consumption for a moment. In another study it was found that alcohol consumption was actually precisely correlated with procrastination. In other words, the more you procrastinate, the more you’re likely to drink.
Why might this be? Well it could well come down to stress.
Remember that when you’re absent-mindedly surfing the web instead of working, or when you’re putting off making that phone call, you’re likely to very much be in a state of stress. What this means, is that your body is flooding itself with neurochemicals like norepinephrine and cortisol – all the things that raise your heart rate and cause the ‘fight or flight’ response. This puts your body under strain and makes you more susceptible to getting ill, making mistakes or developing mental health disorders. Stress in the wild is supposed to be an ‘acute’ response to help keep you alert and responsive. But when it becomes extended and chronic, it can take a toll on your body that really isn’t healthy.
Furthermore, if you procrastinate and don’t get your work finished, then it just means you will still have it ‘hanging over you’ when you should be able to switch off and relax. This is where the financial issues come in and where you start to risk putting strain on your relationships and career. The result is a stressful existence that becomes a vicious cycle.
Addressing Your Procrastination
If you ignore your current procrastination, then chances are that it will only get worse. This is a habit and like all habits it can be hard to break. If you only have mild and ‘normal’ procrastination, then there’s a chance it will stay the same and you’ll continue to lose hours of your week to stressful hours browsing the web. On the other hand, it could get worse and eventually you might find yourself with all of the mental health problems and health conditions that have been associated with severe procrastination.
But there are things that can be done. With the right mental techniques, a little meditation perhaps and some helpful lifestyle changes, you can potentially train yourself to stop putting off the things you have to do and to get them done right away.
Imagine how this might impact on your life: in no time you would start completing your work more quickly which would mean you could either complete more or go home early to spend more time with your family. In general you’ll perform better at work and this might eventually be recognized and reflected in your salary.
Perhaps then you would have the energy needed to call up about changing your energy bill, or to move money to your other bank account so that you were no longer in your overdraft. These things don’t take long, so once you’ve got your tendency to procrastinate under control you can tick them off quickly and easily. Then maybe you’d do some tidying, perhaps even do a workout. Normally you might just crash on the couch at this point but with procrastination no longer a problem there’s nothing to stop you using these evening hours productively. Train for long enough and you might find yourself finally getting that six pack you’ve been gunning for and you’ll start feeling more confident as a result.
On the nights when you don’t have any tidying or training to do, you might instead opt to phone that friend you haven’t spoken to for ages. Maybe at the weekend you’ll even have time to grab a drink.
No longer will you be playing ‘catch up’, instead you’ll be ‘ahead’ and that will give you the time to start pursuing things that interest you. Maybe you could learn a new language? Start writing a novel? Or set up a side business to rake in even more financial rewards?
But best of all, you’ll be able to just sit back and relax in the evenings knowing that you’ve done everything on your to-do list. You’ll have no stress and nothing playing on your mind – you’ll be able to just close your eyes and feel completely at ease. Which in turn means you’ll be able to tackle tomorrow with even more energy.
Once you address this epidemic you’ll find that everything gets better.
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