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Putting It Off Until Later?

Procrastination is something most people have experienced at some time or other in their lives.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Procrastination is something most people have experienced at some time or other in their lives.  For some, procrastination is an everyday event.  For others it may be a rare occurrence.  The question for today:  Is procrastination a bad thing? 

     Why do people procrastinate?  Some say it comes as a result of poor planning, laziness, or the inability to stay on a task.  Others say it might be hereditary or possibly the result of some disease.  Scientists have done behavioral studies to try to pinpoint the reason people procrastinate and to show its negative effects on their health.  Surprising results have emerged from these studies. 

     Procrastination isn’t just a bad habit, like biting your nails.  It is a bigger deal than that.  Procrastinating can affect one’s health in two ways – one involves stress and the other involves behaviors that have a poor impact on health. Putting off important tasks can result in greater stress as one rushes to meet (or miss) a deadline. Stress, in turn, is linked to various health issues.  Studies also show that it is one of the top three or four problems that hinder student successes in school.

     In a number of studies on procrastination over the last 20 years, it became apparent that procrastination affected student grades as well as their emotional state. Procrastinators earned lower grades than other students and reported higher cumulative amounts of stress and illness. True procrastinators didn’t just finish their work later — the quality of it suffered, as did their own well-being.

     Procrastination makes a person’s memory work harder.  Memory works best when it is given time to decompress.  Frequent breaks are necessary for the mind to memorize things to its greatest ability.  Procrastination works against the memory. The brain has to work harder to memorize information given at the last minute than it would if a person starts the study process earlier.

     One of the biggest lies of procrastination is that it saves time. Not true—actually it takes more time.  The brain consolidates the information a person learns when they sleep, but waiting until the last minute to try to learn removes that natural brain function from the learning process.  In fact, psychologists call the result of that practice “over-learning.” Someone spends time learning material they will just forget.  Facts are “drilled” into their head because they have to know them for a test—some call it “cramming” for a test.  All that is learned will be gone next week.

     Human nature causes us to put off doing things we think will be unpleasant, painful, or difficult. With all the research done on the problems created by procrastinating, what can be done to help squelch the urge to “put it off until tomorrow”? 

     One way is to plan time to do the task.  Perhaps planning is not your thing--don’t get caught up in the “planning” side of it. Don’t bother working out a whole bunch of details and spending a ton of time getting things situated, just set a time when you’re going to do the work.

     Develop a good to-do list to help with your seemingly massive work load.  Procrastinating is super easy when you don’t know exactly how much work you need to do today.

     It is a very good thing to dream big, but everyone needs much smaller dreams for the day-in, day-out grind of living.  What motivates a person in the short term doesn’t need to be big.  If you want to stop procrastinating, set small goals for yourself and reward yourself in small ways.

     As a general rule, most people spend the majority of their time meeting their deadlines and being very productive, even if those moments of procrastination do creep in.  Problems only develop when the habit evolves to a point where everything the person does is “put off” until later. 

By Linda Bates
County Extension Agent - 4-H
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Linda Bates
County Extension Agent - 4-H
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
236 Woodbine Hot Springs AR 71901
(501) 623-6841
lbates@uaex.edu

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