Procrastinate Now. Don't Wait.

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Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

UPDATE (06/13/08):


I'll think of a caption later. Source: Simon Davison hide caption

itoggle caption Source: Simon Davison

I meant to write this post yesterday, but I got a bit preoccupied uploading pictures of myself on MySpace, and chatting with my co-workers about our weekend plans. I'm writing it now because I have to book a show for Monday, so I figured what better time to put some energy into the blog?

Yesterday, our phone lines lit up with calls from listeners telling us about their best time-wasting rituals, and how dawdling affects their lives. Many callers said they felt they were at their most creative at the 11th hour. But one caller said her lollygagging had gotten so bad, she had to join an online procrastination support group. Expert Timothy Pychyl brought us up to speed on the latest in procrastination research, and gave advice on how to overcome chronic procrastination. He wrote a follow-up blog post in response to the show on his blog, "Don't Delay." We also heard from self-professed "structured procrastinator" John Perry* about why procrastination is his best friend.

Some of you may have been too busy procrastinating yesterday to call in to the show, or to comment on the blog. So now's your chance: tell us, is procrastination a positive or negative force in your life?

* Pychyl and Perry met, officially, for the first time yesterday on our show. They had previously only known each other through their writings and informal emails. We love to bring great minds together here on Talk of the Nation. For Pychyl's response to Perry's structured procrastination, see this post.

ORIGINAL POST (06/12/08):

Post coming soon...



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Easier done than said.

Sent by Ken | 3:03 PM | 6-12-2008

I appreciate you giving me a perfectly valid excuse for not going back to work. i am sure that listening to your program will be more productive.

Sent by David Bue | 3:10 PM | 6-12-2008

Every quarter I am worse than my I sit in my office looking for excuses to yet again put off my grading as the deadline looms...I accepted a lunch invitation, followed up on emails that I have been procrasting to answer - maybe I should pay some bills? Ahhh - back to my stacks of grading...
Assistant Professor
Retail Merchandising
Ohio University

Sent by Michelle Price | 3:12 PM | 6-12-2008

I and my husband operate a weekly newspaper, so we can't procrastinate. We have a deadline very week and we must meet it or else. It's a good thing too, because without that deadline, I'm not sure I'd get anything done.

Sent by Christina Verderosa | 3:17 PM | 6-12-2008

OMG - I'm always saying "gee, I have to look that up on the computer". Then I have to check my on-line forums. I am going to know a lot of information, but the things I say I'd like to get done, like cleaning the house or writing that article, get put off. I definitely think it is a negative. I do tend to be hard on myself and somewhat of a perfectionist and maybe a bit depressed. Great show. Help!

Sent by Susan | 3:20 PM | 6-12-2008

Procrastination is a positive force in my life. I do my best work under pressure, and when I procrastinate I place myself under greater pressure.

Sent by Anicca | 3:22 PM | 6-12-2008

Hi, I understand that time management or procrastination are a classic symptom of ADHD. Since brain studies in the last 8 or so years have better identified learning differences, I think there are many adults who remain undiagnosed with a variety of learning differences. I do not contribute procrastination to ADHD only. I think it basically part of our personality.
Gina from Cincinnati

Sent by Gina | 3:23 PM | 6-12-2008

Maybe the person that seems to be a procrastinator is afraid to succeed.

Sent by CHRIS DAWSON | 3:25 PM | 6-12-2008

For me procrastination is both positive and negative. It is when I use it in balance - face/accept what must be done AND use adaptive denial/distract when emotions or thoughts about tasks in the future become overwhelming, I find that I am more likely to be more effective.

Sent by Sondra | 3:25 PM | 6-12-2008

I find that when I procrastinate during a project, it gives me a kind of break from what I've been focusing on... usually, while I'm doing the dishes of sponging the circle made by my coffee cup, my project is still going on in the background of my thinking, and that suddenly an idea will occur to me, and I abandon the dishes for the project I've been avoiding. I find that when this happens my ideas are actually better than if I had stuck it out and barrelled through it.

Sent by Jason Willome, San Antonio, TX | 3:26 PM | 6-12-2008

Dear Neil

Thanks again for taking my opening call as an artist.

