Most of the time, it seems like procrastination leads to nothing but anxiety, disappointment, and shame. So, why do we do it? One reason may be that, like anything, procrastination has its benefits. Some procrastinators will purposefully delay doing things because they work better under pressure and need to be challenged to get things done. Active procrastinators feel in total control and are productive even though it may not appear so. Since they seem to almost always wait until the last possible moment to complete their tasks, yet are still successful in still getting things done. (Chu and Choi 2005)
If you're an active procrastinator, you choose to put things off because you like the adrenaline rush that comes with getting things done right at the wire. You enjoy the challenge and you don't really want to change.
If you identify more with the passive procrastinator, however, you already know how procrastination interferes with your life, the missed opportunities, the damaged relationships, and the constant stress, anxiety, and guilt. Many passive procrastinators will put off unpleasant tasks as long as possible, instead filling time with things that are easy, they enjoy doing, and provide immediate pleasure or satisfaction.
The other day I read an article titled “Can Procrastination Ever Be a Good Thing?” in Psychology Today written by Pamela Wiegartz Ph.D.
Professor Weigartz states;
“One of the main barriers to building the motivation to change your avoidance is that procrastination actually has a number of benefits. Most people don't think of procrastination in these terms, that there are a lot of good things about it. We typically just think of procrastination as a negative thing. But, while the benefits of procrastination are often hidden, they can sap your motivation to change nonetheless. Some examples of the benefits of procrastination include:
• You get to put off unpleasant tasks in favor of more enjoyable things.
• Problems may end up getting solved without any effort from you.
• You can avoid the possibility of failure-or success.
• You get to avoid the discomfort of doing something you dread.
• You can avoid the anxiety you feel about the task.
• Someone may come to your rescue and do it for you.
• The demands placed on you get lifted because you dragged your feet.”
As a procrastinator myself, I know that I would much rather spend time doing research on an article, rather than writing it. Sometimes I get so involved in some of the research that I may spend several hours just reading information on the subject matter and never get any actual writing done. Before you know it, I’m running out of time and now I’m having to focus on my original task at hand, writing an article.
I remember when I was a rookie service manager, I found myself putting off doing certain things that I did not enjoy doing, like calling an upset customer when I knew we screwed something up. I would find all kind of unimportant things to do, just so I can put that phone call off a little bit longer. Eventually I got it over with and would make that call, usually at the end of the day. After a few months, I realized that this delay, putting off the inevitable discomfort of having to deal with the upset customer was not that terrible. In fact, I realized that the actual task of talking to the upset customer was not nearly as bad as the anxiety I had all day thinking about having to do it.
I also came to the realization that the days when I put off something that was unpleasant to do, I usually had a miserable day. It was like having a dark cloud following me around until I finally got it over with. When I finally got around to doing what I was supposed to do, suddenly everything was fine, and I felt so much better. I realized that the best thing for me to do was to schedule the most undesirable tasks first and leave the easiest ones for last. I was so surprised how much better each day was becoming!
Although most of the things we put off are not that serious and usually do not cause much harm. Unfortunately, with some chronic procrastinators, those who put tasks off so often that they feel guilt or shame about doing it on a regular basis. These negative feelings give the chronic procrastinators even more reason to put things off. Eventually this repetitive behavior turns into a vicious, self-defeating cycle.
So why did I write this article you may ask? I have several clients who elected to hire me to implement positive changes in their business. I allow my clients options as to how much they want me involved in implementing change. I can guarantee success, but I have to be fully involved and given authority to implement and delegate tasks to reach the objective, of course this is usually the most intrusive to the business leaders and most expensive, however success is virtually guaranteed and the timeline is shortened.
On occasion, in order to save money and reduce the stress of having me looking over everyone’s shoulder to keep everyone on task to make recommended changes, many select a “Do it yourself” version of the plan of action we came up with. It is during my communications with the business owner or appropriate managers when I have to deal with the “procrastinator”. We agree on a date for completion, when the date arrives, nothing is completed. Even though everyone agreed it was the best thing to do, we all know what needs to be done, nothing is done.
I find that this is especially true with people who have been in business, doing the same things, the same ways for many years and recently have started to realize that change is necessary and must happen. They may believe this is true yet are very reluctant to actually implement anything that is different. Unfortunately, these chronic procrastinators fail to realize that this reluctance to attempt to do anything different is the reason that they are realizing there is a deficiency and are seeking help and looking for new ideas.
The solution? If you read my articles you may remember that I previously wrote about complacency. I pointed out that we have a tendency to avoid change because it is easier and less risky to basically do nothing. It is our brain that makes us fear change simply because anything that is negative in our thoughts or history have a prominent location in our thinking patterns. We will immediately look for all the things that could go wrong before we consider what could go well. It is simply our natural tendencies to put self-preservation first by avoiding risk-taking behavior.
There are way too many times that I see HVAC and plumbing contracting business owners refuse to make recommended changes, simply because they don’t feel it is the right time, or they say they are just too busy. Imagine how little would progress or improve if everyone just waited for the perfect moment to make changes. I have never been one to use high pressure tactics to convince someone to spend money or try something different. However, to my surprise, I have actually promised success to several companies and guaranteed a 100% full refund if my recommendations didn’t’ pay for itself in 90-days. Yet I still get hesitation and procrastination. Yet at the same time I see some contracting business leaders have no hesitation spending a great deal of money because they believe something is popular.
I’ve always tried to communicate that the key to success is not being more like everyone else, rather it is finding your strengths and uniqueness that makes your company rise above the rest. What is it that you are willing to offer and do that no one else will? Now we are talking about something that is worth discussing and marketing. It is called your unique selling contribution. More discussion about that in a later article.
I’ve always believed if you put off making changes until the perfect moment, they never happen. Sometimes you just must take that plunge. Kind of like when you get to the beach or the pool. There is always that hesitation to just dive in. Eventually you finally take the plunge and realize it wasn’t that bad after all.
Frank Besednjak is a business coach, trainer and motivational speaker. He can be reached through his website at TheRealFrank.com.
Wiegart, Pamela Ph.D. 2011. In the Age of Anxiety, Psychology Today
Chu, A.H.C. and J.N. Choi. 2005. Rethinking procrastination: Positive effects of "active" procrastination behavior on attitudes and performance. Journal of Social Psychology 14: 245-264.