P is for Procrastination or Today

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By Jackie Papineau, Cohort 8, Groundswell Build

Each week, a participant in Groundswell’s social entrepreneurship Build program shares reflections, learnings, and experiences from their journey of building a social impact business. Read more experiences in the Student Blog!

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Procrastination is defined as the delaying or avoidance of a task, sometimes ‘habitual’ or ‘intentional’ appears in a definition.  I’ve even heard it called Self-Regulatory Failure. Ouch. When I googled ‘procrastination’ I was only looking for some brief, witty snippets to spice up this post and maybe add a quote from a study or two.   I have some experience with procrastination so I had enough of my own material and knowledge to use. The instant I hit enter I fell down the rabbit hole. Oh what joy! What better way to procrastinate then doing internet searches on procrastination.   I could have easily (and maybe I did) spend hours clicking on various links for everything from multi-step processes to cure one of procrastination to psychological papers arguing the difference between a rational delay of a project and irrational procrastination.  (I’m still not sure there’s a difference-the project doesn’t get done either way.)

The one thing everyone seemed to agree on though, is that procrastination is not a completely modern phenomenon.  It isn’t a new word either. It is adapted from Latin Procrastinatum, and humans have been procrastinating since records have been kept.   Some famous procrastinators include: Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf, Leonardo Da Vinci, Douglas Adams and even Mozart, the list goes back to 700BC.  While it is unlikely this post will turn out to be my masterpiece, at least I know I’m in good company.

There is a lot of material exploring why we procrastinate, I won’t include it all (I do have a deadline after all) But, basically, our brains like immediate rewards more than long term rewards.  Instant gratification. And the society we live in today is designed for exactly that. Some of those internet articles I read hypothesize that procrastination has been on the rise since the industrial revolution.  Do you remember when computers became available in your school? Those large, clunky apple computers that took up an entire desk? Do you remember how slow they used to be?  Imagine going on the internet now with one of those.  Or going in to the bank to pay your bills, or racing home after work to check your phone messages.  How about walking to the post box to mail a letter? It makes sense then, that the future due date of that report or that book that has to be read for class in two weeks takes a backseat to the dishes that are in the sink right now or the latest episode of Scandal.  

Most of the time we can shake the temptations and get on with things but there is more to procrastination than a house of distractions.  Chronic procrastination can go deeper than just wanting instant rewards before long term gain. Fear can be a great motivator but it can also be immobilizing.  Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of being judged, or being wrong to list a few. When that weight is on a person just starting can be hard. For some, the rush of racing to a finish is what gets them going, but don’t believe the hype that ‘I work better under pressure’ the evidence (and by that I mean the internet) is saying that just isn’t so.   But what is being said, is that the mental and physical effects of procrastination can take a toll. Stress, anxiety, depression are high among people who regularly procrastinate. Then the stress, anxiety and depression lead to putting off other things and the cycle continues. What happened to this post being funny? I may not master this post, but I am a master procrastinator.  I can raise my hand to all those above excuses. Racing to finish a task with the deadline looming may be exhilarating when done, but I guarantee it won’t be your best work.

So, what is my point apart from putting off the spreadsheet I have to fill out and the slides I have to change? When deciding to start your own business, you want it to be your masterpiece, right?  When you are putting yourself out there as the business, all those fears and distractions are going to be fighting for your time. If you know you are a procrastinator or if you default to Netflix re-runs when under pressure, start working on that now.  Six months passes quickly when you are looking at it with only 4 weeks to go and your website still isn’t up. Take a measured amount of time and look into those self- help processes, or a book, or someone to talk to. Cancel your Netflix. Do your dishes.  Take a walk. Practice yoga. But do it today.

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