What Is Procrastination?Procrastination is the delaying or putting off of a task you know you should do. Usually, you choose to do something else instead, you make a choice between the two things even if you have to find the second thing to bring into the evaluation.
I know I need to do "A" right now, but I have plenty of time so I'll do "B" instead for a little while and then get back to "A". That's what you tell yourself. Usually you don't get back to "A" until some deadline forces you to do so.
You have a report due at work. It'll take a couple of weeks of hard work to get it done, but it's not due for a month. Your report will be highly visible within the company, and if you do it well it will be a big boost to your career. So do you start on it now, confident that you'll finish in plenty of time and have time left over to tweak it and make it even better? Or do you procrastinate and work on something else until two weeks before the report is due. And even then, instead of starting the report, you work on something else. Finally three days before the report is due you slap something together and turn it in. That's procrastination.
Why Do We Procrastinate?We procrastinate because we are creatures of the present. We know there is a future, but we live in the present. We would rather buy a jelly doughnut now than get a free birthday cake in a month if you skip the doughnut.
Sometimes we procrastinate because the immediate reward is greater than the future reward. Sometimes our procrastination is caused by our fear of or dislike for the task that must be done. Did you put off working on that report because you'd rather spend the time meeting with your peers and discussing ideas? Or did you put it off because you don't know the subject well enough to write it. Or maybe it was that it just seems like such a big task that you don't know how to break it down into manageable pieces so you procrastinate.
Whatever the reason, the result is the same. You put off doing something now that you know you should do and do something else instead. Procrastination may be deeply rooted in our primal instincts, but it is a choice. It is a choice you don't have to make.
When Is Procrastination Good?Sometimes procrastination can be good. You get an email that someone in Accounting had a birthday today and there is leftover cake in the lunchroom. Instead of jumping up and walking over to the lunchroom you finish reading the emails that came in while you were in that last meeting. By the time you finish email and get to the lunchroom, the cake is gone. In this case your procrastination helped you out.
Or you are really steamed about something that happened at work. A coworker has been rude and mean to you and something they did today was the last straw. You just can't work with that person any longer and you don't want to continue to work for a company that would employ such a despicable person. You prepare in your head the speech you're going to give your boss when you walk in there and resign. You realize that although you are steaming mad, you're also a little uncomfortable about barging into the boss's office so you procrastinate and decide to write out your message first to see how it looks. As you're sitting at your desk writing it, an email comes in from HR informing the company that the person you're mad at has been terminated. The message doesn't say why, of course, but you know why - they've alienated more people than just you and it caught up with them. Here again, procrastination saved you from quitting your job and making a fool of yourself in front of your boss.
Why Procrastination Is Usually BadSo while there may be isolated occasions where procrastination is good, the vast majority of times, procrastination is bad. At its simplest level, procrastination involves making a decision. You postpone making that tough decision facing you. You procrastinate. Should I fire that person or put them on probation? Should I split the team into groups based on territory or skills? If you procrastinate and let the decision make itself, it will be the wrong decision. It always is.
If you procrastinate over getting challenging work done because you are uncertain how to handle it or are afraid the work will either not get done or will get done poorly as you cram it in to meet the deadline. In either case your reputation will suffer. And if you procrastinate because something immediate is more pleasurable than doing the work, it has the same effect as when you are afraid. The work doesn't get done and you look bad.