by Kassandra Lamb
I postponed a deadline this week (one of the perks of being the co-owner of the press).
I think it was a good stress-management decision. But it’s hard to tell sometimes when we’re “managing” our schedule and when we’re just plain procrastinating.
We all procrastinate occasionally. I have a very tall stack of papers on my desk (about two years worth of receipts) that can attest to that.
The most common reason for the average person’s procrastination is that they just plain don’t like doing that particular task. That’s how I feel about filing paperwork. On my list of top ten least-liked tasks, it’s about five, right after having a root canal and right before having a mammogram. That’s right. I’m better at making sure to have my boobs squished yearly than I am about filing away those receipts that the IRS might someday demand to see.
But for chronic procrastinators, the motivations are usually more complex. They put off everything. Often they’ll tell you that they work best under pressure. Or even that they produce their best work under pressure (a subtly different statement). Most of the time, neither statement is true.
Usually, there are two factors at work here. One is psychological, the other is habit. The psychological factor has to do with self-confidence. On some level, they don’t believe they can do any task well. This makes every task unpleasant to a certain degree. So every task gets put off.
And because it gets put off and is done with inadequate time to do it well, the belief is reinforced that the person can’t do it well. It gets done “good enough” but not really well.
But what about the belief that they do their best work under pressure. Hmm, there may be a little truth to that. Some people do indeed perform better, are more motivated and energized, when they have a deadline. But waiting until that deadline is looming is not a recipe for high-level performance. More on this in a moment.
The habit part… when we get into a pattern of doing things a certain way, it’s hard to break out of that. So if our mind set is that anything that isn’t due in the next day or so doesn’t need our attention, we’re going to keep procrastinating and doing things at the last minute.
Sometimes we’re tempted to dismiss ‘habit’ as a simple thing to overcome. It’s not. These patterns become ingrained in our thinking and are automatic. We find ourselves doing it that same old way before we even realize what’s up. It takes a fair amount of conscious effort over a lengthy period of time to break these patterns of thinking and behaving.
Which brings us back around to the belief that one does their best work under pressure. Often this is rationalization for the habit of procrastinating. But that justification can also be an indicator that you’re a closet adrenaline junkie.
Maybe you’re not bungee jumping or hunting wild game, but you may be feeding your need for stimulation by setting yourself up to be stressed by looming deadlines.
We all have something that psychologists and physiologists call ‘thresholds’–pain thresholds, stress thresholds, sensory thresholds, and stimulation thresholds. All of these thresholds vary somewhat from one individual to another. Some of us tolerate pain better than others, for example.
The same is true for stimulation thresholds. Some of us need more stimulation in order to feel fully activated, energized and alive.
And some of the folks who have high stimulation thresholds get into the habit of stimulating themselves by procrastinating, so that they then have looming deadlines creating an atmosphere of stress/stimulation.
Is this healthy? Psychologically speaking, on the one hand, they are meeting their needs for stimulation, but on the other hand they are setting themselves up for unnecessary anxiety and less than optimal performance.
Physically, they are stressing their bodies with that unnecessary anxiety. And such chronic stressors take a high toll over time.
Me, I tend to be a precrastinator rather than a procrastinator. But more on that next time when I talk about how to overcome the tendency to procrastinate (including how folks with high stimulation thresholds can find healthier ways to get that stimulation).
How about you? How much do you procrastinate?
Here’s something you don’t have to procrastinate about if you’re a Kate Huntington fan. My latest novel in that series is available for preorder. With two quick clicks now, it’s ordered and it will pop up on your ereader when it’s released on October 27th.
It’s on sale for a reduced price during the preorder period. Just $1.99 (goes up to $3.99 after the release).
SUICIDAL SUSPICIONS, A Kate Huntington Mystery, Book 8
Psychotherapist Kate Huntington is rocked to the core when one of her clients commits suicide. How can this be? The woman, who suffered from bipolar disorder, had been swinging toward a manic state. The client’s family blames Kate and they’re threatening to sue for malpractice. She can’t fault them since she blames herself. How could she have missed the signs?
Searching for answers for herself and the grieving parents, Kate discovers some details that don’t quite fit. Is it possible the client didn’t take her own life, or is that just wishful thinking? Questioning her professional judgement, and at times her own sanity, she feels compelled to investigate. What she finds stirs up her old ambivalence about the Catholic Church. Is her client’s death somehow related to her childhood parish?
When she senses that someone is following her, she wonders if she is truly losing it. Or is she getting dangerously close to someone’s secrets?
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Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series and has started a new cozy series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries (coming soon).