Sorry I forgot to add that listeners may want to see my masterpieces of art relatd to observational astronomy that have appeared in two NASA websites- One for over a dozen times - (start with archived date of Dec 13th 2006 or Oct 14th 2006) and once in NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day- archived as Nov 17th 2006

These works have inspired other procrastinating artists to create!

-thanks again,
Mark Seibold - Portland, OR

Sent by Mark Seibold | 3:27 PM | 6-12-2008

Briefly, fear is my motivation for procrastination. I am 76 years old and love to write, and I do, but I burden myself mentally with the task and oft times don't begin because I am haunted by the expectation...I"m not good enough..

Sent by Jim Connelly, Avalon,N.J. | 3:28 PM | 6-12-2008

Great topic. I am presently writing my masters thesis and agree with your previous dissertation-writing caller. In some cases, being a perfectionist is required for something like a thesis. My 2-cents:

The trick is to figure out what subjects to be a perfectionist about and what parts to accept less-than-perfect.

It comes down to figuring out your acceptable amount of error early on.

Chris in Portland

Sent by Chris | 3:28 PM | 6-12-2008

Procrastination has a possitive side in my life. During the school year I don't find much time to catch up with laundry or house cleaning, tasks I normally despise, but when facing a difficult school assignment, I feel very productive, and almost pleasure in, doing house work.

Sent by Dorte Lindhardt | 3:29 PM | 6-12-2008

One for sure. I seem to remember my losses due to procrastination a whole lot more than my gains from me.

Whats going on there ? Is it just me or is there something more for it ?

Sent by Sri | 3:30 PM | 6-12-2008

How are procrastination and indecision interlinked?
I procrastinate and I cannot make decisions.

Sent by Kay | 3:31 PM | 6-12-2008

I'm a champion procrastinator. I find that if I start a job too early, I put too much into it and I end up with mission creep. By leaving a task to the last minute it remains smaller and more manageable. At least that's my excuse ... :-)

Sent by Nancy | 3:33 PM | 6-12-2008

I have to disagree that procrastination has anything to do with laziness. From the doctors and other sources it is directly related to anxiety attacks.
If the end result is a poorly produced product again it is related to anxiety.
Check the web or a medical doctor.

Sent by bob from adrian | 3:33 PM | 6-12-2008

Interestingly enough I was listening to the topic today while I was just finishing up a paint stripping job I'd procrastinated doing for the 25-plus years I've lived in my house.

Sent by JoAnn (Salem, Oregon) | 3:33 PM | 6-12-2008

once when my daughter was coming to visit, i wasn't feeling very well. deciding that it was more important to be relaxed and present as her mother than to have a spotless house and snacks prepared for her, i lay down to rest and refused to make myself so tired that i'd be an irritable mother.

eventually i was so antsy to do one little chore that i popped up, did it, and went back to bed.

then i got antsy again, popped up, and did something else -- just one thing -- and went back to bed.

then i got antsy again, popped up again, etc. long story short, by insisting that i rest enough to be a good mother, little tiny bits at a time, i ended up doing everything else too.

now, when i remember it, this is a deliberate technique. i procrastinate by lying down and not doing anything. if i'm really tired or at the edge of getting sick, i fall alseep. if not, i refusing to let myself get up until i'm so antsy i can't stand it.

then i pop up, do exactly that one thing, and lie down again... until the next time.

it's a wonderful way to clarify priorities and do what actually needs to be done.

i used to think that puttering was procrastinating until i realized that it was part of how i think. thinking work took longer when i didn't putter than when i did, so i started structuring that in.

Sent by sandi | 3:34 PM | 6-12-2008

I'm a middle school teacher and find that students will wait to the last minute to start a project, study or finish an assignment. This is often a symptom of what the speaker was discussing earlier - If they start too late, then they can't be held responsible for the bad job they do. How do you convince them to overcome that self protection mechanism?

Sent by Stacy | 3:34 PM | 6-12-2008

Words to live by:

What good is the last minute if you don't use it?

Sent by Peggy in Overland Park, Ks. | 3:35 PM | 6-12-2008

Countless times at work I have been given huge projects to do in a limited amount of time. Often I wait to start these projects until near the deadline, by which time the person giving me the project has decided it is no longer needed. Procrastination is often a real time-saver and obviates wasted effort.

