Why we put things off

Why don’t we?

This post, the next in the series on beating procrastination, explores why we put things off when we know we shouldn’t.

It’s easy to postpone the things you should be doing and fill your time with easier and less important activities. And it’s often a difficult task that you know is there but can’t quite get to it.

Procrastination causes stress – it’s that line on your to do list that never gets crossed. It nags away at you causing tension, anxiety and fatigue. It can also keep you from reaching your goals, the ones you say you’d do anything to achieve. It stifles personal growth and can keep you from living a happy, healthy and prosperous life.

So why do we do it? There are lots of reasons. You can be afraid of failure or success, feel insecure, feel unable to cope with things that are difficult or simply be put off by effort and concentration that you can’t or won’t apply now.  Sometimes the dream is better than the reality, and if you never try you can’t fail.

When it comes down to it, there is a cost for everything; time to write a book, application to gain a qualification, pain and exertion to lose weight and money to start investing. Often the cost of doing something is perceived to be higher than the benefit. I really want to lose weight but I just love food so much and I’m too tired to exercise. Then sometimes the rules of the game change. You have a mild heart attack and suddenly eating those foods and not exercising has a much higher cost.

Then the benefit, living, is more important than the cost and you find the time to make the changes in your life. Deadlines can do the same thing. You can put things off until the price of not doing it – failing or being reprimanded – is higher than the pain of doing it – so it gets done at the last possible moment. Unfortunately that is rarely a recipe for the best possible outcome.

Clearing your inbox of 30 urgent but not important messages may provide a sense of satisfaction but it doesn’t achieve anything meaningful. Tackling the difficult task is more difficult, requires sustained activity and has consequences if not done properly. So we stick to the easy, the quick and the unimportant in the illusion of productivity.

But no one thanks you for that. And you aren’t getting closer to achieving your goals. So you’re stuck in a rut feeling bad about yourself. What’s your priority for the rest of today? Will you waste the day on irrelevancies?


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