Procrastinators Are Actually Workaholics (4 Steps to Reclaim Your Life)

I once attended a business training meeting in Honolulu with a CEO from out of town. After the training concluded, my wife and I were invited to accompany this man, his family, and a small group of friends on a chartered boat the following day.
I was honored by the invitation and, admittedly, I was also excited for the wonderful opportunity it would be to get to know this man on a personal level.
We live about an hour from the harbor on that side of the island, but we planned to leave our home especially early to ensure that we would arrive on time.
The following morning, however, I got caught up in other things, and our departure time kept getting pushed later and later as I rushed to complete these “important” tasks.
Ironically, I can’t even remember what it was I was working on at the time, but what I do remember, what I will never forget, is standing on the dock with my wife, watching the boat coast around the point and out of view.
I had procrastinated, and I had—literally—missed the boat.
Procrastination threatens to rob us of those things that are most important in our lives.
As the saying goes, “Time waits for no man.”
In short, when we procrastinate, we risk missing the boat.


Question: How long does it take a Nobel Prize–winning economist to mail a box?
Answer: Eight months.
George Akerlof, Nobel Prize–winning economist, wrote of an experience he had:
“Some years back, when I was living in India for a year, a good friend of mine, Joseph Stiglitz, visited me; because of unexpected limitations on carry-on luggage at the time of his departure, he left with me a box of clothes to be sent to him in the United States. Both because of the slowness of transactions and my own ineptitude in such matters, I estimated that sending this parcel would take a full day’s work. Each morning for over eight months I woke up and decided that the next morning would be the day to send the Stiglitz box. This occurred until a few months before my departure when I decided to in- clude it in the large shipment of another friend who was returning to the United States at the same time as myself.”
After reflecting on this incident, Akerlof found he “did not have rational expectations” in putting off sending the box.
I share this story for two reasons.
The first, and more obvious reason, is to shed light on the irrational thought process we engage in when we procrastinate.
Consistent irrational decision-making — saying you’ll do it tomorrow, then not doing so and adding yet another day to complete the task — is similar to the irrational decision-making process many people use when bound by an addiction.
Akerlof says,
“Most drug abusers, like most chronically overweight individuals, fully intend to cut down their intake, since they recognize that the long-run cost of their addiction exceeds its benefits. They intend to stop— tomorrow.”
We are likewise aware that “the long-run cost” of procrastinating our inspired ideas “exceeds its benefits.”
Yet, we procrastinate anyway. This illogical behavior is preventing us from living our best life.
The second, more subtle, yet equally important reason I share this story is to demonstrate that no one is outside procrastination’s reach.
Procrastinators tend to believe themselves lazy and incapable. They are thus plagued by feelings of weakness and even worthlessness, yet when we understand that procrastination happens to the best of us—even Nobel Prize–winning economists— we can more easily shake discouragement and find the power to overcome this destructive habit.


Myth One: Procrastinators are lazy.
Reality: Procrastinators are often workaholics.
Mike Michalowicz, a successful entrepreneur and author, was proud of his twelve-hour workdays and his eighty-hour workweeks. But when he reduced his work- day to nine to five, he discovered something interesting about himself.
He said,
“Ironically, when I forced myself to leave work each day by 5 p.m., my whole schedule changed. I started skipping the nonsense distractions, such as the constant checking of e-mail, or surfing (ahem—researching) the Internet. I actually got down to work during that time. My per-hour productivity skyrocketed! And I was getting more done in a 9-to-5 day than I used to in an entire ‘workaholic day.’”
Jason Fried and DHH David Heinemeier Hansson, authors of the book Rework, say,
“In the end, workaholics don’t actually accomplish more than non-workaholics. They may claim to be perfectionists, but that just means they’re wasting time fixating on inconsequential details instead of moving on to the next task. Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done.”
Myth Two: Procrastinators live in the future and avoid the now.
Reality: “Procrastinators live in the now.”
Procrastinators are addicted to immediacy, and that makes it difficult to engage in tasks that don’t produce the satisfaction of immediate results. It is this addiction to immediacy that makes them prone to impulsiveness and thus procrastination.
In fact, Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation, states that “scores of studies based on many thousands of people have established that impulsiveness . . . shares the strongest bond with procrastination.”
Thus, ironically, procrastinators actually live in the now.
When we procrastinate, we fill our lives with the tasks that are right in front of us rather than make the concerted effort to leave enough room in our schedules to pursue dreams. Procrastination is like going to a fancy restaurant and filling up on bread and not leaving enough room for dinner.
John Perry, a professor of philosophy, describes pro- crastination in this way:
“Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him [to] do it.
However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.”
Don’t get me wrong, living in the now is a good thing. The lesson here is to live in the now by engaging in the most important activities today (dream work).
When we live in the now and perpetually push what is most important to tomorrow by filling our time with less important activities, procrastination is robbing us of the most significant and fulfilling opportunities of our lives.


Drawing from multiple sources such as dictionary definitions, Latin roots of the word, studies of vocational behavior, and academic journals, here is my definition of procrastination:
Procrastination is the counterproductive act of choosing to postpone doing something important until a later time.
For perpetual procrastinators, understanding pro-crastination is akin to understanding ourselves. When we understand what is really happening when we procrastinate, we are better able to understand the cause(s) behind our own tendency to procrastinate. And when we understand why we procrastinate — on an individual level — we are better equipped to formulate a reasonable defense.
I’ll illustrate with an example from my own experience.
I struggle with procrastination, particularly when it comes to writing (to which my wonderful editor, Lisa, will gladly attest). I share the lament one Master’s candidate included in his final thesis on the subject of procrastination:
“When it is hard to find the right words, it is easier to play a game instead.”
Boy, do I relate.
At times, I find writing to be completely arduous. I find myself doing laundry, washing dishes, running errands, and poking myself with a fork in order to escape the task of writing. Admittedly, I also find myself choosing my favorite small luxuries like eating out, surfing, play- ing guitar, and going on family outings over writing.
The ironic revelation is that, despite the inherent difficulties I face when writing, the truth is that I actually want to write! Further, I actually like to write! Yet I procrastinate anyway.
I echo the words of St. Paul,
“My own behavior baffles me. For I find myself doing what I really loathe but not doing what I really want to do.”
While the tasks I choose instead of writing are often productive, refresh- ing, and may even complete other tasks on my to-do list, they are keeping me from doing the things that are most important to me. No matter why or how I choose to procrastinate, it is no question that procrastination gets in my way.
In pondering this personal paradox, I have been enlightened by the discovery that when writing feels hard, or when I feel overwhelmed by related tasks such as researching and compiling data, procrastination steps in as a compelling distraction. I now see this tendency for what it is and consciously work to avoid it.


Most people who procrastinate are glaringly aware that they are neglecting what is most important to them by filling their time with less important things.
However, it is common for people to be neck deep in patterns of procrastination without even recognizing it. This happens when people genuinely believe that they are unable to act on their most important goals because of time-related restraints.
They say,
“I can’t do this important thing — the thing I’d most like to accomplish — right now because these other important obligations take up all my time.”
Remember, procrastination doesn’t always come in the form of frivolous activities. Often we’re filling our time with good or even essential tasks, but even so, anytime you postpone doing the things that are most important in your life, you are falling victim to procrastination.
No matter the reason behind our procrastination, the result is the same:
“Procrastination is the grave in which opportunity is buried” (the slogan of Procrastinators Anonymous).
Procrastination must be overcome or it will rob you of the things that could be most significant in your life.
Powered by Blogger.