4 Reasons We Procrastinate Despite Knowing Better

A deeper understanding of why we brush aside important work even when we know we should tackle it can help us overcome the urge to procrastinate the moment it tempts us.

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Wed, February 22, 2012

CIO — Everyone knows the fundamental reason why we procrastinate: We lack self-discipline. We simply don't want to do the work we need to complete when we need to address it. So we delay the inevitable. We grab a snack, check our e-mail, find something else to do.

We know procrastination will only create more stress for us, yet we succumb to it anyway. Why is it so hard to ignore procrastination's siren song?

Rory Vaden, co-founder of the training company Southwestern Consulting, studies the psychology of procrastination and the habits of successful, self-disciplined individuals. He believes that if people understood the true impact of procrastination and its psychological drivers, they might more easily overcome this counterproductive urge.

Vaden compares procrastination to buying on credit. Credit allows people to purchase more than they can realistically afford. Buying that pricey new gadget, flashy car or sprawling home on credit makes us feel good in the moment, he says, but long-term, we become prisoners of that debt.

Vaden maintains that procrastination works the same way. Putting off our work makes us feel good in the moment, but it catches up with us in the end. "Procrastination is nothing more than a creditor that charges us interest," he says. "Easy, short-term choices—whether to buy something we can't afford or put off work—lead to difficult, long-term consequences."

The True Cost of Procrastination

When Vaden was doing research for his book, Take the Stairs: 7 Steps to Achieving True Success (Perigee February 2012), he found a survey that asked 10,000 U.S. employees how much time they spent on non-work related activities while on the clock each day. The answer: an average of two hours every day. That's 25 percent of an eight-hour work day, Vaden notes.

Vaden estimates the cost of this wasted work time at $10,000 per employee per year. (His estimate is based on the average of American salary of $39,000 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

"Procrastination is one of the most expensive invisible costs in business today," he says. "It doesn't show up on a P&L or in an individual's checkbook register. People need to realize that anything that wastes their time is a waste of their money."

Vaden's point is particularly salient for executives running companies and for individuals who are self-employed.

Why We Procrastinate Anyway

Vaden says people procrastinate because they're blind to its impact. People also procrastinate, he adds, out of fear, a sense of entitlement or a desire to achieve perfectionism.

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