Dear Dr. Yael,
I love your column and I truly related to your great tips on dealing with procrastination. The problem for me is that my daughter-in-law is a procrastinator and her whole family procrastinates. However, she gets very exuberant and gets things done at the last minute. I wonder if she loves doing things at the last minute and if yes, is this a problem.
Dear A Fan,
Procrastination can be self-defeating. If your daughter-in-law gets things done at the last minute, the excitement of a deadline may make her be more productive. Even if it bothers you, this is not necessarily an issue. It seems like your daughter-in-law has taken a family trait and uses it in a healthy manner. There are people who love the challenge of the last minute and get a lot done. Procrastination is only a problem if it causes someone stress. Almost everyone procrastinates at some point in their life. For many people, procrastination doesn’t interfere with their quality of life (as it seems with your daughter-in-law), but if someone finds themself continually procrastinating, and then regretting it, they could be caught in a negative cycle.
Procrastination is generally defined as “a self-defeating behavior pattern, marked by short-term benefits and long-term costs.” Most individuals think of procrastination as putting off things that we need to get done. According to a 2014 study on procrastination and coping, 20-25% of adults worldwide are chronic procrastinators. Procrastinating can be linked to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, ADHD, and poor study habits. Procrastination is also correlated with negative functioning and risks to mental health. People who procrastinate tend to have high levels of anxiety as well as poor impulse control. Of course, as noted above, if procrastinating works for someone’s life and they can function and be productive in this way, it’s not a negative thing or a risk factor (as these people only procrastinate for the short term and then are productive and get things done before the “deadline”). However, procrastination becomes a problem that needs to be addressed when things are not getting done and the individual is not productive. In those situations, it is important to figure out why the person is procrastinating and then come up with a treatment plan to address whatever the issues are. For example, if someone is procrastinating because they are a perfectionist or they fear making a mistake, this needs to be addressed and worked out. Procrastination can cause a lot of anxiety, so it is not healthy to let other issues impact getting things done as it can cause added anxiety and depression.
As noted in the last column about procrastination, the best thing to do is to just start the activity that you are procrastinating on because taking action will help the next steps flow naturally. Even just deciding you will work on the task for 15-30 min can help kickstart the activity and prevent more procrastination. If the task seems daunting, you can break down the task into more manageable chunks that you can more easily accomplish. A lot of times individuals procrastinate because they are overwhelmed, so breaking down the task into smaller, more digestible parts will make it more manageable. Additionally, if you find yourself dreading or resenting a task, it can be helpful to introduce positive thoughts or reward yourself in a small way for getting it done. For example, you can motivate yourself to go to an exercise class by treating yourself to coffee with friends afterwards. You can also use intangible rewards like focusing on the college degree you will earn if you write the annoying term paper.
Lastly, it is important to understand that procrastination is not laziness. Procrastination is a behavior caused by the stress in our lives or by unfounded negative beliefs we have about ourselves. If you are a person who tends to procrastinate and it interferes with your ability to be productive, don’t be hard on yourself and don’t put yourself down. Instead, assess if your behavior may be linked to fear, anxiety, ADHD, or another underlying issue. If it is, it is important to find help for the underlying issue so you do not keep up the negative and anxiety provoking cycle. Hatzlacha!