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Are You Really a Procrastinator: Procrastination, Part 2
By Damona Sain   View more articles by this author
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September 08

“Procrastination: A hardening of the oughteries."


Are you?  Of course you are, or why else would you be reading this?  Maybe to confirm what you already suspect or maybe you’re looking for something that says you’re not a chronic procrastinator.  Well, it’s time to find out!


Think of something you intend to do.  What action do you take to meet that intention, and when? Procrastination is not just letting an item fall off your to-do list.  Rather, procrastination is actively pursuing something that you did not intend to do in place of acting on your intention.


Let’s say that you hate to clean and organize your house. And let’s say you have to do a project for school and it’s due in two days. Despite knowing that finishing the project looms in the back of your mind, you find yourself vigorously cleaning and organizing the house.  Oh yes, you are definitely procrastinating.  On the bright side, at least you’re getting the house straightened out and spotless!


If you are depressed, or think you are, then failure to act can be a symptom of depression. Putting off doing something if you are depressed, though, may not actually be procrastination.  Depression causes you to lack the energy and motivation to engage in anything, even something other than what you’re not getting done. You’re not actively substituting an action you didn’t intend to do--you’re not taking action on anything. All the suggestions given to help procrastinators are not going to be appropriate for someone struggling with clinical depression.  There’s a whole different dynamic going on.


Just to complicate matters, if you have to do something and end up just sitting and staring at the wall, it may actually be procrastination, and not depression. “Yes,” said Timothy A. Pychyl, associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, “we do all dawdle or drag our feet at times. And sometimes taking a break and staring out the window or taking a walk is just what we need.”  So, be careful about blaming depression for avoiding a higher priority task just because you want to sit and gaze out the window. 


That is why, Pychyl says, “all procrastination is delay, but not all delay is procrastination.”


He adds that, “Technology provides us with immediate rewards without moving from our seats. We know that 50 percent of the time people are online, they are procrastinating.”  Aha! What is it that you are not getting done by reading this article!


One surprising statistic is how much of the population engages in chronic, problematic procrastination. Did you know that most research on chronic procrastinators shows that only 15% to 20% of people are in this category?  That surprises most of those who struggle with actively avoiding tasks in certain areas of their lives.  On the other hand, 95% of people procrastinate at least sporadically.  When it interferes with your daily life, when you find yourself paying late fee, after late fee, when you are rarely on time for events, and when it affects relationships, work and school performance adversely, you are probably an inveterate procrastinator.


There is a belief that perfectionism is one root cause. Piers Steel, associate professor of Human Resources and Organizational Dynamics at Canada’s University of Calgary, disagrees. Steel, who has spent over a decade researching procrastination, has whittled down the cause to something he calls the “Temporal Motivation Theory.”  A complex equation, it boils down to this:


We are more likely to put off higher priority tasks if there are options available that lead not only to more immediate rewards but also have costs that are distant.  For example, suppose you are a college student at the beginning of a semester, with a term paper due at the end.  You want good grades, but you also like to socialize, which takes time away from working on your paper.  The immediate social rewards are more tempting than the more distant cost of a bad grade because of a poorly written or late paper.  The rewards become switched as the due date gets closer--now the desire for a high grade supersedes socialization, but it’s too late in the semester. By this time, you only have a few days to complete the paper, and now you know your grades will suffer.  You swear that this won’t happen again, but with a new semester, there you are Tweeting, lost in cyberspace, or out with your friends rather than in the library focused on researching and writing.


The same principles apply to the job hunt, but the stakes are even higher and the costs more remote. You need to make networking phone calls, but you delay in any number of ways, even though the person you are calling has a hot lead for a job.  By the time you get focused and make that call, the job may no longer be available. The immediate rewards for completing tasks you substitute for making the call are more tempting than the cost of losing a job prospect.  In a tight job market, procrastination takes even more of a toll.


So, do you have chronic and severe procrastination?  Here’s a link to a brief test to determine your level of active avoidance of what you “must do.”




If you don’t seem to have a problem according this test, but still think that your procrastination is serious, try the more extensive test developed by Piers Steel at this link:




It’s fairly long but likely to give a more accurate reading of your level of inability to self-regulate your temptations.


If you test at a high level, know that procrastination isn’t caused by laziness.  There is definitely something you can do to conquer it.


Remember, then, to come back for the last article in this series on procrastination so you can learn the latest methods to conquer it, especially as related to job hunting.   There are great rewards waiting nearby!


Procrastination, Part 1


Procrastination, Part 3

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