Sent by Joel | 3:36 PM | 6-12-2008

I've been procrastinating my entire life. It is a blessing and a curse. I can write phenomenal essays in only a few hours. In fact, I won the UPS Womens Leadership essay in 2007. I never told anyone it took me about 2 hours to write (and of course I submitted it in the very last hour possible)! I do hope to become more structured in my graduate studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School this fall...Wish me luck!

Sent by Kessiah Austin-Young | 3:36 PM | 6-12-2008

I think structured procrastination was what worked to keep my marriage going for over 53 years. When we had a bad argument we both (who were procrastinators) put off doing something to damage the marriage -- just because our habit was to put thing off.

Sent by M. J. Sigmon | 3:36 PM | 6-12-2008

I'm surprised your guest didn't mention attention deficit disorder (ADD) as a possible underlying reason for procrastination. I'm a woman with ADD (blogging at, diagnosed at age 46. Procrastination is one of the hallmarks of ADD, along with disorganization and chronic lateness. ADD also appears to come with positives such as creativity. Learning about the condition in myself has helped me forgive myself, find tools that work with my kind of brain, and hook up with support and information in the form of support groups, books, and online resources. I haven't used meds (I've used neurofeedback instead), but they are helpful for some people. ADD is in large part a genentic condition, although environmental factors contribute as well. Your guests do a disservice to people by not mentioning this possibility. However, I'm looking forward to listing to the whole show later to hear what your guests have to suggest as far as techniques for dealing with procrastination. Thanks!

Sent by Kathleen Christensen | 3:37 PM | 6-12-2008

Why not set unattainable goals at the top of the to do list? "Save the world" right above "clean up after the cat". Cleaning the litter box would be less intimidating...

Sent by Pete | 3:39 PM | 6-12-2008

Having one or two talented procrastinators on a project can be useful when you get very close to the end where a very large fraction of the work actually gets done. Procrastinators of the right sort (the kind that finally get the task done) have the training to do things quickly. However, having too many procrastinators on a project may be the reason you are in a panic at the end anyway.

I've always thought I could write a very good book on procrastination but I haven't got around to it yet.

Sent by Jim | 3:40 PM | 6-12-2008

I am a terrible procrastinator! I don't mean to put everything off until the last minute. I really intent to get to work on time, etc. But I sabotage things and find myself rushing around at the last minute. Why???? Barbara

Sent by Barbara | 3:42 PM | 6-12-2008

Don't do today what you can put off until tomorrow!

Sent by Wayne Reichel | 3:42 PM | 6-12-2008

back to the idea of working better under pressure: the one time i DIDN'T procrastinate on an assignment in college, i was given a LOWER grade! let me say that i never made the mistake of working on an assignment too far in advance again!

Sent by yvonne in wisconsin | 3:44 PM | 6-12-2008

One more comment ... Some writers about ADD (including Ned Hallowell) talk about the transition from moral diagnosis (for example, you're just lazy) to medical diagnosis (it's nothing but a disorder, and the only solution is to take meds) to a strength-based approach (how can you build on your positives instead of just struggle with your negatives). Your host's jokes about being lazy, although meant to be taken in a light vein, are evidence that the old, moral diagnosis has not gone completely by the wayside. The title of a seminal book on ADD in adults is "You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid, or Crazy?" For many of us, it's a relief to recognize these things and to learn how to work with our differently rigged brains instead of beating ourselves up for our shortcomings. (I have posts on my blog about this, at

Sent by Kathleen Christensen | 3:55 PM | 6-12-2008

Having procrastinated most of my life,I am now 73years old, but I do recall that when my children were young (4) and I was very involved in many activities for them & my own interests, I did not procrastinate & was very busy & accomplished a great deal. However when I returned to college as an adult student, I procrastinated about writing assignments & my thesis and always wound up doing them by the midnight oil the night before they were due. I always did very well & was a 4.0 student yet I always wondered if I would have wrote better papers if I didn't wait until the last minute. I guess I work well under pressure & yet I don't like it as it is very stressful. Now that I am living alone I have a very long list of things to do due to procrastination & I actually accomplish much less than I did with 4 growing children, a big house and a husband to help in his business!!!!!But now there just doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day or days in the week to get all I want to do done!!!

