Does procrastination arouse you?

  • Someday Lesson: Working under pressure creates more adrenaline than success.

In university I had a short attention span for school work, so I would start essays as soon as they were assigned and do them bit by bit until a few days before they were due. Most people thought I was crazy, preferring to stay awake the night before, researching, writing and editing in a frenzy, getting the paper done a few minutes before class then crashing big time afterwards.

They’d tell me it was because they worked better that way, that the pressure spurred them on to do great work.

Well, university students (or anyone else) can’t use that excuse any more. It’s been debunked by science.

Toronto’s Globe and Mail recently reported on a study that revealed some interesting findings: last minute adrenaline junkies don’t actually perform better when they work to a very tight deadline.

Timothy Pychyl, the lead researcher on the study, told his test subjects: “‘It’s not that you work better under pressure, it’s that you only work under pressure.”

Procrastination no longer has an out. Greatness doesn’t come from putting things off. Procrastinators simple don’t start until they have to. This type of procrastinator is called an arousal procrastinator meaning only situations that involve stress get them active and producing the work they need to.

And not a single one of his subjects argued with him. They knew what he said was true. They simply were waiting for the last minute because nothing else got them moving.

So, how to arousal procrastinators quit the rush of last minute working? Dr Pychyl provides no answers, but my advice would be to find your adrenaline kicks elsewhere like mountain biking and bungee jumping and just get on with what you’re waiting for the last minute to do.

PS Did you know that Ottawa’s Carleton University has a Procrastination Research Group? Me neither, but I think it’s about to become my new favourite website.

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31 thoughts on “Does procrastination arouse you?

  1. Joanna Young says:

    But doesn’t the research suggest they’re right to wait to the last minute – because otherwise it wouldn’t get done at all? If that’s when you have the maximum amount of motivation… why not?

    Joanna Young´s last blog post..How Social Media Makes Giving Easy

  2. Appropriate for me today. I tense up and rush through certain things rather than relaxing and doing a better job by taking more time over it.

    Joely Black (@TheCharmQuark on Twitter)´s last blog post..Holosync, meditation, the god Shiva, my nephew and some sausage

  3. (i) says:

    Here is another website on procrastination research: http://www.procrastinus.com/

  4. Mike Goad says:

    I’m a procrastinator by nature.

    As part of my job, I had to teach a set of ten topics every two years to the same group of people from 1992 through 2007. Every time I taught each topic, I tried to do it in a different way so that it would not be the same old stuff. Complicating that was the fact that the topics were all similar so I tried to be creative and often changed things up from one topic to the next.

    As you might imagine, as time went on, it became harder and harder to do it differently. Sometimes, I would drop back and incorporate something I had done years before, which, given work group attrition, sometimes worked.

    At other times, though, I would find myself at a complete loss for how to cover the material. There were quite a few times where I wouldn’t have it figured out even on the morning of the “first teach,” which was usually attended by other instructors and at least one of the managers of the group that I trained. I would get to work 2 or 3 hours early and, in frustration, cobble something together just in time to teach it.

    I had one notable failure from this, where I had to redo everything before the next week. More often, the class went just fine, with a little bit of polish needed. On occasion, I was told by the manager and/or instructors that it was the best class yet and that I needed to teach the rest of the classes that way.

    I’m not endorsing this as the right way to do things. It worked for me because, over the years, I very much became the expert on these topics.

    Mike Goad´s last blog post..Wedenesday Weigh-In, February 18, 2009

  5. Brett Legree says:

    Perhaps this is why Tim Ferriss (and others) suggest setting artificial deadlines or time constraints to make yourself do stuff.

    It works for me at work, and at home, and it works well. I’m not sure if that means I’m a procrastinator, or if it just helps me focus.

    A nice side effect to pretending something is due in one hour and then working hard on it is then saying, “it isn’t due until next Thursday, so I can polish it”.

    Maybe it is a bit of an 80-20 rule thing. Force yourself to get the 80 percent done in the 20 percent time – ahead of time. And then squeak out that last 20 percent later.

    Brett Legree´s last blog post..viking fridays – the mind and the heart.

