I’ve been pursuing productivity for quite some time now, despite acknowledging that the research into the subject is costing me valuable time in which I could be more productive. I have wondered more than once if I might be addicted to the subject, but I am not prepared to quit cold turkey. I think my obsessing has helped me figure out a lot about myself, and there’s still a lot of progress within my reach, so I can’t stop now!! I just have to be careful not to let “productivity research” be an outlet for procrastination.
Yes, I am a procrastinator. I’ve been researching the phenomenon of procrastination partly so I can help myself, and partly so I don’t have to worry that I’m alone in my struggles or that I’m abnormal. I’ve tried getting counselling to help me stop procrastinating, but I was not convinced that my guilt over not being productive is the reason I procrastinate… that’s just a symptom of the problem… isn’t it?
I’ve tried a lot of things, including making my goals really relevant and exciting, so feel more in control of my destiny, or more in touch with it, or better suited to my future, or some combination of those three things. And yet, I keep tripping up, and I don’t know why! It’s so hard to quit procrastinating when I don’t even know why I’m doing it! And so, whenever I come across something that may help me understand, I can’t resist. Even when I should be doing something else.
Anyways, I found an awesome podcast series this morning. I listened to two episodes while walking to campus — a 40 minute walk that otherwise feels like a complete waste. I don’t consider that to be a procrastination at all, mind you. Writing about it, though? Well, uhhmmmmm…. yeah. That’s not technically as important as the things I’m putting off. But somehow, I’ve convinced myself that my studies of procrastination will help me overcome it, and I’ve always been able to figure out more about myself by writing. (Please, if anyone who is reading this finds this self-analysis useful, I’d like to hear about it!)
These awesome podcasts are put out by Dr. Tim Pychyl, founder of the Procrastination Research Group at procrastination.ca (woot, Canadian!), and professor of Psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa. The purpose of the podcasts is to informally share results of research into procrastination, and to help us “understand why we procrastinate and what we can do to self-regulate our behaviour more effectively.” I certainly feel like I need both the “why” and “self-regulate” parts! I’m especially excited to learn about the official research being done on the subject, to supplement what I’ve read in my wanderings on the internet. So, without further ado…
Podcast Introduction: Procrastination Defined
UPDATE: I’ve revised my review of this podcast as of March 14th, 2008, because I noticed upon re-listening that I missed some important aspects of the definition of procrastination. I also made a few other improvements along the way.
We get to know a bit about Dr. Pychyl in the beginning of this episode, and one of the most interesting things I’ve noticed is how he seems to do a very good job of connecting one idea to the next. He starts with an example from his own life, and he uses it to help him define what procrastination is, and what it isn’t.
Procrastination is defined as “an irrational delay of an intended act“.
So, although delay is an essential aspect of procrastination, there is more to it than that: it must be for irrational reasons (one example given was that it is irrational to alphabetize the spice rack when something else is supposed to be being done). Of course, this was nothing I didn’t know already (although honestly, my spice rack is organized by colour rather than by letter!) The point is, we seem to know better, and yet we still find ourselves procrastinating.
“Knowing better” is definitely one of the things that I’ve found extremely frustrating about trying to quit — I know I know better, and I don’t believe I’m lazy, so what’s going on here?! That brings us to another aspect of procrastination that was mentioned in the podcast: the negative feelings, such as guilt and frustration. This emotional aspect is often considered another essential aspect of procrastination, at least by clinicians who work with people who suffer from procrastination. It is important to note that delays can be for things that are really more important and deserve higher priority, and in those cases, the delay is not necessarily procrastination.
Of course, this can then lead to us start deceiving ourselves about the importance of the task that is taking our intended task’s place. We also may deny the effects of our procrastination, fool ourselves about the amount of time available in the future, or try to believe that we do better under pressure or will feel more like working on the task later. Oh, the irrational lies we tell ourselves when we are trying to justify our lack of action!
What procrastination really comes down to is the fact “the time to act is now,” and we find ourselves “doing anything but acting.” We may even want to act, and everything is ready for us to act, and we may even like what we’re putting off working on, and somehow we still we find ourselves lost in procrastination-land.
It’s really amazing that we procrastinators can get anything done, ever! In fact, the podcast emphasizes that the negative effect on the results of the procrastinated task is another important aspect attributed to procrastination. Some of us will find some way to still complete the intended task, through all-nighters and running around at the last minute, but even though the completion wasn’t sacrificed, the quality almost certainly was. I’ve certainly felt like I could’ve done better on some things if I had left more time to perfect it, and yet that still didn’t cure me for the next time my tendancy to procrastinate was tested.
My Take on the Definition
So, the general definition of procrastination definitely had some things that rang true with me, but other things that did not really apply to me. Here’s a breakdown:
- I don’t tell myself that I work better under pressure. I can’t help but wonder if I am procrastinating just so I can avoid thinking about the time pressure that already exists!
- I don’t consciously decide that later will be a better time than now… oh, but I do find myself saying that “I’m getting down to work now, but first….” (insert procrastinatory behaviour here).
- I am most certainly feeling guilt about the things I should be doing. Heck, I feel guilty about the things I’m supposed to be doing even when I’m doing other things I’m also supposed to be doing!
- I am absolutely almost always doing irrational things instead of the intended things. Case and point: I’ve been making “To Do Today” lists for at least the past two months, and I’ve rarely finished even half the things on them.
- I know my success in life so far has been dramatically reduced by procrastination. Sure, some of the delay has been due to indecision, but what was preventing me from deciding? Procrastination, I’ll bet. Not to mention the effects of procrastination on things like studying, homework, leaving my house in a timely manner in order to get to class…
Overall, this first podcast was a good hook. I found that it discussed its subject very well, and alluded to a lot of wonderful things that will be coming in future podcasts. I’m excited that I’m only on the second of twelve! (I’m also happy that the host acknowledged in the second episode that he will now be recording in stereo instead of mono.)