Sometimes we find ourselves spacing out, daydreaming, laying our eyes on almost anything. Then suddenly we feel we wish we were doing something else, something different, something worthwhile, something fun. We impulsively shift into thinking we’re not happy doing what we’re doing at the moment.
Then we start to procrastinate.
The effects of procrastination have long been tagged as a bad thing. Simply put, when we procrastinate, we’re merely told we really have no other choice but to change our ways, in the hopes of doing better for our life. But I believe this isn’t always the case.
We can treat procrastination as an opportunity to further learn about ourselves. Perhaps we have this one reason of our own that we hardly get away from and thus leads us to procrastinate. Each of us is different; we have our own problems to deal with. And those that trigger us to put off important tasks aren’t really something new.
We can only look for the reasons they hold us back to be better.
The Causes of Procrastination
Before learning the effects of procrastination, first be aware why it happens. Take note that most of these causes are psychological, and some, unfortunately (or otherwise), are biological. But all in all, these causes per se don’t have too much weight if you try to see them in a different light. Again, it’s simply a matter of knowing the reasons they hold you back. What you can do is identify these causes and from there think of ways to overcome them and keep going.
A very common cause of procrastination is that you may find a task too time-consuming, and with this come only two possible reasons why: the task requires a lot more time than the ordinary; or it’s just difficult to do! When a task simply takes up majority of your time, you’d tend to look for and do an easier one and have the feeling that the task’s degree of difficulty would later change should you decide to get back on it later. Usually when you find no serious consequences to not accomplish that big task, you’ll feel safe to procrastinate—this is actually an underrated cause that gets a lot of people into trouble.
Another common cause is perfectionism. You want everything to be, well, perfect. Your skills, the timing, the “rush,” before going ahead and just taking action. Perfectionism is when you look for a great deal of information until you decide there’s enough of it to finally take action. This could be related to the fear of failure. Of course, learning from failure is the lesson right there, but a failure now is always better than having the very same failure only discovering it a year later. When you’re anxious about the future at the expense of you getting paralyzed to just take action, it’s time to slack off a bit from all the thinking and trying making everything perfect, and get yourself out there.
There are interesting findings, however, beyond psychological causes we procrastinate. One study revealed that procrastination is moderately heritable. Another talks about how the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex fight each other in our brain. The limbic system, which runs on automatic, dictates us to feel comfortable. The prefrontal cortex is what enables us to think. Better watch out; the limbic system is stronger. When you let it win, you will definitely put off tasks to the next day.
The Negative Effects of Procrastination
Procrastination is an awful term for most.
The most common reaction to procrastination is feeling bad not doing what’s supposed to be done. (Would you feel that way, too?) Dillydallying is very comfortable at any given moment, but it doesn’t change the fact that your responsibilities will still be waiting for you, that they won’t go away no matter how easy you hide from them. When you’re aware that you have an unfinished job, it would be normal to feel bad about yourself, and in reality that’s pretty terrible, but that only happens when you give in to procrastination anyway.
Also notice that unfinished tasks only pile up. They increase every time you decide to postpone one task or another. With your already established schedule that you should stick to, realize that you can’t really afford to waste time only to do a task that could and should be done right away. This effect could be negligible at the start of any commitment series, but this could get overwhelming in the long run. I’m guilty of this from time to time, but the cycle doesn’t change—what you need to do, you must do, according to the plan! I’ve experienced being a crammer, and I only realized I would always be better off keeping to a realistic schedule where there’s room for changes and unexpected drawbacks.
The higher the level of your procrastination is, the worse your work performance may become. It may be due to the fact that your performance would be affected by stress and anxiety, or in other words, when you’re under too much pressure. High-level procrastinators are sometimes found to only work when they dillydally. That’s right, they either procrastinate or don’t do anything at all. It becomes even worse because rationalizations are said to only appear like rationalizations—they aren’t strictly guided by reason, but by perception. This, however, is believed not to apply to all walks of life. But hey, if you find this familiar effect, better check; perhaps your shillyshally habits are already affecting your performance.
