6 most common myths about procrastination
1. I procrastinate because I work better under pressure
‘I leave every task for the last moment, because I work better under stress.’
In reality, we don’t, everyone works worse under stress.1 2
But it’s a really good excuse for our ego! Imagine, you’d have all the time in the world for an assigned task. You would hand it in on time and it would suck! That would mean you aren’t as great as you thought.
Compared to that, when you do it at the last moment, it can’t say anything about your self-worth.
Why? Because you had too little time to do it! If only you had more time then it would be so awesome.
Our ego stays intact and we can feel good about ourselves.
An updated statement closer to the truth is:
‘I work under stress at the last moment because then I have an excuse if my performance sucks. I didn’t have enough time.’
2. I procrastinate because I’m lazy
Procrastination and laziness were for a long time synonyms. Both words are still confused with each other every day.
There are definitely lazy people. But to say that all people who procrastinate are lazy is just stupid. Why?
All procrastinators procrastinate only in certain parts of their lives. And all of us are very active in others. Someone avoids work by tidying up, someone else avoids tidying up by working.
What leads us to procrastinate in school? We won't go down that rabbit hole today. For example we can procrastinate because we’ve a feeling that we have to do something. Someone told us to do something and we want to rebel. Classic one is tidying up at home, filing taxes, or compulsory reading at school. If it’s a command, I don’t want to do it.
In this part of life, it’s not about laziness, but something else: fear, anxiety, bad habits, resistance to authority, distaste, etc.
An updated statement sounds like:
‘I procrastinate, because I fear something, anxiety,...’
3. Procrastination is a problem of bad time-management
We often hear: ‘I procrastinate, because I have too much to do and I’m not able to do everything. If I was better at planning, everything would be all right.’
Often we hear claims that we live in time when we are working the most. In reality, we have more free time than our grandparents and grandgrandparents.3
We think that if we were better at planning, everything would be all right. If we were better at organizing our calendars, notes, etc., all problems with procrastination would go away. In fact, often planning and organizing becomes just another type of procrastination. We’re doing something, even if it’s irrelevant to our goals.
We can get better at planning our own time, but if we don't study when we're supposed to according to our calendar, all the planning in the world can't help us.
An updated statement:
‘Procrastination isn’t going to be solved only by time good time-management. I don’t procrastinate because I can’t plan. Planning and organizing yourself is often a form of procrastination in itself.’
4. I procrastinate, because I don’t have enough discipline
If I had more discipline, I wouldn’t be procrastinating. I need to be tougher on myself.’
This works about as well as if you told an obese person not to eat.
This is a total misunderstanding of the problem. When we say to ourselves that we need be tougher on ourselves, it’s like shouting into the wind. Totally useless.
We don’t want to claim that people shouldn’t have more discipline. Quite the opposite. But the discipline must be build step by step, with proper rules and planning. Being mean to ourselves without any plan on how to improve, is not going to help.
Discipline can definitely help you in your struggle with procrastination. Without any discipline, you can’t win the fight, but it’s not the whole solution. Our habits and environment are much stronger than discipline. They always win.
Imagine a smoker who wants to stop smoking. But during breaks he wants go outside with his smoker colleagues. He has really strong ingrained habit of smoking and all people in his environment are smokers. As a New Year’s resolution he decides to stop smoking. He goes out with his colleagues and isn’t smoking. He lasts for few days, but then a shitty day comes at work comes. He has such an itch to smoke. So he asks his colleagues for a cigarette. And now he is back. Discipline lasted him for few days.
An updated statement:
‘Relying on discipline when fighting procrastination is not enough. It’s much more helpful to slowly build your habits and change your environment.’
5. Procrastination is a problem of bad priorities or no priorities at all
We naively think that if we’d know what we really want, then we’d go for it at all costs. We think, this would solve all the problems with procrastination.
But in reality, many people know exactly what to go after, but they don’t. They procrastinate.
Why? Because procrastination is a much deeper problem than just of setting priorities. Setting priorities can actually cause procrastination! Why? Because if we say that something is our main priority, we care about it more and we are scared of making a mistake (of failing). For example, if you fixate on succeeding as an athlete, every failure will be a reminder that you’re failing at the most important thing for your.
An updated statement:
‘Procrastination is not solved by setting priorities.’
6. I procrastinate, because I’m too clever.
Many people who consider themselves smart think they procrastinate because of their intelligence. It’s satisfying. We have heard at least dozen times:‘You know I’m smart, I think about everything too much and that’s why I procrastinate.’
Because they’re thinking about everything so much, they fear doing things someone more ‘stupid’ would do without thinking.
In reality, it’s only a case stroking your ego, because there’s no connection between intelligence and procrastination. It doesn’t matter how smart you are. Procrastination is distributed among whole population, no matter the level of intelligence.
Instead, procrastination is connected to low self-confidence, low self-esteem, self-control, perfectionism, self-deceit, etc.
An updated statement:
‘Procrastination is not connected to intelligence.’
Here are 6 myths about procrastination debunked:
- We don’t work better at the last minute.
- We’re not lazy, we have deeper reasons why do we procrastinate.
- Time-management is not going to solve everything. Planning is sometimes procrastination in disguise.
- Having more discipline is not the solution, it’s better to build habits step by step and redesign your environment to be helpful.
- Just setting our priorities isn’t going to defeat procrastination.
- Intelligence doesn’t cause procrastination. Different things like low self-esteem or perfectionism do.
We hope that when you come across these myths next time, you’re gonna see right through them.