Susan*: “Uh-oh, my husband just emailed me a list of hotels for a vacation we might take next year!”
Susan: “He always goes online and wastes time when he’s procrastinating. We don’t even know if we are going to take that vacation! It’s probably been hours since he stopped taking care of important work to do nonsense!”
Susan and I start to talk about the problem, and I ask her what her husband might be avoiding. She is surprised by my question. Procrastination is so culturally accepted that we don’t really think much of it. However, procrastination means we’re avoiding something, and avoidance is usually caused by anxiety or another distressing emotion.
Let me give you some examples. When was the last time you sat down to do your taxes on March 15th instead of a few days before April 15th? Similarly, how often do your children say “I can’t wait to get home and do that homework!”
We typically avoid unpleasant tasks, replace them with things that are easier or more fun, then get even more anxious when the job isn’t completed.
Avoidance comes in big forms and small. Many new parents don’t get life insurance or write a will because it seems too morbid or scary to think about death. At work we may avoid talking to the boss, or doing a task that is overwhelming. We may put off making necessary phone calls, or doing household repairs. Sometimes these things are just annoying, but often there is an underlying anxiety – fear of death, of awkward conversation, of failure, of spending money.
So, next time you notice yourself procrastinating, ask yourself: What am I avoiding? Am I accomplishing my goals with this avoidance? Then re-focus your attention on what really matters, and find the courage to stop procrastinating.
*note: Susan is a fictional person