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K.B. OwenSeptember 1, 2015 at 7:22 am
Wow, that explains a lot about some friends I have (and my oldest son)! I’ve often wondered why they bring that stress on themselves. To me, it seemed as if they enjoyed the drama, even though I could see they were stressed about it. Your explanation makes a lot more sense. But what’s the solution for one of these types? Should they try to get their stimulation in other ways, e.g., bungee jumping?
As for me, although I’ll certainly defer less savory tasks when I can, I’m a super-worrier. I’m thinking and preparing for stuff (especially big stuff) WAY in advance of when it’s due, and jumping in as early as I can to tackle it. Drives my kids nuts. Sigh.
Kassandra LambSeptember 1, 2015 at 11:56 am
LOL No, I don’t recommend bungee jumping, but I do suggest they find other ways to get that stimulation. I talk about that more in next week’s post.
I got that worrier gene too, Kathy, from my mother. That’s why I have to be done so far in advance; otherwise I’m sure a thousand things will go wrong at the end. And sometimes they do despite my preparations and worrying. *sigh*
Shannon EspositoSeptember 1, 2015 at 9:27 am
I read something interesting awhile back about people with ADD and how their dopamine levels are low so doing things that cause stress and adrenalin rushes actually makes them feel good. Both my husband and one of my twins are like this and are huge procrastinators. Me and the “good twin” (Lol!) try to get things done early.
Kassandra LambSeptember 1, 2015 at 12:02 pm
Yes, the low dopamine from ADHD can definitely be one of the reasons behind the need for higher stimulation. A mild case of ADHD (inattentive type) runs in my family as well. It is probably why I’m a bit of a closet adrenaline junkie myself. But I got the worrier gene too, and it seems to have trumped the urge to procrastinate to build drama.
Jennette Marie PowellSeptember 1, 2015 at 1:03 pm
I mostly procrastinate about cleaning the fish tank. Or doing something at work that’s boring (and doesn’t have a real deadline). But otherwise, I try to avoid this kind of stress as much as possible – it’s one cause of Adrenal Fatigue! Even before AF, I was never one who worked well under pressure.
Congrats on the upcoming release!
Kassandra LambSeptember 1, 2015 at 1:56 pm
There are so many ways people can wear out their bodies prematurely (or trigger a latent problem) with stress. And our society encourages trying to do too much. Yet another reason that I like to get things done in advance when I can, so that I don’t have more than one deadline looming at a time.
I am like you. I definitely don’t work well under pressure. Keep on taking good care of yourself! (But you do probably want to clean that fish tank eventually. 😉 )
Vinnie HansenSeptember 1, 2015 at 1:05 pm
Someone said, “Thank God for the last minute or nothing would get done.” 🙂 But I’m not like that at all. I plan in advance, not only because I’m a worrier, but also because I’m a plodder. I like to move slowly and to mull over options. I’m a Taurus bull, working my cud. I don’t like to rush, and no one better try to push me!
Kassandra LambSeptember 1, 2015 at 1:58 pm
We should start a group, Vinnie. We could call it the Planners and Plodders Society. 😉
I’ll bet people only try to push you to move faster one time. After that Taurus bull has turned on them once, they learn not to go there.
Karen McFarlandSeptember 7, 2015 at 3:18 pm
I don’t file, I pile Kassandra. And yes, I do have a high stimulating threshold which is very stressful sometimes. I used to work better under pressure, but not anymore. I think I burned myself out. Now, I go at it when I have the energy. I cannot afford to push it. Not worth it my friend.
Congrats on your new release! 🙂
Kassandra LambSeptember 7, 2015 at 8:00 pm
Thanks, Karen. And I so agree. It is not worth it to push ourselves or create unnecessary pressure. Slow and steady wins the race!
DwayneSeptember 11, 2015 at 7:04 am
I’m like you Kassandra. I like to get things done early. My boss calls me the over-achiever. I also like using lists to get things done, and that would be the other thing I would add to your calendar. In addition to the 4 calendar dates, I would make a ‘mini’ list for that day or week, depending on how detailed you want to get. For example, we will take a chore nobody likes – cleaning the bathroom. On the whole, a big ugly job, but if you break it down, such as, 1. clean mirror, 2. change toilet paper (if needed), 3. refill/change soaps. 4. clean sink. 5. clean tub, etc etc. Then it becomes much more manageable and as you check each one off you get that mini sense of accomplishment. And it doesn’t look like such a huge task anymore.
Kassandra LambSeptember 11, 2015 at 1:50 pm
Ah, glad to know there is yet another precrastinator out there, Dwayne! I definitely make lists and break down into smaller tasks, but not usually for cleaning the bathroom. Not a bad idea though, because as you say, then you get that mini shot of satisfaction with each task. Anything that makes bathroom cleaning more palatable is a very good thing in my book!! 😀