Why You’re Always Saying: I’ll Get to It Tomorrow
August 29, 2018
The legal brief must be filed at week's end, but you decide to hit the links today. A few days later, you pledge to work from home while tending to a sick child, but watch a Seinfeld TV marathon instead. Upon returning to the office, you spend hours scrolling through emails when the realization strikes: The brief is due tomorrow.
Everybody procrastinates to some extent, says clinical psychologist Jennifer Levin, PhD, but some people have more of a chronic problem with it.
Consider these facts: A DePaul University researcher found that 20 percent of people are chronic procrastinators, while a study at Bishop's University in Quebec discovered a correlation between chronic procrastination and high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
Other evidence shows that delaying duties can also lead to:
- Stress and anxiety
- Poor sleep
- Muscle tension
- Emotional issues
- Absenteeism from work
Why Procrastinating Happens
Dr. Levin says reasons for procrastinating are unique to each individual, but may include:
- Boredom with a task
- Anxiety about the ability to complete a task
- Desire to do other things that bring instant gratification, such as checking social media
- More serious emotional concerns, such as depression
“It's essentially avoidance,” she says. “Although it feels good in the very short term, your anxiety goes up and gets much bigger as the deadline gets closer. The task hasn't changed, but you have less time to do it and it causes stress.”
How to Combat Procrastination
There are consequences to putting off thing, Dr. Levin says. This can include coworkers having to do the work for you or getting upset with you because you're not meeting deadlines, Dr. Levin says.
This, in turn, can lead to employees developing physical issues, missing work and worrying about the security of their job. Their employers may see increasing insurance claims and premiums and lower productivity.
Some people who procrastinate at work may also put off taking care of their health. They may not eat a balanced diet, exercise or get necessary medical screenings.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to combat procrastination, but some that Dr. Levin recommends are:
- Divide projects into small tasks and set a deadline for each phase.
- Follow the Premack Principle: No prize before completing a hard task. If you enjoy checking emails, but detest assembling the PowerPoint presentation for tomorrow's meeting, don't allow yourself to look at your inbox until you complete a set number of sections of the presentation. If you're a manager, consider granting your team a half-day vacation if they finish a project early and proficiently.
- Dig in immediately. If you procrastinate because you fear not being up to the task, getting started might boost your confidence. If you run into problems, you'll still have time to seek help.
- Download a smartphone app to help you stay on track such as the Pacifica app, which can help with goalsetting and stress reduction.
If these strategies don't work, talk to your doctor because an anxiety disorder or depression may be the culprit, she says.
Jennifer Levin, PhD is a clinical psychologist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center and UH Psychiatry in Beachwood and associate professor of Psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. You can request an appointment with Dr. Levin or any other doctor online.