Procrastination: Stop it now
by Seth Borenstein, The Associated Press

Audio for Mirroring

Procrastination in society is getting worse, and scientists are finally getting around to figuring out how and why. A psychologist, professor Piers Steel who is at the University of Calgary in the province of Alberta, Canada, has studied procrastination for years. He found that procrastination is on the rise and that people who procrastinate tend to be less healthy, less wealthy and less happy.

What is procrastination? It's defined as the delay or avoidance of an action or task. A procrastinator's attitude is: Why do it today if I can put it off until tomorrow? For the person procrastinating this may result in stress, a sense of guilt, the loss of productivity, the creation of a crisis, and the disapproval of others for not fulfilling one's responsibilities or commitments. While it is normal for individuals to procrastinate to some degree, it becomes a problem when it impedes -or interferes with or blocks - normal functioning. Chronic procrastination may be a sign of an underlying psychological or physiological disorder.

Professor Steel thinks that something has to be done about this growing tendency toward procrastination. But why does it matter if people put things off? Why is procrastination harmful?
Well, here are a couple of reasons:

One psychologist who has studied procrastination extensively maintains that the majority of mental disabilities people have - anxiety, panic attacks - can be defined as a special type of procrastination.

Another reason that procrastination is harmful is that there is financial fallout. Professor Steel found that a delay in filing income taxes on average costs a person $400 a year, and last-minute Christmas shopping with credit cards was five times higher in 1999 than in 1991.

What causes people to procrastinate? Well, in today's society infused with all sorts of distracting technology people are significantly tempted to waste time. And why not? There are so many fun ways to kill time: TVs in every room, online video, cell phones, video games, iPods and BlackBerries. At work, e-mail and games are just a click away. Professor Steel estimates that the U.S. gross national product would probably rise by $50 billion if the icon and sound that notifies people of new e-mail would suddenly disappear. Temptation, then, is the main factor that causes procrastination. It's easier to procrastinate now than ever before. We have so many more temptations,

So who procrastinates? Twenty-six percent of the American public think of themselves as procrastinators. Men are worse than women, and the young are more likely to procrastinate than the old.

Are you a chronic procrastinator? If so, do you want to stop? Here are six ways you can fight debilitating procrastination:

1) Precommitment: Force yourself to do what needs to be done, remembering how good you will feel when you have finished an unpleasant task you are dreading.

2) Do unpleasant work when you have the most energy, in the morning.

3) Set attainable goals and do the work in steps.

4) Turn off distractions, such as televisions and computers.

5) Use the five-minute rule: Commit to doing the job for five minutes. At the end of five
minutes, commit to another five minutes.

6) Examine the reasons you procrastinate. Ask yourself what makes doing the work too
difficult and why would it get easier with time. Is it reasonable that procrastinating will make the work easier?