Creatures of (Bad) Habit

As humans, we are naturally creatures of habit. We form these behaviours throughout our lives, but never more so than at the onset of adulthood. The behaviours gained in the formative years of our late teens and early twenties can set the tone for the rest of our adult lives. There are a huge number of common habits, both good and bad, that can become ingrained in us during this time: spending habits, work habits, organization, punctuality, regular exercise, smoking, etc.

However, I would argue that more than any other, procrastination is the habit that insinuates itself deep into our lives, potentially causing innumerable problems down the road. Indeed, procrastination is more than just a bad habit; it’s an easy way to derail a promising career before it even gets moving.

There are different schools of thought on what, exactly, causes us to procrastinate despite knowing it is detrimental to our productivity. As anyone who’s put off a big project at work or school until the last minute knows, the anxiety associated with procrastination can be monumental. For some, that gutted feeling of having left things so late is an impetus to be productive and get work done quickly after, hopefully, a lot of thought and consideration. A looming deadline kicks the brain into high gear and, with a rush of adrenaline, work flows out like water from a busted dam. Not everyone is able to put that rush to good use, though—many people end up paying for their procrastination with poor quality work and bundles of added stress. A vicious cycle can emerge, where anxiety leads to putting things off, which leads to more anxiety, and so on.

Yet some see procrastination—or something similar—as a beneficial habit, the actions of a mind that slows down and collects its thoughts in a hectic world. Unfortunately, this view is a bit simplistic. There’s a huge difference between careful planning before commencing work and true procrastination. People who desperately put off tasks that demand time and care aren’t “planning”—they’re digging a hole that will lead to frustration down the road. The planning, like the rest of the work at hand, waits until the last minute and suffers from the delay.

In fact, procrastination is almost certainly a leading contributor to the ever-climbing levels of stress we deal with in our daily lives. A common refrain among university students is that there never seems to be enough time to get everything done. Yet, compared to many people’s crushing workweek schedules, students have it relatively easy. The students who remain at ease, though, are the ones who have figured out effective time management, coordination, foresight and, most importantly, how to avoid the procrastination pitfall. By planning ahead, successful academics prevent being overwhelmed by the loads of work waiting at the end of the semester.

In the workplace, procrastination can seep into a nascent career and send it right off the rails. Nothing is likelier to leave a new boss or supervisor unimpressed than an employee who can’t manage to get tasks and projects in on time. Unlike in academia, there is no mere penalty for not getting work done—you’re likely to end up jobless if you don’t shape up. The employment scene is competitive, and with so many people clamoring for positions, an employer has no reason to keep someone around who can’t get the job done right and on time.

Luckily, the solution is fairly simple. As with any habit, procrastination can be broken, but it’s not likely to happen instantaneously. The brain needs training to adapt to new behaviour; pattern and repetition are more likely to be successful than self-admonishment. Slowly, we can change our methods to make us successful in all aspects of life, particularly our work lives. By learning to tackle the small tasks immediately, we prevent them from building up into a pile that looms over us later. In turn, the larger projects seem less daunting because there are fewer “other things” sitting around to do. As always, time management is the key here, and preparing a plan of action before starting any task is crucial. Completing things in steps allows you to see the work in progress and makes you want to see a project through to the end.

In time, new habits are formed and old ones are left behind. There is no better mindset for a young, career-oriented person to be in than that of a proactive, diligent employee. Effortlessly, tasks get done, quality improves and bosses become impressed by the work ethic demonstrated. Like the cycle of anxiety procrastination creates, the cycle of opportunity that comes from defeating it can lead to a promising future.

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