I’m not a psychologist, but …
As an executive coach many of my clients raise this issue of procrastination as one of 2 – 3 main obstacles they face in their own effectiveness.
(The other two are delegation and, of course, the chronic, effective communications! (usually this means poor listening skills). Maybe I’ll write a few blogs on those as well.)
but lets get back to procrastination.
People ask me for advice on why they procrastinate, especially when they know that procrastination gives them so much unnecessary anguish – just pull the damn tooth and be done with it – and the thing they’ve been putting off usually works out well for them anyway. I’m not sure I can offer them advice on this painful and awkward topic because I’m afflicted myself. I’m not a psychologist, but I have done a bit of self-analysis, (okay, a lot of self-analysis) and I have lots of opinions. But if I know so much about why people procrastinate why don’t I just get on with it. Ah, physician heal thyself.
So lets not procrastinate and offer some views.
It is often said that perfection is the enemy of the good, meaning, don’t let concern for perfection keep you from at least doing something. This value (criticism?) usually comes from extroverted action oriented people; they decry procrastination for its inertia and waste (as, ‘the thief of time’, etc., etc. – so many aphorisms about procrastination, a universal calamity I suppose). But there is an inherent bias in this position, that action trumps reflection. Of course ‘Perfection’ is unattainable and so should not be the standard of measurement; but isn’t the pursuit of excellence a worthwhile goal? When is ‘the good’ not good enough? Sounds like the quality movement: Quality is not ‘goodness’, it is about meeting the customer’s requirements, and so the real challenge for people is to get clarity on what the expectations are for the person to whom you are delivering some product. Ah, but even when we know what the standards of performance are, and we know we have the talent, knowledge, time and resources to complete the task to the ‘customer’s’ expectations, we still procrastinate, leave it to the last minute to get started and then cram to get it done on time (or maybe a bit late???). There must be something more to this.
So I suppose we can say procrastination is a problem if you (or the other) expect that any action is better than no action. It’s hard to see ‘thinking’, and so for action-oriented people the absence of doing looks like procrastination, even in themselves. Even for ‘thinkers’ it can be hard to tell the difference between thinking about the problem and avoiding! But if the goal is excellence, a little thinking is desirable; then we might justify taking longer to achieve it.
Are you getting as confused as I am? Lets get back to procrastination. Why do we delay, or distract ourselves, when we know we should get on with it?
So, speaking of extroversion, I tried to explain procrastination to one client in terms of Jungian psychology (MBTI). I offered that Introverted personalities, perhaps too much in their own heads, actually think (versus just jump right in ‘doing’) and take the time necessary to consider before they act, … and think and think…
Introverts not only prefer to think before acting, but also think about what others might think, they worry about being judged (and they might be onto something here – more later) and so delay to be sure they are right.
I also offered this former client the notion that people with Perceiving preference (as opposed to ‘Judging’ preference people – the other of the two Jungian functions) may be perceived as procrastinating because they prefer the research (seeking, exploring, curiosity (‘killed the cat’, or at least the deadline) to the doing. The thinking here is, if you find the investigation phase of a project interesting, completing the project is the end of the fun part! And so they delay, procrastinate.
I for one am an Introverted Judging type (INTJ to be complete about it), and so I identify with the introversion element – I want to think before I act, and I am concerned that others also know I thought about it first, and long enough. Or maybe I’m influenced by the J preference for completion – need to get it right. And here a whole bunch of aphorisms jump out: ‘a job worth doing is worth doing well’; ‘do it right the first time’; ‘there wasn’t enough time to do it right (but there’s always enough time to fix it….)’; ‘I’ll just stay late to tidy up a few loose ends’; ‘no, you guys go ahead, I’ll catch up later’; ‘I won’t enjoy my vacation if I don’t get these projects done’. On the other hand,
(Footnote: It didn’t take me long to write this blog article, only a week after I thought of it I started to write; and I added and edited a bit every day for six days. But then I got distracted with a whole host of other ideas I wanted to include in the article. I set it aside. Came back to it a few weeks later. And then a few weeks after that (today!) I decided to post what I had so far. I’m reasonably happy with my effort and result. I hope nobody judges me too harshly. I’ve been planning a blog article on The Fraud Syndrome for well over a year now … must get to it.)