  6. JB says:

    You’ve described me. Logic and reason tell me I should be out looking for a job. But until I get thisclose to having my latest batch of savings run out, I’m not the least bit motivated to do so. I tell myself it’s because the jobs in my former field aren’t available in this economy so I’m just riding it out and I’ll get one when the economy picks up again; but it’s probably moreso that I need to have a “deadline” breathing down my neck before I’m moved to action. Until then, oh, gee, I have plenty of time before that happens… no need to rush.

    Seems really silly, come to think about it. It’s also why I haven’t committed to my life yet. The question is, how do I fix this? (Fear of heights, not about to climb mountains or go bungee jumping, thanks…)

    JB´s last blog post..Energy Shifts

  7. DiscoveredJoys says:

    I used to be a procrastination junkie (and also an adrenaline junkie). Now I’m a Stealth Procrastination Junkie.

    I figured out, eventually, that the reason for me leaving things to the last minute was that I disliked working to deadlines set by other people. I felt cramped and lacking control. The adrenaline of working against a deadline helped overcome my resistance to being ‘controlled’.

    I found that if I did ‘stuff’ earlier, but to my own schedule, it was far less of a problem. I would look ahead and anticipate what would be required (even without being asked) and make sure that it was all done prior to the deadline. Some of the extras were done only just before being requested but I got a real kick out of presenting a report or a budget or statistics directly my boss wanted them.

    The point is, I made the timetable for producing stuff *my* timetable. That meant I was in control. Sure I was sometimes using adrenaline to make me buckle down and get a job done, but it meant I had time in hand for any last minute problems which I could then manage. My boss only saw the results, not the race to get stuff done – hence the ‘stealth’.

    Curiously enough this happened in my family life too. I remember saying to Mrs DiscoveredJoys that the more she nagged me to get something done (she wasn’t really a nag, I just felt nagged) the less likely it was that the task would be done. She now asks me once to do something, and I generally do it – but to my own schedule.

    Peace and harmony to all.

  8. Andrew says:

    I have personally never particularly emphasized the idea about working more effectively under pressure, and I think you have hit the nail on the head with the real truth about this miserable objection.

    If the theory about working more effectively under pressure held any water, then those same people would get the same benefit by setting themselves a tighter deadline before the actual due date.

    One should not require immediate external pressure in order to get down to it.

    Andrew´s last blog post..Thoughts for a nation in shock

  9. Kelly says:

    Alex,

    I do both. I work, like you, in little bits all along and I remember in college feeling like the only one who didβ€”I’d be 80 or 90% done, but I’d still be working furiously in the last 48 hours.

    So what does that say about me? I want it both ways, I guess.

    Regards,

    Kelly

    Kelly´s last blog post..Tip of the Week: Read Tim Berry

  10. Paul D says:

    I agree…I am a college student and I usually only do assignments in the few days before they are due. I never get ahead or complete things without being under pressure. My grades are ok but nowhere near what I want them to be.

  11. Alex, I was like you as well, and felt like I was the only one.

    I have gradually moved away from that, realizing that if I start working on a presentation 5 weeks before I have to deliver it, it will take me 5 weeks, but if I leave it until the last week, I can still get it done. As a perfectionist, it’s too easy to keep modifying something until it’s just right instead of recognizing that it’s good enough and using that extra time to accomplish something else.

    On the other hand, I’ve taken courses where the instructor had obviously thrown the material together just before class, and it showed. That’s procrastination in the extreme!

    Janet Barclay´s last blog post..Twitter Basics: Your Profile

  12. Friar says:

    I agree with Brett about the 80-20 thing. I think Sometimes it’s GOOD to procrastinate.

    If you have a limited ammount of time to complete a task, you’ll focus and do the bare-minimum of what needs to get done.

    But if you planned ahead and had lots of time, you might end up being more nit-picky and end up doing more work than actually needs to get gone.

    I’ve seen this at my workplace.

    For example, if a document has a tight deadline…the boss will approve of it with minimum revisions, and it gets issued ASAP.

    But if we have weeks or months of time, that’s when people start to micro-manage, and we go through edits and re-edits, ad infinitum. More work, with no added value.

  13. Friar, I think you and I are on the same page!

    Janet Barclay´s last blog post..Twitter Basics: Your Profile

  14. Friar says:

    @Janet

    I’m an Advanced Level III Procrastinator, and quite set in my ways.

