Perils of procrastination

cartoon person deciding between now or later buttons

"We still have half an hour to the next prayer"

"I can start the assignment next week"

"The early bird deadline is tomorrow. Insha Allah, I will try to purchase them soon"

"Last minute Eid shopping is so exciting!"

These are some examples of excuses we make to put off important responsibilities and tasks to a later time. This is called procrastination, which is usually accompanied by shifting our focus to some other distraction.

10 Reasons Why People Procrastinate

There are many reasons people procrastinate, some more dangerous than others. Here are common causes of procrastination cited by psychologists:

  1. Anxiety (it's too overwhelming a task to even attempt!).

  2. Low sense of self-worth and self-defeating mentality (what difference can I make? I am not capable of contributing something useful to this project).

  3. Under-estimation (it's an insignificant thing to waste time on. I have better things to do).

  4. Distractive and disorganized environment (a messy desk or unproductive company of people).

  5. Perfectionism (a tendency to negatively evaluate outcomes and one's own performance. The thinking that, "since I can't achieve perfection, why bother trying?")

  6. Heightened social self-consciousness (intense fear and avoidance of evaluation of one's abilities by others)

  7. Recurrent low mood and laziness (life is horrible. No need to do work on this project)

  8. Workaholism (I am too busy with 'work', I don't have time for this right now!)

  9. Love for last minute thrill (my creative juices begin to flow only when I am forced to write my essay!)

  10. Indecisiveness (Not making a decision right now would absolve me of responsibility for the outcome of events!)

How Procrastinators Work

Here are insights into the workings of procrastinators by two leading experts on procrastination, Dr. Joseph Ferrari (De Paul University, Chicago) and Dr. Timorthy Pychyl, Ph.D. (Carleton University, Ottawa). [i]

20% of people are chronic procrastinators. For them procrastination is a lifestyle. And it cuts across all domains of their life. They don’t pay bills on time. They miss opportunities for buying tickets to concerts. They don’t cash gift certificates or checks. They file income tax returns late.

Procrastinators are not born. Procrastination is usually learned in the family environment. It is one response to an authoritarian parenting style. Having a harsh, controlling parent hinders children from developing the ability to regulate themselves, from articulating their intentions, and from making life decision for themselves.

Procrastinators tell lies to themselves. These include, “I’ll feel more like doing this tomorrow” and “I work best under pressure.” But in fact they do not get the urge the next day or work well under pressure.

Procrastinators actively look for distractions, particularly ones that don’t take a lot of commitment on their part. Checking e-mail is a good example. They distract themselves to manage emotions like the fear of failure. 

Dangers of Procrastination

Those who are used to delaying things till a later time or like doing things last minute don’t realize the costs of procrastination.

Chronic procrastinators suffer from multiple health problems. Just over the course of a single academic term, procrastinating college students had such evidence of compromised immune systems as more colds and flu, more gastrointestinal problems. Moreover, they had insomnia. [ii]

Procrastination has a high cost to others as well as to oneself; it shifts the burden of responsibilities onto others, who become resentful. Procrastination destroys teamwork in the workplace and private relationships.

Procrastinators think that tomorrow is guaranteed to them. How can they put off an immediate priority, an obligatory act, or a good deed till a time when they may not even be alive?

Even if they live till tomorrow, they cannot be certain that their day will free of obstacles and distractions. How can they be sure they will have the time and energy to carry out that action? The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, used to call on Muslims to take the initiative to do good deeds before any problems arise.

For instance, he said, “Lose no time to do good deeds before you are caught up by one of seven calamities awaiting you:

1. a starvation which may impair your wisdom;
2. a prosperity which may mislead you;
3. an ailment which may damage your health;
4. an old age which may harm your senses;
5. a sudden death;
6. the Dajjal (Antichrist);
7. or Doomsday, which is indeed the hardest and most bitter.”
(at-Tirmidhi, al-Baihaqi)

Procrastinators don’t appreciate the time, means, and opportunity Allah gives them to be productive. As Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, once stated, “Good health and spare time are two of the blessings of Allah with respect to which many people are deceived.” (Al-Bukhari)

Each day has its own share of work and each time has its own share of obligations. Therefore there is no such thing as idle time.

Postponement of good deeds and delaying of charitable acts leads people to become accustomed to ignoring them gradually. After a while they don’t even feel what good they are missing. Procrastination can eventually lead to sinning.

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[i] Hara Estroff Marano, Procrastination: Ten Things To Know

[ii]  H. Marano, Procrastination: Ten Things To Know.

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