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The Anatomy of Procrastination
By procrastinating, a person doesn’t know what they have done for around 218 minutes a day. In other words, more than 3 hours go missing every single day, and about 55 days — almost 2 months are lost every year. Imagine every night you put 100 bucks in your wallet, and the next morning when you open it, 30 bucks are missing and you don’t know where the money has gone. This is what procrastination does.By procrastinating, a person doesn’t know what they have done for around 218 minutes a day. In other words, more than 3 hours go missing every single day, and about 55 days — almost 2 months are lost every year. Imagine every night you put 100 bucks in your wallet, and the next morning when you open it, 30 bucks are missing and you don’t know where the money has gone. This is what procrastination does.
We all procrastinate, and we procrastinate a lot.
Even if you do make an effort to fight procrastination, the tide is against you.
Modern Living Has Made It Even Easier to Procrastinate
Not only is procrastination tough to beat – but it’s getting even tougher. The percentage of chronic procrastinators has grown from about 5 percent in 1978, to 26 percent in 2007, as shown in a study by University of Calgary.1
In today’s always-connected age, there are constant temptations to choose procrastination over action. Checking the latest news, updating social media accounts, and chatting digitally with friends from around the world. It’s literally a non-stop cycle of news, notifications and quirky YouTube videos.
Now, please don’t get me wrong. The internet is a great thing, and has brought about a communications revolution. The problem is that without control on your part, the internet can suck your life and energy – just like an electronic vampire.
And you don’t need to take my word for it either. A recent study by Webtrate showed that email and social media stole an hour of productivity per workday for about 36 percent of people, while 16 percent lost more than an hour.2
The trend towards procrastination is a powerful one – but technology is not the the only thing to blame.
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At Its Core, Procrastination Is About Our Emotions
It turns out that procrastination is at the core of each of us.
Procrastination is strongly linked to our emotions. Let’s briefly talk about biology — the limbic system. This system acts as the brain’s emotional center. It’s developed to manage circuitry attributed to the fight-or-flight response.3 In other words, the limbic system primes us to ‘feel’ first.
When our feelings are negative (e.g., when we hear bad news), we look for ways to distract ourselves. Usually, this involves giving into instant pleasures such as: chocolate, social media and TV marathons.
The same thing applies to procrastination. Say you need to complete a project at work that involves tons of research. Unfortunately for you, research is something that you don’t enjoy, so you find yourself constantly looking for ways to avoid starting (let alone finishing) the project. This might involve making lots of coffee or tea, chatting with colleagues, or working on anything other than the project.
Procrastination and emotions are eternally linked, and unless you discover how to step out of this union, you’ll be forever destined to be weak and hesitant. Fortunately, there are ways to break free.
The 5 Procrastination Personalities
Our instinct to navigate to instant pleasure first has led to five distinct ‘procrastinator personalities.’ Let’s take a look at each of these personalities – and see if you can identify yourself in the process.
1. The Perfectionist
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Being perfect is the pleasure perfectionists want. But often this leads to them being too scared to show any imperfections. Because of this, they frequently fail to complete things, as they’re forever seeking the perfect timing or approach. Tasks end up never being completed, because in the eyes of the perfectionist, things are never perfect enough.
You’ve no doubt encountered these types (and you may even be one of them) in your day-to-day life. In the office, perfectionists can be found staring intently at their screens, as they continually make minor changes to their spreadsheets, documents and presentations. Instead of finishing something, they get caught up in a never-ending cycle of additions, edits, and deletions. Someone needs to tell them that perfection is rarely realized.
2. The Dreamer
Dreaming is fun when compared to real life – which involves lots of challenges and difficulties. It’s no wonder that a dreamer prefers to stay in the dreaming stage. That way, they don’t have to work for real, or deal with any negativity or stress.
Dreaming gives this type of people a false sense of achievement, as in their minds, they envision big, ambitious plans. Unfortunately for them, these plans will most likely stay as dreams, and they’ll never accomplish anything truly worthwhile.
You probably know someone like this. Every time you meet them, they tell you of their grandiose ideas and goals, but not once do they state what they’re doing to bring these dreams into reality. After years of hearing their stories, you come to a valid conclusion: they’re just dreamers.
3. The Avoider
Avoiders have bought into the line that ‘by doing nothing, bad things won’t happen.’
In reality, avoiders have developed a fear of making mistakes or doing anything wrong. Their way to avoid these mishaps, is to do nothing at all. In the end, they may make few mistakes – but they also see few accomplishments.
In the workplace, avoiders are easy to spot. They seldom speak, preferring to keep themselves to themselves. They also lack proactivity, instead, they favor the motto: ‘I’ll just do the bare minimum.’ They may regard themselves as solid and reliable workers, but in reality, they lack drive, ambition and the spark of life.
4. The Crisis-maker
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Crisis-makers are those who believe that deadlines can push them to do better. Instead of having a schedule to complete their work – they prefer to enjoy time doing their own thing before the deadline comes around.
It’s most likely an unconscious thing, but crisis-makers evidently believe that starting early will sacrifice their time for pleasure. This is reinforced in their minds and feelings, by the many times they manage to get away with burning the midnight oil. Often they sacrifice the quality of their work because of rushing it.
Without naming the individual, let me tell you the story of a crisis-maker I used to work with. He was a party lover, and frequently came to work late – and not in the best state either. He was blessed with charisma, and so was able to come across in meetings as focused, organized and determined. The real story was that his work would be left until the very last minute, when he would then make a massive effort to finish it. Sometimes this went well, other times his work was littered with careless and costly mistakes.
5. The Busy Procrastinator
A busy procrastinator is certainly busy – but they lack the ability to prioritize their work. They do what they feel like they should do, rather than thinking through what they really need to do.
Prioritizing tasks is a step that takes extra time, so a busy procrastinator will feel it’s not worth it. In these cases, they delay doing what’s really important, because they don’t actually recognize it as being important. Because of this, they usually end up doing a lot of effortless tasks that don’t contribute much to a project.
I come across busy procrastinators all the time. They look super busy, but their output and results reveal their lack of organizational skills. They’re incessantly busy on low-impact tasks, but seem oblivious to urgent, high-impact tasks. It’s the equivalent to a thirsty cat licking the outside of a bowl filled with milk – its efforts are focused on the wrong place!
If you suffer from procrastination, identify which of the above personality types you most closely match. Once you’ve done that, take some time to reflect on how you became like that, and then think of ways to step outside of your conditioned behavior. For example, if you’re a dreamer, look for ways to turn your dreams into reality. In most cases, you’ll need an end goal – and a plan to get there. You’ll also make it easy on yourself if you take small, but certain, steps at a time.
Everyone has a different reason to procrastinate, but every reason points to our prime to feel first. By understanding how your emotions make procrastination happen, you can figure out the exact action to turn around the negativity.
I’ve written another article about how to control your emotions better to beat procrastination, read it and find out how to adjust your tasks to avoid the negative emotions.
Don’t let procrastination steal your life. Be active, be confident, and become a person of accomplishment.
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