    (Poor Alex hasn’t managed to convert me yet!) πŸ™‚

  15. Brett Legree says:

    @Friar & Janet,

    It just makes basic sense in many ways – right from Parkinson’s Law:

    Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkinson%27s_law

    So one way to get stuff done quickly, effectively and efficiently is to give yourself a tight deadline – perhaps even one that is artificial (in case you *do* need to do it over again).

    Like when I write memos at work – usually I can write a memo in about 15 minutes. Then “the boss” cuts it to ribbons, there’s a committee meeting, etc. etc.

    And…

    The finished product ends up being about 90 percent similar to what I wrote anyway!

    Brett Legree´s last blog post..viking fridays – the mind and the heart.

  16. Friar says:

    @Brett

    Parkinson was a genius.

    I’d buy him a beer, if he was still alive!

    Friar´s last blog post..Uncle Friar’s Tips on Dog-Sitting a Duck Toller

  17. Brett Legree says:

    @Friar,

    Exactly – and he’d take until closing time to drink it πŸ˜‰

    Brett Legree´s last blog post..viking fridays – the mind and the heart.

  18. Glen Allsopp says:

    I wasn’t aware that people thought working at the last minute actually helped them. I always just used to do it because I was lazy πŸ˜‰

    I wish I could have kept up a system like yours and done the thing straight away, that would have made things soooooo much easier haha. Nice post Alex.

    Cheers,
    Glen

    Glen Allsopp´s last blog post..Be the Light that Gives Others Permission to Shine

  19. @Brett

    I never (OK, hardly ever) leave anything until the last minute – too risky! I may think it will take 3 hours, but it actually takes 5, or I am interrupted, or my computer keeps crashing, etc. Better safe than sorry!

    I just no longer feel the need to start something weeks ahead of time, as I did in school.

    Janet Barclay´s last blog post..Twitter Basics: Your Profile

  20. Alex Fayle says:

    @Joanna
    I wondered that too – the article didn’t mention that and I haven’t had a chance to research it further.

    @Joely
    There’s a fine line between batching jobs and pushing things into the procrastination realm.

    @(i)
    Thanks for the link – I’ll check it out!

    @Mike
    I can imagine that would be a challenge and after a while it becomes second nature, so you can put it together last minute and still have it come out great – in your case too much time might mean overthinking an already well known subject.

    @Brett
    I always find the artificial deadlines silly – because I know they’re artificial. Bu maybe since I don’t need a deadline to get myself motivated they don’t work for me…

    @JB
    I procrastinate but it’s based on fear, not on “not getting around to it” so I’ve never experienced the rush of getting things done at the last minute. Any time I’ve tried it, I’ve felt nothing but impending horror and doom – not pleasant feelings, let me tell you.

    As for getting over it, I’d ask you how excited are you by the prospect of work – maybe it’s time to find something else to do that would cause you more excitement. Generally I’ve found, the more interested/passionate we are in things, the more likely we are to do them right away.

    @Discovered Joy
    I’m with you all the way on the “nagging” – the only drawback is that I have no task memory whatsoever so people around me never know if I’ve forgotten or just am going to do it to my schedule. I’ve learned I like being asked when I will do something rather than “why haven’t you done it yet?”

    @Andrew
    I wonder sometimes if this attitude arose out of a lack of passion for things and then became habit so that with even tasks they love the adrenaline rush is needed…

    @Kelly
    Sounds like you were a perfectionist. πŸ˜‰ Me I’d get to good enough and leave it there (I was happy being a B+ student and in my Master where B- meant passing my mantra was “B- bonus” as in anything above a B- was a bonus and therefore unnecessary).

    @Paul D
    Have you ever tried planning out your assignments on a wall calendar? That always used to work for me – and the nice thing about this is that you can get the research done without scrambling for books.

    @Janet, @Brett & @Friar
    I’m totally with you on the Parkinson’s Law thing – I make sure I don’t start things too soon or I putter on them instead of actually doing them and puttering just kills the enthusiasm for something.

    @Glen
    I love the honesty! LOL

  21. Brett Legree says:

    Oh, I know artificial deadlines are silly.

    Of course, I also believe that in general, *real* deadlines are silly. Because to me, there are very few things that really, truly have to be done at a certain time.

    You have to come up for air at a certain time, if you’re underwater, or you die. You have to jump out of the way of a moving train in time, or you die.

