Toastmaster, Fellow Members, and Welcome Guests,
This evening I would like to talk you about procrastination. However, I put off writing this speech for so long that I did not get around to actually determining what to tell you about procrastination.
Okay...I am just kidding. I only procrastinated until Saturday, and that was only because I wanted to put off grading some essays written by my Senior Composition class.
As you may already know, procrastination is one of the easiest ways to not finish your work. One definition of procrastination states that this is an act putting off doing something, usually out of a habit of carelessness or laziness. Ouch. I prefer the notion that procrastination is simply putting something off.
After a few moments of pondering the concept of procrastination, I came up with several questions. First, where did procrastination come from? Second, what are the most common causes of procrastination? Third, why is procrastination really such a problem? And of course, how can a person end his or her own tendency to procrastinate. Without further ado, or further putting off, I will answer each of the questions.
First of all, is procrastination a recent phenomenon rooted in modern society's reliance on convenience? Or is this something that has been happening since the beginning of time? Did T-Rexes put off going hunting because they would prefer playing Halo 3 on X-Box, or is that just teenagers and lonely thirty year old gamers of today?
After much research (which included a visit to Wikipedia, the mother of all procrastination enablers), I learned that the word procrastination is actually rooted in Latin. The original form of the word "procrastinationomen", meaning "a putting of" is the noun form. The verb form, meaning "put off til tomorrow" comes from procrastinare. The roots of these words can be broken down further school. Pro means "forward", and crastinus means "belonging to tomorrow". Hence, a modern definition of procrastination could be putting off something until tomorrow.
Now that we know where the word procrastination comes from, what are the actual causes of procrastination? According to the University of Illinois Counseling Centers, there are primarily 7 reasons that people commonly give for putting their work off until the last minute, and I will present the three I find most interesting.
One explanation for procrastination is perfectionism. If a person fears not being able to complete a task perfectly, the person may choose to not complete the task at all. It is sometimes too easy for people to forget that perfection is impossible.
Also, procrastination may come from evaluation anxiety, which is often closely linked to the perfectionism issue. Many people fear that they will be poorly evaluated on a project and would much rather not complete the project at all than complete it and have it criticized. This is actually relatively common with students that I come across who seem to be slackers. They do not want to complete an assignment for fear that they will earn a failing grade. The students would much rather receive a zero for not turning it in than taking the risk of failure.
An additional reason that people put off completing work is lack of clear guidelines and expectations. For example, if a student is told to write a five page essay but is not given any information about what exactly is expected, it is very difficult for the student to get started. Therefore, it is even more difficult for the student to actually finish the project in a timely manner. In many such cases, a student may find it easier to just not complete the paper rather than ask for help.
Now that I have told you some causes of procrastination, you may be wondering: Is procrastination really such a big deal? Why should it matter if a person continues to put off the completion of a task. I found it surprising to learn that procrastination is not just a time management issue; it can also lead to other problems such as feelings of guilt, inadequacy, fear, depression, and self-doubt. This is especially common among college students or people who are recently hired at a new job who are not always sure about how to approach the work that is expected of them.
Procrastinators, Do not fear! There are thousands of websites and books dedicated to promoting the overthrow of procrastination. Though there are so many resources, they all say pretty much the same thing, which is what I am going to tell you now.
First of all, procrastinators need to learn more effective time management skills. One way to do this is to create a list of priorities. Determine which tasks need to be completed first based on deadlines and overall importance.
Once the task is set, a person needs to make sure that all necessary tools are within reach in order to avoid excuses for leaving the work area. When someone continues to create reasons for leaving the work area, that person is continuing to put off the work that needs to be done and is wasting precious time. If you are sitting down to read Grapes of Wrath before Oprah discusses it on her show, make sure you have the book, your CliffsNotes, pencils and paper handy. I would also recommend a cup of coffee or strong tea. This way, you will have no excuse to get up and further avoid your reading assignment.
If you are a procrastinator, you need to work on setting up your priorities. If the task before you seems unclear, do not be ashamed or afraid to ask for clarification. Rather than finding you incompetent, your supervisor, teacher, or manager will appreciate that you took the time to fully understand what is expected of you. Going back to that page essay, the student should not be afraid to walk up to the teacher and bounce a few ideas off him or her. If the student is heading down the wrong path, the teacher can help steer the student to the correct one.
When facing a difficult task, do not feel that you are inferior. No one expects perfection. Teachers, managers, and supervisors ask you to complete tasks because they think you are up to it. They do not ask you because they expect perfection from you. You are just as capable as any one else, so do not concern yourself with possible failure. Think of the things that only you can add to the project. Use your talents, skills, and personal creativity to make the final product something unique that only you can do.
Overcoming procrastination is difficult, but will make you much more successful than continuing with this habit of failure. Now that you know the history of the word, reasons people procrastinate, how it can cause failure, and how to overcome it, you can avoid saying "I meant to, but..." rather than avoiding the work you need to do.