Surprise, there aren’t any. 

We agree there’s often legitimate cause to delay a decision or put off starting a new task. But there’s a big difference between delaying something and procrastinating. 

Procrastination is defined as putting off doing something intentionally or habitually. This is different than not tackling something for good reason. You might delay submitting your taxes until you’ve double-checked for possible new deductions. Delaying the start of a strenuous new exercise program until you’ve spoken with your healthcare provider is always wise. On the other hand, If you think about doing your taxes but sit and stare at the calendar as it inches towards the deadline, you’re procrastinating. And if you spend all your time reading about the benefits of biomechanics and movement but don’t move a muscle except to scroll through your social media stream, you’re procrastinating. They are both choices you’ve made not to take any action

Psychologists tell us that we repeat an action because of the reward factor, real or perceived. We can temporarily avoid uncomfortable or difficult situations and tasks when we procrastinate. It’s easier not to clear out the garage than to be overwhelmed with the number of boxes of old junk we’ve stored for years. Rather than reward ourselves with a sense of accomplishment by creating a clean, useable space, we let ourselves be easily diverted from tackling the task and soothe ourselves with more immediate gratification. “I’m so glad you texted – I was about to start the garage. I’d much rather go on a hike with you and not waste the day.” Yet after the hike, the garage still needs attention. And will continue to haunt us every time we go into it. 

A deep dive into why we’re avoiding it might reveal that it’s not the boxes themselves, it’s the contents and their associated memories. They might be all we have left of a loved one, our childhood, past accomplishments (think trophies) or a pastime we no longer follow. It’s as if we will lose part of ourselves if we dispose of this material proof we matter. 

Procrastination is sometimes viewed as a short-term way to temporarily improve our current mood versus developing habits that provide ongoing satisfaction. Consider which reward will be long-lasting and free you to do what matters most to you. Three hours sorting through one or two boxes at a time is one afternoon. Reward yourself by walking along a trail the next day, knowing the garage task is one box lighter when you get home. The reward is the weight lifted and sense of motivation to continue sorting through the rest.  

Procrastination may seem like a solitary condition, but it can profoundly affect those around us. When we avoid having a critical discussion with a loved one, that relationship can become infused with pretense and start to erode. Although challenging, the sense of relief a frank conversation can have for all parties concerned can make you wonder why you put it off. This also applies to work. If you procrastinate about discussing an employee’s performance issue, the behaviour will likely continue and seem legitimized by your inaction. Deal with it – you’ll be glad you did.

As Pablo Picasso once said, “Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.” 

Here’s a great resource to learn more about this subject and learn ways to develop a more satisfying approach to life.