The Enemy of Procrastination

Procrastination is the primary cancer of productivity. It is an internal disease that silently snipes progress from occurring. As a motivating thought enters one’s mind, procrastination has the ability to suffocate the thought before it can be transformed into action or behavior. Even the best intentions often stand no chance of surviving from the assassin called procrastination.

We briefly touched on procrastination in a previous blog article posted to this site called “Common Vision or Diversified Perspectives”. In the blog article, there was a TED Talk by Adam Grant that discussed perspectives, and in his speech, he brought out numerous details concerning procrastination.

The Threat of Procrastination

As faculty, we deal with the threat of procrastination every day we enter the school. The most obvious threat is with our students. Every time we hold a class meeting, make an assignment, or set a deadline, our students have a threat to procrastinating.

Spring

As a university faculty member, I often semi-fear spring. In the spring, the  frozen touch of winter fades into warm, sunny days with cool breezes, and the potential for endless fun outdoors. So, a communications class at 2:00pm does not always become the number one priority of some students.

All it takes is a student leaving one class to walk outside for a moment and to experience the beauty of spring. The threat of procrastination rises. “Wow. It is nice out here. I think I’ll get some lunch and sit down out here to enjoy the weather.” A minute turns into ten minutes, and ten minutes turns into an hour. The student knows my class begins at 2:00, but as time approaches 1:00, 1:30, 1:45, 1:50, 1:55, the urge to “skip” class and remain outside increases. Procrastination sets. An intentional decision is made, and a few moments later, an absence is recorded in my grade book.

Speech One

In addition to attending class, procrastination often plagues our students with assignments. This semester, I surveyed my students in class after our first speech. I simply asked them, “Who will admit to the fact that they did not prepare at all for this first speech?”

Ironically, I had about ten percent of my students raise their hands in front of their classmates admitting they had done no preparation at all towards their speech.

When I asked why, there were numerous reasons, but it all came down to one basic concept. It was Speech One. They did not know how strict I was going to grade them. They did not know what topic everyone else was going to present. So, they just kept delaying their preparation because they let these uncertainties paralyze them. They procrastinated. And, the quality of those speeches were poor compared to the average speech by their classmates.

Provision of Resources

Keep in mind, this is my twelfth year teaching, so I knew procrastination was a threat. So, I had taken measurements to help the students defeat the threat.

  • I had explained, in great detail, exactly how I would grade their speeches.
  • I fully expressed my expectations for the first speech.
  • We spent an entire class discussing appropriate topics.
  • And, the class had completed three practice speeches before this first major grade entitled “Speech One”.
  • I even gave a sample speech myself, and I showed videos of other college students presenting a speech, so they could see someone like themselves present.

Nonetheless, at least ten percent of my students admitted to not preparing. Over my twelve years of teaching, I have witnessed many attacks of procrastination on my students. And, I have learned how serious it can be.

Defining Procrastination

We need to spend some time focusing on what it is, where it derives, and how to manage it.

Merriam-Webster defines procrastination as “to put off intentionally and habitually” and “to put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done”. (1)

Therefore, procrastination is delaying action on purpose. It is knowing something needs to be done, but it is making the decision not to do it.

Do not confuse this concept with forgetfulness. If one of our students asks for an extension because they forgot an assignment, it is not procrastination. It is forgetfulness. And, it is probably a lack of organization too since they did not make a reminder or a note to do the assignment. But, it is not procrastination.

Procrastination is intentional. It is a decision that someone makes. It is often associated with being apathetic, lazy, and even insecure or self-doubting.

The Reach of Procrastination

Another element to understand concerning procrastination is the reach it has on people.

Psychology Today states, “Everyone procrastinates sometimes, but 20 percent of people chronically avoid difficulty tasks and deliberately look for distractions — which, unfortunately, are increasingly available.” (2)

History

In addition, procrastination is not just a new issue that has emerged from our technology and information availability. Rather, it has been an issue throughout history.

In an article by Eric Jaffe entitled “Why Wait? The Science Behind Procrastination”, he recalls historical instances of the views of procrastination. He says, “The Greek poet Hesiod, writing around 800 B.C., cautioned not to “put your work off till tomorrow and the day after. The Roman consul Cicero called procrastination ‘hateful’ in the conduct of affairs.” (3)

Availability

I do feel, though, that procrastination has risen in recent history though, as people now have more opportunities to intentionally delay action.

  • Dinner needs to be made, but I’ll just check Facebook on my smartphone for a few minutes before I begin cooking.
  • It is time to get dressed and head to work, but I’ll look up the weather first, and then maybe just check out the top news stories of the day. And, I might just glance at the sports scores from last night too.
  • I need to finish my report, but I need to let Jane know about the meeting change. Instead of just calling her briefly, I’ll compose a nice email and send it to her. Then, I’ll follow up with her later just to make sure she received my email.

In all of these examples, there is no devastating behavior taking place. Technology is being utilized in ways that people would not have imagined thirty years ago.

These are all simple choices made by someone throughout their day. But, notice how each one leads to a delay in actions. And, notice how each one contradicts the basic principles of time management, at least to a minor degree.

Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator

The following Ted Talk entitled “Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator” is by Tim Urban. This speech allows us to sail through the thoughts of a person who deals with procrastination. It is a perspective that worth hearing. Hope you enjoy this video! 

My Personal Struggle

Procrastination has always plagued me. I certainly identify myself as a procrastinator. But, it is not procrastination in the sense of being lazy. And, I say this honestly. Laziness is the not the issue for me. And, I don’t mind admitting my issues. I just do not believe laziness is one of them.

Rather, I feel I sometimes take on more work than I need to assume. So, most days, I find myself with a long “To-Do” list. Take my current situation for example.

To Do’s

I am writing this post on March 8, 2017. Here are my current activities and daily duties:

  • Teaching five courses at my university.
  • Taking my final two courses in my doctoral program, where I will begin my dissertation this upcoming August.
  • Co-leading a business with my business partner, Thomas Harris, where we blog (the article you are reading now), produce videos, create products, and give away content to help others become exceptional in their lives and careers. We are large enough to have a lot to do, but we aren’t large enough to hire other employees yet.
  • Sit on a board at my son’s school.
  • Serve in three roles at my local church.
  • And, I love being married and being the father to three young kids (8, 5, and 3), with whom I love to spend time.

This list doesn’t account for general items like cooking meals, cleaning house, mowing the yard, and so forth.

The Value of Time

So, when I get an unexpected hour of free time, I often do not work ahead on something. Instead, I’ll catch up on an episode of Shark Tank, or I’ll google an idea I had and read an article on it.

I procrastinate.

My time is by far more valuable to me than money. I only receive so much of it each day. And, when I gain some extra time, I treasure it. Often, it is at the expense of procrastination.

What About You? 

After reading my confession and after watching Tim Urban’s speech, how do you identify yourself with procrastination.

  • Do you struggle with procrastination?
    • If so, is it an occasional issue?
    • Or, do you feel it plagues you day and night, everyday of the week.
  • Or, do you not struggle with procrastination?
    • Have you figure out a way to avoid and overcome it?
    • Do you have tips to help others avoid and overcome it?

I would love to hear from you on how procrastination affects you. Please comment to this article, and let’s discuss it. Maybe we can help each other out!

— Brent

Brent S. Mayes