here has the time gone? January was busy but this blog missed out. Missing a month of posts made me ask: Do I procrastinate? My initial reaction: Yes! But after some research and reflection, I’ve settled on: It depends. I think everyone is on a spectrum of procrastination and some tasks seem to invite more delay.
Procrastinators: Leaders of Tomorrow (or the next day) I do have some evidence for my procrastination. For example, I’ve wanted to make this saying into T-shirts for some time. I have many photos from adventure travel that are waiting to be done into photo-books. Plus, I’ve been thinking of doing this post for some time but things kept getting in the way – I’m serious. I do want to apologize for the lack of January posts. Warning: justification ahead! January was busy, including:
- New professional obligations: got funding to plan science excellence program
- Science Online 2011: so many amazing people and ideas
- Started a training program with a personal trainer (not because of New Years!)
- Illness: out for the count for some time (nothing life threatening)
But missing things I want to do vs. those that have to be done – is that procrastination?
Procrastination is: the act of delaying high priority tasks by doing something else. One classic trap is the Bermuda Triangle of Productivity:
As I did some research into the topic, it seems like an important distinction is missing deadlines. I make important deadlines and I don’t stay up all night as described in Psycasm’s post. So, do I procrastinate?
Psycasm reviewed some work on procrastination and I’d recommend reading his post. I was intrigued by the work on active vs. passive procrastinators described by Chu and Choi (2005).
Passive procrastinators are procrastinators in the traditional sense. They are paralyzed by their indecision to act and fail to complete tasks on time. In contrast, active procrastinators are a “positive” type of procrastinator. They prefer to work under pressure, and they make deliberate decisions to procrastinate.
Of course, I want to be the positive procrastinator. I don’t think I prefer to work under pressure and I would love to be able to start a task early but more time doesn’t always produce a better result. If I have more time, I spend more time planning instead of doing. You know, figuring out that perfect opening sentence…
There was a follow-up paper by Choi and Moran in 2009 that described a procrastination scale and included the following statements (emphasis mine):
Traditional, or passive, procrastinators tend to drift from one activity to another without much planning or organization of their time (Bond & Feather, 1988). In contrast, nonprocrastinators have been viewed as those who are good at managing their time in an orderly and efficient manner (Ellis & Knaus, 1977; Knaus, 2000). In contrast with both passive procrastinators and nonprocrastinators, active procrastinators preplan their task activities in an organized way though they do not develop or adhere to a rigid schedule or time structure. With this elasticity in time perception and use patterns, active procrastinators are willing to make deliberate decisions to postpone things they have planned to do, and they will change their schedule even on short notice.
In my career, the ability to respond quickly to challenges is very helpful. I will admit that I do best with a combination of structure and flexibility. The every day tasks can get lost if you are always rushing to the next big emergency. Yes, I make deadlines but it isn’t as satisfying if you are always catching up.
I feel like a procrastinator because there are many things that I would like to do and they aren’t finished. But is that just a matter of prioritization? I’m not sure: I don’t think that watching TV is more important than writing or creating video yet I’m caught up on TV programs. When things don’t have deadlines, I often think I’ll get to them later. Maybe I need to set external deadlines for these fun projects to get them done? If so, I’ve learned that the deadlines need to have true consequences because I set up a schedule for this blog and when nothing happened when a post was missing, it got easier to miss the next one. So…I really am lazy but not a procrastinator?
After some self-reflection, I learned that I’m all three types of procrastinator.
- None: Some things get done right away.
- Passive: I’ll always avoid some tasks (e.g. cleaning bathrooms) but there are also some tasks where I’m hurting myself with a delay (e.g. submitting invoices)
- Active: Some things get done at the last minute. I think writing falls here and I’ll expand more on my experience in another post.
I envy those people who don’t procrastinate often. Thinking about my style of procrastination has already led me to make some changes, including to cut myself some slack. Yes, I do things at the last minute but that isn’t always a bad thing.
If your delays or procrastinations are bothering you, there are some great tips from The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. like the approach to take an inventory, figure out your justifications (myths) and some ways to just start writing.