Feature Archive

It's Never Too Late to Stop Procrastinating

You can break the cycle of putting off important tasks you can be doing today.

By Jean Lawrence
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

It's such a long word, you almost want to put off saying it. It's Procrastination -- also known as delaying, shillyshallying, and excuse-making. But if you chronically put things off, you will suffer for it -- fines, late payment fees, nosebleed tickets, and often, bad, hastily done work that can lead to unpleasant consequences. Plus -- don't forget that nagging feeling and a suspicion that you are "not worthy."

William Knaus, EdD, a professor at American International College in Springfield, Mass., wrote the book on not writing the book. Co-author of Overcoming Procrastination; Do It Now -- How to Break the Procrastination Habit; and The Procrastination Workbook: Your Personalized Program for Breaking Free of the Patterns That Hold You Back. Knaus tells WebMD that even people who are perpetually late qualify as procrastinators.

Procrastination, Knaus tells WebMD, is an automatic habit process that leads to needless postponement. "It's automatic," he says. "It happens seamlessly time and time again." Symptoms include:

  • When you face something unpleasant, boring, or have doubts about your abilities, you substitute a less-timely, relevant, or lower-priority task. Time to do taxes -- but wait, the windows haven't been washed in ages! They look terrible. I can hardly see out. Let's see, where is the bucket? Knaus calls these diversions "addictivities."
  • You decide later would be better because the task or idea needs time to "season."
  • You need to do more "research."
  • I want to do it, but there must be an easier way. Let me think of one.
  • In what Knaus calls the "catch-22" ploy, you put yourself in a position in which you cannot follow through. Say you want to find a mate, but you convince yourself you have a fatal flaw, so you foreclose on yourself before you even begin. Or you'd like to get an advanced degree, but convince yourself everyone will be younger or smarter.
  • Or you think backward. "I can't start this because I don't understand the past as well as I should." You look over your life. Then you look over your life some more. "Pretty soon," Knaus says, "you know more and more about less and less and still haven't started whatever it is yet."
  • Indecision is another procrastination trigger, according to Gail McMeekin, MSW, owner of the coaching firm called Creative Success in Newton, Mass., and author of The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women. "You feel the need to weigh the options," she says. "Then weigh them some more."