Procrastination is the continual, deliberate postponement of tasks that are best done now. It is putting off what you want most for what you want at the moment. Deciding to complete a task at a future time is not procrastinating; it is planning. And delaying a priority task the odd time is only being human. But putting off tasks becomes procrastination when the postponement becomes habitual. When you procrastinate, you are borrowing time from the future that must be repaid at a later date, perhaps when you can least afford it. It’s doing the right thing at the wrong time.
Procrastinating on priorities is bad, delaying non-priorities is good, and knowing the difference is essential. Remember that important items have intrinsic value; but urgent items simply have a time restraint. Act on the basis of importance, not urgency. If something is both important and urgent, do it now. If it’s important but not urgent, schedule time to do it later. If it’s not important, ignore it whether it’s urgent or not. One thing worse than doing nothing is doing nothing while thinking you’re doing something.
Whatever you do today will impact tomorrow and whatever you put off until tomorrow will impact today. So never put what you should do ahead of what you must do.
Deadlines are the enemy of procrastination. Deadlines happen when you decide in advance when to do a task, and then schedule the time needed for it in your planner. A task on a “To Do” list shows your interest in doing it; but a task scheduled in your planner shows a commitment to get it done.
There is an exception to the priority rule: when confronted with something that can be done in two minutes or less, do it now and get it over with – regardless of its importance. Thinking about it consumes more time than doing it.
Although all this may seem logical and simple to do, you may find your brain doesn’t cooperate. Those of us with weak executive function, particularly working memory and task initiation, are prone to procrastination. But the more you force yourself to follow through on something, the stronger the brain’s neural connections become.
John Ratey, in his book Spark: the revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain, says that working memory is the backbone of all the executive functions, and a failure in working memory explains why people with ADHD are terrible at keeping track of time and as a result are prone to procrastination.
My eBook, A brain’s eye view of time management, available from Amazon at http://amzn.to/1H4OGYP, provides several ways of strengthening these weak executive skills. Most of them involve exercising both the body and the brain, with physical exercise being even more important than mental exercise.