The Art of Procrastination

This post is not intended to be one wherein I describe prevalent methods of procrastination and offer advice on how to creatively improvise on the same. Nor is it intended to bring out the inevitability of procrastination and how none of us are spared of it. And least of all, this post is not intended to provide any suggestions or solutions on how to overcome procrastination and improve your lives. Instead, what I aim to do is try to understand WHY we procrastinate the way we do, and to also trace the origins and the cause for sustained presence of procrastination in our lives. I also intend to briefly mention the common traits/symptoms and consequences that come about thereafter.

In its most fundamental form, procrastination refers to the “deferment of actions or tasks to a later time.” [Wiki] Most of us would have procrastinated sometime or the other. In fact, for most of us, it has become a habit- something that is synonymous with our comfort zone. Procrastination need not refer to only the real important things such as meeting a deadline either at work or in studies. It also refers to putting off day to day activities such as not paying bills on time, missing out on a last date for attending a sale, missing out on encashing gift coupons or delaying the filing of tax returns to the last day [PT]. {It can also refer to the delay in writing this post} There are also instances when we defer the most important thing by working on something that is not as important –  like e.g. cleaning up your room instead of working on an assignment. Or those times when we feel that we deserve to take a break in proportion to the time spent studying, only for the break to extend for the rest of the day [UNC]. Deciding  to start working with full resolve at a particular time, only for the time to come and go like nothing ever happened is also not uncommon among us. The above list is inevitably only illustrative and not exhaustive in any way. Each individual procrastinates in his/her own manner and have their own reasons for it.

When I think of the reasons why so many people exhibit an inherent propensity to procrastinate, one common pattern that emerges is the influence of the atmosphere-both social and cultural- on the mindset of the individual and thereby on the ability to imbibe the habit of procrastination in them. For example, a kid brought up in a school where the consequences of procrastination is severe is likely to grow out of that habit as compared to a kid who is brought up in a school where no significant tangible consequences await procrastination. However, once someone grows up to be old enough to understand what is right or wrong, the social and cultural atmosphere can be treated as a factor which takes significance only when it works in the positive sense. It cannot serve as an excuse for continued procrastination when we are well aware of its ill effects. The effects of procrastination become more evident as and when we become aware of its presence in our daily habits.

On the other hand, one cannot totally rule out the effect that the external environment in general, has on our procrastination habits. Case in point is our journey through the education system, which forms the principal part of our formative years. During this period, the tendency to defer studying or completing the assignments right up to the previous day (or even night) of the deadline is perhaps the most significant and relevant form of procrastination. And eventually when we sit down to study or to complete the assigned work, the inability to do justice to the work at hand within the short period of time available, results in a mediocre performance in the tests or assignments.

One of the major factors that contribute to developing such a habit is the education system that is in place. The scenario in the present day education system- take Engineering for example- is such that there is absolutely no necessity for one to study or work on a regular basis in order to get a decent score in the exams. Once a student discovers this (and it doesn’t take long), he/she will inevitably resort to doing the barest minimum in order to obtain satisfactory results. And this usually results in cultivating a habit of procrastination day in and day out. This gets further validated when a student sees the people who seem to be obtaining good results also deferring their work to the end. In such an environment, the will to work on a regular basis easily makes way for peer pressure and the need to gain acceptance with the majority. But perhaps the main driving force behind procrastination is the fact that it is easy, convenient and more importantly, not too consequential in the short term.

There are many consequences that arise out of persistent procrastination. These include those that are immediate and those that are accumulated, with the latter usually being more significant and worrisome. Immediate consequences include a feeling of “could have done better” which ends up repeating itself everytime a deadline passes. Then there are those times during the exams when one realizes that just a little extra bit of effort could have vastly improved their performance and results. This realization leads to a feeling of guilt and lowers self esteem, which in turn simply reinforces the habit of procrastination, thus starting the vicious cycle all over again. In the long run, this makes us lower our own expectations and standards and in the process, never allowing ourselves to fully realize our potential.

There are also a few tangential consequences of procrastination and mainly involve rationalizing one’s own actions. Convincing oneself that he/she works better under pressure is not uncommon. There is also a tendency to downplay the impact one’s performance has on their future in order to justify their actions. There is also a possibility that one can downplay the very importance of the task prior to working on it, and utilize this to justify not putting in the required effort. But perhaps, rationalizing one’s actions of procrastination is taken to a whole new level when someone believes that they would have others think that they lack effort rather than ability [PT]. There are a whole load of other excuses or reasons that people tend to give themselves for procrastinating. But none of them are worth the consequence.

The possibilities for those who don’t procrastinate are endless. The realization of one’s potential to the fullest extent is something very few people undergo. And then there is no stopping them. Procrastination, it has to be understood, works in the other direction. Come to think of it, if you look around, almost 95% of the people are “active” procrastinators. The rest 5% are successful.

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