Wednesday, October 2, 2013


Why do we procrastinate?  Everybody does it.  There is not a single person who has not, at one time or another, put off doing something that needed to be done.  It isn't a problem for most of us.  So we occasionally procrastinate.  We eventually get around to getting things done; that's what matters, right?

Then there are those of us for whom procrastination is the norm.  We do pretty much everything at the last minute.  Bills don't get paid until the day they are due, maybe even the day after.  We never start on projects until the deadline is looming before us.  (We actually prefer when deadlines are flexible or when extensions are freely granted).  We are the people who crowd the malls on Christmas Eve, sifting through whatever remains on the shelves, desperate to find gifts for everyone left on our list.  We never RSVP when invited to parties.  The "Snooze" buttons on our alarm clocks are worn from overuse; we get out of bed only when remaining there longer will make us late to work.

The vast majority of chronic procrastinators do not see it as a problem.  Many of them will tell you that, far from being a hinderance, procrastination in fact enhances their performance.  They will say that the presence of a looming deadline motivates them; they work better under pressure.  A sense of urgency spurs them to action.  It helps them focus.  It energizes them. 

They will tell you these things because they believe them; they are convinced that they work better when they procrastinate.  Unfortunately, the evidence does not support this.  Research on procrastination consistently shows that procrastinators tend to produce work of inferior quality to that of non-procrastinators. 

Think about it.  It's easy to make mistakes when you're in a hurry.  When something is done at the last possible moment, there isn't enough time to edit the finished product before turning it in.  Stepping away from something and coming back a day or two later often reveals mistakes that were previously overlooked.  Having someone else look over your work can sometimes yield suggestions for improvement.  People cut corners when their in a hurry.  An unforseen obstacle can derail the whole project if there is no time to identify and implement a solution.

It is not difficult to find suggestions for how to stop procrastinating.  Entire books have been written on the subject.  I see a sort of irony in this: a true procrastinator is not likely to buy a book about how to stop procrastinating.  If he did, he would probably put off reading it until he eventually misplaces it or somehow forgets that it exists.  As I said before, people who habitually procrastinate rarely see it as a problem.  It is most likely other people in a procrastinator's life who find his procrastination problematic.  And how do you convince someone to change something he doesn't have a problem with?  It can be done, but it's difficult.

There has to be motivation to change.  People don't think about changing a behavior until the behavior starts to cause problems.  When the consequences of a behavior begin to outweigh its perceived benefits then there is motivation.  Until that time...well, we can just put it off, right?   


  1. How much you wanna bet? They also don't come in for therapy based on this problem, it just kinda leaks out as a by-product of their overall unhappiness.

  2. "Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday." -Don Marquis
    I enjoy all of your blog entries. This is so true. And we all procrastinate. I argue with my step-daughter constantly about her quickly developing procrastination habits...ugh!

  3. Hi, applications just opened on 10/1 for MSW programs in California. I'm not sure if social work is right for me.

    Can I ask you some questions? You seem like the kind of social worker I am interested in, but I am unsure about the experience itself.




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