Self-Help Myths: Procrastination
The whole point of this self-help myths series is to provide an alternative perspective on common personal development topics and for many people there is no bigger a topic than top of procrastination. It is the original bad habit that causes you to get distracted when you should be working, means you put off important tasks, and ultimately leaves you have to rush your projects at the last minute. There is so much information out there on how to “overcome” it (even I have an admittedly great article, natch) that researching the topic itself can ironically become a form of procrastination.
Why do we get so hung up over it? Everybody procrastinates each and every day. The problem perhaps lies somewhere in the fact we humans struggle with forward planning, hence all the need for organizers and diaries. Cavemen didn’t worry about the future, they worked on their basic needs (food, water, shelter) as and when they needed to and that was pretty much all they had to worry about.
Modern society is naturally hugely more complex and our basic requirements are often taken for granted while we focus on other existential needs. However, there are very few things you can just go out and do right now. You have to plan and budget and seek advice and that is when the procrastination seeps in.
So essentially, what does procrastination cause you to do? It causes you to defer tasks till later dates, typically those tasks that provide us with the least benefit or fulfillment at the current time. For example, going out this evening is a much more enjoyable and immediate activity, compared to staying in and doing an assignment, from which the benefit to you (handing it in and getting a good mark) will not become apparent for perhaps another week.
Now let’s look at procrastination in a positive perspective and view the above example in a different light. The person may be leaving his assignment to the last minute but he will get it done (he has to work solidly for a couple of days but that is a separate point). He spent the first week after getting the assignment partying, going out and enjoying himself, but now in the second week the urgency of the assignment is more pressing. He has essentially followed his mind’s natural approach, of which procrastination is an element of that. Basically, he’s not doing things for the sake of it.
You could argue that by leaving it to the last minute he has caused himself stress and anxiety, compared to an individual who started the work early and was able to take his time. However, this latter individual was also essentially working against himself, having to consciously resist the desire for immediate satisfaction each and every day that he chose to work on the project when he didn’t really need to. Is that inner turmoil any better than the stresses of leaving something a little late to do?
Take another practical usage of procrastination. The first person has to buy a book for his course so he goes straight into town and picks it up at premium price. No procrastinating for this guy. The second person, however, puts it off for a few days. At this moment in time there is no immediate gain to him buying it (he naturally doesn’t want to spend so much money) and the timescale is too long (the course doesn’t start for a week). When he finally does decide it is time to pick it up a few days later he decides to do a little search and finds it is on special price on the internet so he has saved money. The first person wanted the book now, now, now so as not to procrastinate on being equipped for his course but it meant he didn’t give himself the opportunity to take some timely research and planning.
I would be very interested in your thoughts on this topic. Do you agree that procrastination is not always the great burden it would seem to be or do you think this alternative argument is nonsense?