How to Manage Your Procrastination

Most people procrastinate in executing certain tasks. Some justify their delayed performance by various explanations while others berate themselves and are perplexed about the reasons for their self-hindering habits.

Many people assume that their procrastination is due to the tasks being boring, burdensome, unpleasant or difficult. Others maintain that they do so because it is a required, not a volitional choice and thus it impedes their autonomy. Some claim that boredom, or fears of failure may sway them from timely performance. Others resent trading unsatisfying activities for soothing, pleasing or enjoyable ones. Though all these reasons may be occasionally correct they are not the true causes of procrastination. What does propel us to continue delaying some actions in spite of grave or even punitive consequences?

Professor Peers Steel of the University of Calgary who studied procrastination for over ten years estimated that procrastinators account for 15-20 percent of the population. Some pay heavy financial or practical penalties for resisting completion of expected performance. He also concluded that self-help books are wrong about “Perfectionism being the root cause of procrastination.” His “Temporal Motivational Theory” offered proof that other motivators are more likely to be the causes of procrastination. The formula factored the individual’s level of motivation about completing the task in relation to his/her availability and sensitivity to delay.

Researchers Dianne Tice and Roy Baumeister of Case Reserve University rated students’ level of procrastination and tracked their academic performance, stress and general health throughout the semester. They found that despite the initial benefits to the procrastinators’ relaxed attitude and greater temporary pleasures, “Procrastinators ended up suffering more and performing worse than other people.”

Psychologist Timothy Pychyl of Carleton University in Canada found that, “Procrastinators recognize the temporal harm in what they are doing, but can not overcome the emotional urge toward a diversion.” He concluded, “Emotional regulation, to me, is the real story around procrastination, because to the extent that I can deal with my emotions, I can stay on task.”

My professional experience with individuals who procrastinate supports the above research conclusion that emotions sway procrastinators from staying intellectually focused on their tasks at hand. When our attraction to playful, pleasurable and enjoyable experiences is in command it hinders access to our mature reasoning.

Dr. Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis Model divides behavior into three “ego states”: Parent, Adult and Child. When we are in our Parent ego state we focus on what we “should” do. The Adult ego state offers us the logical reasoning for conduct and the Child ego state activates our child-like emotional reactivity. In the latter state, the access to logic and principles is temporarily blocked and we resort to childish tantrums and demand pleasure as a necessity. Once this model is understood, adults can easily learn to regulate their inner guidance appropriately.

To regulate procrastination:

  • Understand that procrastination is a reversible habit.
  • Learn about your “Ego-States” to effectively transition between them and to manage your playful part when action is needed.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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