Why, Exactly, Do We Procrastinate?

Individual Counseling Insights From Westlake Village-Based Patricia McTague-Loft 

If you’re like 99 percent of the human race, you might find yourself putting things off when you know you should be doing them. One day scientists will discover there is actually a procrastination gene and we all have it.

Woman daydreaming

Humorists, who may be the most insightful people among us, have naturally recognized our tendency to procrastinate and offered their own wisdom on the subject. Bill Watterson, creator of the brilliant Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, says, “You can’t just turn creativity on like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood. What mood is that? Last-minute panic.”

Mark Twain gave the matter his own unique twist: “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.” And Ellen DeGeneres may have topped them all: “Procrastinate now, don’t put if off.”

The subject is especially relevant in your workday life. Writing for Huffpost.com, Monica Torres attempts to get to the root of the problem. “It might not be you,” she writes, “it’s your worried nervous system. Too often, procrastinating on a work assignment can get dismissed as laziness— but the habit is actually one of the most common forms of work anxiety.”

Quoting psychotherapist Cathy Ranieri, Torres writes, “The public is likely not aware of the role or extent that the nervous system plays in our day-to-day lives and how it informs our well-being. In the workplace, when we feel overwhelmed, overworked, or nervous about our job… the nervous system reacts by assessing it as a potential threat to our safety. For some, this kicks on the fight-or-flight response… For many people, especially at work, it kicks on the freeze response: procrastination.”

So, is there any way to break the procrastination habit? Fortunately, there are many ways to get yourself going. Torres lists some of them.

  • “Create a schedule for your work.” Simply putting something on a calendar as a To Do between 10:00 and 11:00 am makes it tougher to avoid.
  • “Take a break so it feels less daunting.” Just make sure you come back from the break.
  • “Start with the smallest task first.” Smart — get something done to get the ball rolling.
  • Or, if it works better for you, do the hard thing first.” Also smart — everyone is different.
  • “Finally, be kind to yourself.” Re-read the first paragraph of this blog — you’re not alone.

Read Torres’ full article here.