Maybe I will Start Tomorrow by Giselle Marrinan
“I don’t need time; I need a deadline” – Duke Ellington
Procrastination, is it a good or bad habit? I know, just when most of you thought it had negative connotations. We know the issue has been around for a very long time and posed the same challenges then, as it does now.
The ancient Egyptians had two words to describe procrastination -both related to survival: one denoted the useful habit of avoiding unnecessary work and impulsive effort, thus conserving energy. The other denoted the harmful habit of laziness in accomplishing a task that was necessary for subsistence, such as failing to till the fields at the appropriate time of year in the Nile flood cycle.
Is there a genetic link to procrastination? Is this why some people are more prone to this pattern of behaviour? A recent article in Medical News Today addresses this very question. Apparently, it may be linked to the gene responsible for manufacturing the enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) which regulates dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the brain. There is a tenuous link between dopamine and impulsive behaviour. That’s all I will say about it at present, except to say, that in my opinion, no matter what your genes may predict, there are still ways to modify behaviour – see under tips.
The human brain is hot-wired for instant gratification. There is a constant battle going on for short-term rewards and long -term goals. Therefore, if what we are doing will take a long time to reap the rewards, we are far more likely to seek out something that satisfies this need quicker. This could be something as simple as lifting our phones and starting a WhatsApp with a friend.
A lot of the time, procrastination has as much to do with your emotional state as anything else. It is about managing the negative feelings surrounding the task at hand. If we put off or delay the task, we feel a certain relief, but we are probably reinforcing those negative feelings. According to Professor David Laibson at Harvard University, “Our emotional brain has a hard time imagining the future, even though our logical brain clearly sees the future consequences of our current actions,”
When I used to have work related tasks that I hated doing because they were boring or overwhelming, I would make an agreement with myself. I would do a little bit of the task every day, then reward myself for taking a step closer to my goal. This could be something as simple as, a game of cards on my pc. The secret is to do something to move you forward, no matter how small. This way the task gets done within the time frame, rather than becoming urgent down the road.
But think of the Oxford English definition of the word.” the action of delaying or postponing something”. Maybe in this fast-paced world, we need to take a step back before making a decision and the bigger the decision, maybe several steps. Maybe the delay is safer whilst considering, the long game!
The Argument For
- Maybe after reflection, the task you were putting off wasn’t that important after all and other things jumped to the top of the list.
- Cooling down period. Perhaps somebody annoyed you with a cutting email and had you replied immediately, you would have regretted the response. I always advise people to leave your response until a healthy amount of time has passed to reply in these situations.
- The brain is amazing! Even if you are not immediately tackling a problem, your subconscious mind has started beavering away at solutions. It has a chance at being creative. I remember in exams at school, the teacher giving the advice of taking a moment to read all the questions through once before starting to write. This makes sense now.
- Research by Chu and Choiin 2005 found that, ‘active procrastinators’ were not paralyzed by worry. They also had lower stress levels, exhibited fewer avoidant tendencies, and had healthier self-efficacy.
- Active procrastinators prefer to work under pressure and are more efficient operating in this way. They have made a choice to put tasks off until they are ready to deal with them, thereby taking control.
The Argument Against
- Consistently associated with stress
- May spill into your need for changes in diet and exercise patterns. How many times have I heard people say to me, “Oh, I will start on Monday”?
- ‘Passive procrastinators’, unlike the active type mentioned above do nothing – they are paralyzed by indecision. This is where your habits become unhealthy and everything becomes, mañana. Everything you do is late, if done at all.
- Time is finite and sometimes turning back the clock is not an option. This could be where you ignore an urgent report for work or perhaps let a significant birthday or event of a loved one pass you by because you had no sense of urgency. Both things can have negative consequences; with the former, causing career progression problems and the latter damaging relationships.
- You miss out on important opportunities. Ask yourself how often these come around?
- It may lower your self-esteem. This is a recursive loop, the more you put things off, the worse it seems to get.
- Your reputation may suffer. People will start to believe that they can’t rely on you.
Tips to Avoid the Habit When it Effects Our Lives Negatively
- Look at ways of managing your negative emotions – Look for immediate positives in the task, no matter how small.
- If you have a big job to do, then break it down into tiny bite size pieces. When my ironing builds up, I decide to do 20minutes of it a day rather than spend an hour trying to do it all. The idea is to just start.
- Don’t put off a task for fear of failure. As Einstein wisely said “A person who never made a mistake, never tried anything new”
- Plan. This way, things can be carried out in a timely fashion.
- Set goals for yourself. Examine the rewards of getting this job done now and how it will affect your future. Set a goal that is fun and go for it.
- Be gentle on yourself. Have compassion on yourself. Guilting yourself out only makes your behaviour worse.
- This may seem obvious but take care of your basic needs first. Make sure not to skip meals when trying to work on a task. Also, get enough sleep; you can’t concentrate if your body is overly tired. I find getting out for a short stroll every day helps me cope with stress and puts me into the right frame of mind to work and be creative.
- If you have kids, start them off young with good habits. Not putting things off. In training them, you will get in touch with your own habits.
Note to self – set deadline for December blog. Thanks Duke!
 Burka J.G and Yuen L.M. “Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It Now”. Da Capo Lifelong Books. 2007.
 Sharkey L. “Can We Blame Procrastination on Our Genes?” Medicalnewstoday.com.21st July 2019
 Chu A.H and Choi J.N. “Active Procrastination Behaviour on Attitudes and Performance”. The Journal of Social Psychology: Vol 145: Issue 3: 2005.
- Giselle Marrinan is the author of the book, ‘Another Zero’ and a guest contributor to #MentalHealth4Millennials Volume 3 – both published by The Book Hub Publishing Group.