Sent by Dolores J. Crowe | 4:09 PM | 6-12-2008

this segment today made me laugh out loud... you were describing my husband perfectly when y'all were talking about using the excuse "i work better under pressure" to justify putting stuff off. then neil said "do these people become journalists?" to answer your question, YES they do! my husband is an amazing journalist!

Sent by Kate | 4:19 PM | 6-12-2008

one of the panelists in the discussion mentioned in passing a blog on stage fright & transparency --- anyone catch those details or can direct me to it? thx

Sent by John Francis | 4:19 PM | 6-12-2008

Of course, I procrastinated long enough not to be able to call in ...
Some thoughts: I do believe there are manifestations of basic personality traits (non-impulsive and analytical) that can be labeled as procrastination. It behooves us to recognize when these traits are strengths and when they are weaknesses, or at least when the serve us well or ill.
Also, I find that people can have different processes, especially in writing/composing: some naturally dump on paper and then edit, and some do that process internally, needing little editing once it is put on paper.
Sometimes I think the rush of our lives have led us to value immediate action at the cost of effective action. It seems to have caused us to lose the ability to reflect or be contemplative. As much as I find value in the saying, "Don't just sit there, do something", there is also great value in the saying, "Don't just DO something, SIT there!"
I have been known to take procrastination to it's heights (or depths). Case in point: during a down-to-the-deadline situation I found myself reading a book...a book on Procrastination.
And yes, my mother never taught me how to slop things together - I do battle with being able to accept more readily when 'good enough' is good enough.

Sent by Skip Frankwick, Lake Oswego, OR | 4:27 PM | 6-12-2008

when I sit in my office, I always list out what is most urgent. After finishing it, I just randomly do what I like.

Sent by Nancy | 5:38 AM | 6-13-2008

Productive procrastination: I'll put off playing Texas Holdem at a gamling estimate, delay assignments for the sake of IT, wait to join free sites while seeking those that are not dot com, register a site name and then again not as by that time it's taken already, listen to music once pc is tunes in, log onto NPR, but aren't those guys far? I'll fix, but this may not be necessary after all, use the internet, though rather not until there's less users, clean properly, when required, or maybe not, pay accounts or leave it to measure accumulated interest, utilise detergents or not in a saving effort, condition my hair or see what happens if I don't, rather not order though realising this may not be in order, resume what I've done when I've counted backwards from infinite to none, now don't get going for some productive procrastination as I value you pausing to read this comments as participation.

Sent by Hercolena Oliver | 6:26 AM | 6-13-2008

If you put off doing IT yourself, if IT's considered important, someone else will do IT anyway while throwing scornful glances your way. Just learn to duck and smirk. Don't show your glee openly. Feel it inside.

Sent by Creative Procrastinator | 8:21 AM | 6-13-2008

Thanks so much for illuminating my world! I now know I am a constructive procrastinator. I have "to do" lists for everything and find I accomplish most on those days when I have a "hot item" that MUST get done -- I do everything else first while I'm stressing about doing the one big thing that HAS to get done. I've never known why I do this, but in an odd way it's quite productive - except for the fact that I don't always do the important item! That gets done late that night or the next morning amidst even greater stress.

Sent by Kathi Tevlin | 9:44 AM | 6-13-2008

Like a recent talk of the nation about using your hands and exploring your creative self said, if you give yourself less time to do something I believe an innate part of the brain becomes active that increases productivity and decreases roadblocks. I can write a term paper in 12 hours if I wait until the night before, and after reading, I have to truly read slowly to understand my complex thoughts. Or I can spend weeks, hours a day, and it becomes no more exceptional than normal.

Sent by David Garfield | 11:38 AM | 6-13-2008

I stopped listening online at 11 minutes (at the break) I'll listen to the rest later...

Sent by Anita | 1:15 PM | 6-13-2008

I'm searching for the blog--"Jesse's blog" about stage fright and transparency--that was referred to in this fascinating show about procrastination.

Does anybody have this link?

Sent by Alan Rutherford | 6:28 PM | 6-13-2008