Most of us have been there. A report deadline looming at work or school and we still haven’t really gotten down to work. We clean our desk, deal with countless other details and keep circling around preparing but never quite working on the dreaded task.

Procrastination: the continued putting off of a job.

Procrastination in itself is obviously not a psychiatric condition. Virtually everyone has done it at one point or another in life. But chronic procrastination can cause real problems in life and it can be a symptom of a more serious underlying condition.

As a symptom, procrastination can occur in many different disorders and is very common in attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) as well as depression.

In ADD/ADHD, the symptom seems to be related to poor planning and distractibility, while in depression procrastination occurs because of a lack of motivation, lack of energy, decrease in interest and feelings of “what is the point anyway?” Indecisiveness is also a common symptom in depression, which can contribute to procrastination.

Procrastination can also occur as a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder because of an over attention to detail that causes an inability to see the forest for the trees.

In psychotic conditions, procrastination can be the result of a variety of things including impaired cognitive functioning, poor motivation and distractibility.

Of course, procrastination is definitely not only caused by an underlying condition. Many people who are not psychiatrically ill are still chronic procrastinators. This can reflect poor work habits or lack of self discipline.

Most people tend to put off the tasks they find most difficult or least enjoyable, but highly effective people plan their activities according to priority and don’t simply work as the mood moves them.

Procrastination can have serious consequences in many areas of life. When deadlines are not met in work or school situations courses or assignments can be failed or marks reduced and jobs can be lost or not received.

In personal finances, procrastination can lead to unpaid bills with extra penalties or taxes not filed which can have very serious financial consequences including fines, garnished wages or even bankruptcy.

Procrastination can also be a serious source of conflict in relationships as the procrastinator is seen as letting his or her partner down or as being untrustworthy. Frustration and tension are very common and divorce can be the final result.

As with any bad habit, the habit of procrastination can be beaten. If the behaviour occurs as a result of an underlying psychiatric condition, that disorder needs to be treated. Often once the underlying problem is dealt with, symptoms such as procrastination will lessen significantly.

When procrastination is the result of poor work habits, these can be learned. There are many books out there, which give techniques for effective time management and study or work habits. The first step is to acknowledge that procrastination is a problem and to address it. With some focused effort, most people can beat procrastination and effectively manage tine and responsibilities.


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