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  • Writer's pictureWendy Jameson


It seems the procrastination bug caught up with me! Several weeks ago I bought some items intending to resell them on eBay and make a profit. I visited eBay and began building a site to sell them, but I stopped short of completing it, and now I can’t get myself back into doing it. And I have the time!

What is it that keeps us from taking those necessary steps to complete something? Why do we put them off until the last minute? According to Hara Estroff Marano of Psychology Today, procrastination is “actively expending mental energy to put something off”, and what looks like procrastination may be something else—poor task management, excessive demands with optimistic expectations, or worse, depression. Only you can know which it is.

Here are 10 things to know about procrastination:

  1. Twenty percent of people identify themselves as chronic procrastinators. For them it’s a lifestyle and pervades all aspects of life. Bills are late, opportunities missed, shopping forgotten.

  2. Our culture doesn’t take it that seriously. It’s a profound problem of self-regulation, and Americans seem to see more of it, since we tend to tolerate excuses.

  3. Procrastination isn’t a problem of time management or planning. Procrastinators are not different in their ability to estimate time, although they are more optimistic than others. Telling someone who procrastinates to buy a weekly planner is like telling someone with chronic depression to “just cheer up.”

  4. Procrastinators are made, not born. It’s learned in the family, but often due to authoritarian parenting. Harsh, controlling parents keep children from internalizing their own intentions and learning to act on them.

  5. Procrastinators drink more than they intend to. It’s another manifestation of generalized problems in self-regulation. They adapt avoidant coping styles, leading to substance abuse.

  6. Procrastinators lie to themselves. They say, “I work better under pressure,” or “I’ll feel more like doing it tomorrow,” but they don’t in fact.

  7. Procrastinators actively seek distractions. Email is the perfect out, as it kills time and keeps one from realizing failure. If you don’t do it, you won’t fail!

  8. Not one shoe fits all. According to Dr. Joseph Ferrari of De Paul University, there are three types:

    1. Thrill seekers, who wait like the euphoric rush

    2. Avoiders, who fear failure or even success, as they’re concerned what others think of them

    3. Decisional, since avoiding a decision prevents responsibility for its outcome

  9. Procrastination costs. The stress of carrying the psychic load can lead to depressed immune systems, more colds and flu, gastrointestinal disorders and insomnia. And, it adds to the burden of others, destroying teamwork.

  10. Procrastinators can change. But it takes a lot of reflective work to determine the root cause, plus creating new habits.

Before you beat yourself up about procrastinating, determine whether it’s the demands, your unwillingness to say no, or a symptom of something worse. Then find someone to talk to, so you can get the help you need.

Originally published in March 2005, "Mind Matters", Building Edge Magazine.

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