What is procrastination?

“I’ll do it later.”

It’s a line that all of us tell ourselves far more often than we’re willing to admit. We keep putting off this task and that task until the last possible moment, avoiding the responsibility at hand and distracting ourselves with other things that are probably much less important. Like reading Facebook.

With that in mind (and not wasting any more time), let’s get down and dirty with a discussion on procrastination and its profound impact on our productivity.

What Is Procrastination?

Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week.” – Spanish Proverb

Before we can approach the enemy, we must know the enemy. In this case, that means getting a solid procrastination definition we can all fully understand. Some of the definitions that I found online include the following:

  • In psychology, procrastination refers to the act of replacing high-priority actions with tasks of low-priority, and thus putting off important tasks to a later time.
  • To put off doing something, especially out of habitual carelessness or laziness.
  • To postpone or delay needlessly.

Basically, to procrastinate means to put off doing something that presumably has some level of importance to you or those around you. If you’re wasting away hours with browsing Facebook photos rather than working on those vital TPS reports for Bill Lumbergh, you’re probably procrastinating.

What Is Productivity?

It’s a job that’s never started that takes the longest to finish.” – J. R. R. Tolkien

On the flip side of that, we must then know a little more about our goals. To that end, we have to ask what is productivity. Again, I turned to the power of the Internet to find the following:

  • Productivity is a measure of output from a production process, per unit of input.
  • The rate at which goods or services are produced especially output per unit of labor.
  • The quality of being productive or having the power to produce.

To be productive is to be doing something useful. It’s to be effective and efficient in producing results, however those results are measured. Let’s say that you have 100 TPS reports that need to be completed today. If you manage to produce all of those reports today, then you can say that you had a productive day. If you squandered away the day with Minesweeper and YouTube, then you weren’t particularly productive.

The Irony of Staying Productive

Work while it is called today, for you know not how much you may be hindered tomorrow. One today is worth two tomorrows; never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

Ask any of these great minds about procrastination and productivity, and they’ll tell you that it is important for you to do everything today that can be done today. That’s partly true. If you keep putting things off, you’re not getting as much done as you probably should be getting done. As such, you’re not being all that you can be.

Arnold Bennett, for example, reminds us that “we shall never have more time. We have, and have always had, all the time there is.” Time is a truly non-renewable resource. Once that hour is gone, it’s gone forever. That’s why you want to make the most of that hour that you possibly can.

However, just because you’re doing something doesn’t mean that you’re being productive. If you work yourself to utter exhaustion, I imagine that your work is going to be of lower quality and you’re not going to be particularly fast about it. That’s why one of the best ways to improve employee productivity is to take regular breaks.

The guy who works three shifts of eight hours each is going to produce more than the guy who works a single shift of 24 hours. It pays to take a lazy Sunday from time to time. Maybe Mark Twain was right when he said, “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”

Getting Over the Mental Hump

Procrastination is like masturbation. At first it feels good, but in the end you’re only screwing yourself.” – Unknown

There’s a reason why you keep putting off those TPS reports. They’re probably not very fun to do. You think that you’d rather do something else, like seeing why a certain cat is asking if he can “haz cheeseburger.” But, the short-term happiness of wasting time could lead to long-term gloom.

Keep delaying those TPS reports and you could find yourself out of a job. That’s not good and that’s why there are so many guides on improving productivity. You can use technology in your favor, for example. Realistically, it comes down to willpower and convincing yourself that you really need to do what you need to do.

Hey Look! A Castle!

Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” – Abraham Lincoln

Several years ago, I went to a comedy club and the stand-up comic was talking about how he’d love to swap places with a goldfish. He was saying since goldfish only have three second memories (I looked it up; they really have about three-month memories), nearly every waking moment is novel to them. They can live their entire lives in the same fish bowl and be surprised every time they turn around to see the (same) stone castle.”Hey look, a castle!… Hey look, a castle!… Hey look, a castle!”

And that’s really at the crux of procrastination. We allow ourselves to get distracted and, thus, delay or postpone the tasks that we really should be doing instead. You have a memory that’s longer than three seconds. You have (or at least you should have) long-term goals. This requires planning and this requires doing today what needs to be done today.

That’s why, of the countless procrastination quotes out there, Honest Abe’s above is my favorite. Yeah, you can mosey along, procrastinating and glancing at castles, but it’s only if you “hustle” that you’ll get the real goods. Stop putting off to tomorrow what you probably should have done yesterday.

How soon ‘not now’ becomes ‘never.’” – Martin Luther

If you want to be productive and successful, you’ve got to kill the procrastination bug.

Image credit: Ljupco / iStockphoto