When Tim Pychyl, psychology professor at the University of Ottawa, finally got around to his first study on procrastination, he began with an overdue question: Are dillydallying employees consciously choosing to fritter away their workdays, sidelining assignments until the adrenaline of a deadline revs them into motion?
Or is procrastination an emotional reaction — meaning it’s less conscious and less controllable?
Generally, the professor found procrastination to be an irrational flight, as in fight-or-flight, response to work-related dread, fear, anxiety and doubts — a problem “like other kinds of self-regulation failures, like gambling, overeating or compulsive shopping,” he says.
“You feel awful, and you’re trying to feel good in the short run,” he explains. “People who are really successful at dealing with this are people who can stop and analyze their emotions, and recognize that, ‘Yeah, I’m feeling really overwhelmed.’”
Lindsey Pollak, Generation Y career guide — who says that her generation has scored new records for time-squandering — concurs. She encourages workers caught in the moment of procrastination to, well, procrastinate, but intentionally.
“Clear your head, relax a little bit, and clear stress,” she says.
In fact, Pychyl adds, a certain amount of meditative procrastination is healthy. “You need to get the pump primed,” he says. “Not all delay is procrastination. We shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves.” Because guilt from procrastination often provokes future procrastination.
“When people self-forgive for procrastinating on a task, they’re less likely to procrastinate on the task in the future,” he notes.