The Procrastination Parallax: don’t be too quick to judge

I am a procrastinator. In fact, if there was an Olympic event in procrastination I would be representing Australia at it. For those who are not procrastinators it is often difficult to understand what it means when one procrastinates and the effect that serial procrastination can have on one’s mental state.

For those seeking a definition of what procrastination is, here it the best I could find:

Procrastination is the practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference to more urgent ones, or doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones, and thus putting off impending tasks to a later time.

Put a little differently, Piers Steel (an academic in the field) who has reviewed all previous attempts to define procrastination has concluded that it is “to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay.”

By its very nature procrastination is associated with a number of character traits or disorders including depression, low self-esteem, anxiety as well emotions like guilt and stress.

Given that the academics in the field do not agree on the causes of procrastination, I have no real answers for why I procrastinate. I do know that procrastination is, in effect, the very definition of the old “chicken and egg” maxim. By this I mean, simplistically, I wonder often which came first in my life: the procrastination or the anxiety. I know that some of the tasks that I used to procrastinate about, when left in a worse state as a result of my procrastination, deepened my anxiety and the literature tells me that anxiety is a cause for procrastination.

So why all of this talk about procrastination? The point I wanted to talk about, having set the outline of what is meant by procrastination, is the differing views of what procrastination is depending on whether you are a procrastinator or not. I know from friends and family that I have spoken to that many of them do not really understand what is meant by the term and, further, the effect that being a procrastinator can have on someone. Those friends and family members to whom I have talked have long thought that procrastination has its genesis in laziness and is, really, just a triviality.

In the workplace environment, a procrastinator can oft be seen, if there is no understanding of what is actually going on in the mind of the procrastinator, as being at the poor end of the talent pool or in a performance matrix. No doubt the procrastinator is not performing at an expected level, particularly if they are working in a heavily task orientated environment.

All of this leads me to the parallax of which I speak in the title to this post: there is an obvious difference, in my opinion, in the apparent perception of people of what it means to be a procrastinator depending on whether you are one or not. In this context I would implore those who have noticed a colleague, friend or family member that has a tendency to miss deadlines or to over promise and under deliver to not write off that person as simply unreliable or a bad worker. There may be a deeper reason for those issues that you can not see through the lens from which you are looking at the person and with some assistance the procrastination, and its outcomes, may, over time, have less of an effect on the sufferer.

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