With any job, you are entrusted with responsibilities, according to your unique skills and talents. When you can’t assume those responsibilities, the level of trust left to you eventually dies away—both to the eyes of other people and from your perspective. Don’t care what others would think, you might say? Well, if you work for a company, your bosses may simply think you can’t handle your obligations anymore; it may cost you a lot in terms of your career. Are you self-employed? Do you want to trust yourself that you can undertake any type of work geared toward your goals? If you don’t want losing everybody’s (including yourself) trust in you, you know what to do.
How do you work? Can you chop any task such that you can start precisely where you left off on a previous session? Or do you always do it from the start? However you do it, most likely you’ll be doing a recap of what you’ve previously accomplished. And do you know what happens if you keep doing a recap on that one particular task simply because you’re procrastinating? Yes, you’d probably find the poor task already unpleasant, not worth your time (ironically). You’d basically hate it. Avoid this eventual but pointless attitude and cut to the chase by doing your work without reservations.
I believe the worst effects of procrastination are when they already negatively affect all the other important aspects of your life. Work is what I’ve only discussed so far, but work may not be as important to you as the other aspects. Are you trying to get fit? What would you do to strengthen your relationship with your significant other? Do you feel you’re getting out of touch with your spiritual self? Do you bank your money straightaway so that you’d avoid unnecessary spending? If you’re in school, how do you study? When do you declutter at home? If you noticed, the principles of procrastination remain the same whichever aspect you apply them to.
The Positive Effects of Procrastination
Oh, I got you right there, didn’t I?
There may be an endless list of the negative effects of procrastination, why it is a liability. But to be fair, I’m going to talk about its positive effects.
Think this: If procrastination has a Level 1, there’s also a Level 100. Remember how nice it actually is to procrastinate? You can’t make your prefrontal cortex work all the time, so to speak. All you can do then, whenever you’re unfortunately trapped, is to choose a level of procrastination, the level that must actually work for you. You have a choice among those “levels.”
Let’s say you’re making a report on your laptop. Eventually when you feel your eyes are quite hurting already, you’ll rest them, and while you do, you’d think of things other than what you’re on. Pretty normal, right?
Now as you hide those report windows, what do you think you’d do? Let’s say your laptop can entertain you with these three options: your favorite series; your favorite games; and of course, the internet. Unless you decide to meditate, what would you choose?
It would depend on you.
But make sure that whatever your choice is, it shouldn’t take much of your attention that you’d lose track of what you’re originally doing, and it won’t kill your time.
This positive effect is similar to that for having a break. But it isn’t a break. (When do you drag your feet anyway?) It momentarily stops you from being sucked into the serious side of your life in exchange for something else you’d enjoy. Note you’re wisely “wasting” your time here. You’re still in control—you are aware, if not, even more aware of your time. It’s as if half of your attention is on the important task, and the other half on stalling.
So what’s the positive effect? It’s the opposite of the first negative effect mentioned above, the bad feeling of not accomplishing anything on time. Procrastination could actually remind you to stick with being the good time manager you already are.
Another good effect is that you may get your mind conditioned that you’ll never get anything done! “How is that positive?” you may ask. With this mindset, you’ll always strive to work on your tasks as if there’s little to no more time left, increasing your productivity, while actually pushing the deadline margin further. You wouldn’t really worry about not making any sense every time because the truth is most probably than not, you’re always ahead of your game!
Think About It
The positive effects of procrastination may just be a reversed version of the negative ones. They could apply very well for those who’d want to “learn the hard way,” or those who wouldn’t easily take a piece of advice.
There you have it, a balance, though forced it seems, between the bad and the good effects of procrastination.
When you think it’s just a few minutes (or seconds) away, keep these effects in mind. Don’t forget that you can use them for a better understanding of yourself—there is also good in procrastinating! Again, what’s important is you get things done, because far after that are the goals that were once only dreams, conceived in your mind since time immemorial—don’t give up on your goals!
Now, would you need to procrastinate?