    On a positive note, you have to pay attention at a certain time to watch the sun set each day. You have to pay attention to your lover, or to your children, because each moment is a real event that you can never get back.

    Work? Meh. Deadlines are meaningless.

    Pretty much it’s all crap unless human life is at stake, as far as I’m concerned.

    Sure, you might lose out on a job assignment or a contract or something, but if you’ve got the best product and they choose an inferior one because you are 10 minutes late, in my opinion, they lose.

    I know that might sound a bit odd, but it comes from my own experiences, of course. People running around doing “busywork” where I work, inspired by good old Mr. Parkinson himself.

    Saying, “this must be done, or else!”

    Or else what? It is not rocket science. We’re not trying to save the crew of the Apollo 13. We’re often talking about writing documentation on facilities that won’t start construction until 2035 or 2040, so really, if something is a day or a week late, does the writer deserve to be burned at performance appraisal time?

    I guess the boss thinks so.

    Meanwhile, the rest of us have lives… πŸ™‚

    Brett Legree´s last blog post..viking fridays – the mind and the heart.

  22. Friar says:

    @Brett

    Yeah, I was getting reminded today, AGAIN, that it’s “important that the project stay on schedule, and on budget”.

    yeah? Then howcum last summer, when I was told to rush rush rush to get this document out, management then sat on it for months, delaying the whole project.

    After which (of course) now I’m expected to “catch up” on, because we’re behind.

    Same thing happened me a few years ago, with two other deadlines. I was harassed to the point of it affecting my health, and I had to leave the branch.

    When it was all said and done, those deadlines were also “Fake”. Again, the people upstairs just let things slide for months.

    So if it’s due, because some boson says it’s due, and no other reason is given, then pardon me for not jumping to finish it ahead of time.

    THOSE are the tasks I tend to procrastinate a lot on.

  23. DiscoveredJoys says:

    @Friar

    You may have heard of the old project ‘menu’:

    ~~o0o~~

    Done Right

    Done Quick

    Done Cheap

    — pick any 2

    ~~o0o~~

    I also invented the ’18 rule’ of computing projects:

    18 months for the customer to decide what they want (enough to start, anyway), somewhat longer than expected

    18 weeks to develop software, already running late

    18 days to install hardware, already running later still

    18 hours to put support processes in place, mad panic because the project is well overdue

    18 minutes for a quick pre-live test, because that’s all the time allowed

    18 seconds for the first real problem to show up in live service, whereupon the project manager gets all the blame for everbody elses delays and mistakes.

    I’ve found that both rules have a germ of truth in them. Knowing them doesn’t help handle the real world much better – but at least you (as project manager) know that it isn’t all your fault. There is enough procrastination to go round, several times!

  24. @Friar,

    I remember all too well the frustration of working my a$$ off because my boss needed something done TODAY, then having her come back to me with revisions 2 weeks later… AARGH!

    Janet Barclay´s last blog post..Twitter Basics: What Should I Tweet About?

  25. Alex Fayle says:

    That’s why I work for myself – I’m the only to put in deadlines because I want to achieve something. Makes procrastinating much less enjoyable… πŸ˜‰

  26. […] Does procrastination arouse you? at Someday Syndrome […]

  27. Iain Broome says:

    Oh no, I’m an arousal procrastinator!

    Or at least I used to be. I was terrible for cramming at University and still have to force myself to get things done in plenty of time today.

    It was a mental state where I always thought, ‘Oh, it will be all right,’ and it usually was. A couple of embarassing missed deadlines soon changed my thinking.

    Iain Broome´s last blog post..Writing goals 2: Short-term targets, long-term goals

  28. deepikaur says:

    I hate procrastinating, but cannot find any way to avoid it. My schedule is usually pretty jam-packed, so I do the things that are due first, first. Then, the due date of a major research paper swings around, and I work frivolously during the last few hours before it’s due.

    But I’d rather not procrastinate. So whenever I do have some downtime, I set to work, getting little by little done.

    deepikaur´s last blog post..Email Reminder Services [Productivity]

  29. Alex Fayle says:

    @Iain
    Embarrassment definitely works as one way to change behaviours, eh? πŸ˜‰

    @Deepikaur
    When you have a lot on your plate, some things fall through the cracks. You are procrastinating–you’re coping. But good for you for taking time to focus on the bit by bit stuff when you can.

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