What is the meaning of procrastination? The inside truth.
The meaning of procrastination goes deeper than you think.
We all know what the dictionary meaning of procrastination is: Merriam Webster says that to procrastinate is "to put off intentionally and habitually." Freedictionary.com goes further, claiming that the meaning is, "to put off doing something, especially out of habitual carelessness or laziness." Many of us (indeed, perhaps all of us) struggle daily with the habits of procrastination. Is it really that simple? Are we all truly, deep-down, careless and lazy?
Clearly if we put the question this way, the answer is no. Some of us might be "lazy," but this explanation just pushes the question back: why are some people lazy, or, what is the meaning of laziness? Thus, we need to go beyond the dictionary definition of procrastination to understand the true causes of this affliction. Only when we understand the true causes of procrastination can we figure out how to fix it.
Procrastination, in its essence, can be boiled down to one word: avoidance. The meaning of procrastination is tied deeply into the act of avoidance. If we are avoiding some task, we must perceive there to be some negative experience associated with it: perhaps doing the activity will be unpleasant in the moment, or perhaps it will have unpleasant consequences.
For our minor tasks in life, like washing the dishes or making an unpleasant phone call, these experiences are unavoidable. However, for most people, it is not procrastinating on these little tasks that gives them distress. What gives us the most distress in our personal, spiritual, and professional lives is procrastination on the truly significant things. Perhaps we need to finish a paper for school in order to get a good grade, a grade that could affect our chances to get into college. Perhaps we need to finish that report for work in order to get a promotion. Or perhaps we need to have an uncomfortable conversation with a loved one. In all these cases, we are avoiding a major task that will have serious consequences if not done or done poorly.
There are some standard ways of trying to overcome procrastination. Brian Tracy, a time management guru, suggests developing a "sense of urgency" in everything we do - whether minor or major tasks. Building this habit of urgency is also tied to prioritization, as we need to separate the important tasks from the urgent ones, and get those urgent ones done first. As we build this habit, not only will we get the ball rolling in all areas of our life: if you think about it, we all procrastinate any attempts to stop procrastinating! More importantly, you will gain a reputation, as Tracy suggests, for speed and dependability. This will undoubtedly allow us to reach our goals, personal and professional.
While this and other boilerplate advice is all well and good, and may help some people, I want to suggest a more profound solution for procrastination, one based on the principle of avoidance discussed above. You probably already know the answer to this, deep down, but perhaps have never admitted it openly, or have never heard someone else say it. Perhaps the meaning of procrastination is simply that we should stop attempting to do what it is we think we have to do. Perhaps we are procrastinating because the path we are on truly is the wrong one for us. There is nothing wrong with our character per se, but about the choices we've made, or those that have been made for us. In other words, perhaps we should not be doing that report for work, or we should be approaching our essay or uncomfortable situation in another way. Perhaps, deep down, we aren't meant to be going down the path we think we have to choose. Perhaps the meaning of procrastination is to point us in another, more fruitful direction. It is a call to action to break out of our mold and find what will truly engage us, or to reframe the situation in another way. Don't see procrastination simply as a negative, but as an opportunity for positive change.