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Procrastination is about managing your emotions, not your time

We have something important to discuss today. It might even change your life. But first, when is the last time you cleaned your bathroom? Or went through your email inbox? Do you ever find yourself distracting yourself with other, less important work? Procrastination plagues all of us from time to time, but for a fifth of the population, it’s a real problem. Plus, learn what it means to “buckle down.”

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  • Why we procrastinate, and what we can do about it

    Hi there, thanks for joining us for Plain English lesson number 253. I’m Jeff; JR is our trusty producer; and all of today’s episode resources are available at PlainEnglish.com/253.

    Procrastination. We all do it, to one extent or another. But for about a fifth of the population, procrastination is a real problem. In this lesson, we’re going to talk about what procrastination is and why it’s so harmful. In Monday’s lesson, we’ll talk about what you can do about it if you suffer from it. The expression we’ll review today is quite appropriate. It’s “buckle down.” We have a song of the week. And the video lesson is about how to use “to one extent” or “to an extent.”


    Why we procrastinate

    Let’s start by asking, what is procrastination? In the popular imagination, procrastination is just delaying unpleasant tasks. But that’s not quite it. We all delay tasks, and not every delay is procrastination. Changing your schedule and delaying certain things can simply be a matter of prioritizing and managing your time.

    No, procrastination is when you voluntarily delay something that you could very easily do today, even though that delay is going to hurt you in the long run. When you procrastinate, you do intend to do something. But the only thing that stops you from fulfilling your intention is your reluctance to do it. So often, we don’t even know we’re procrastinating. Or, worse, we do know it, but we don’t do anything about it.

    Procrastination is worse than simply delaying an unpleasant task. It’s worse because it results in a lot of wasted time, and time is the most limited, precious resource we all have. When we procrastinate, we’re not off doing other, better, more productive and more satisfying things. Instead, we’re often inventing time-wasting things to do instead of our unpleasant task. This is not time well-spent. And that’s the tragedy. Putting off something unpleasant to do something better would be okay; putting it off to do something useless is a tragedy.

    It also results in increased stress. For as long as we delay an unpleasant task, that task is always in the back of our minds. It’s a cloud that darkens our future. In fact, the longer we delay, the greater we anticipate the pain of doing the unpleasant chore, and the worse we feel. People who procrastinate often feel guilty for not having done what they know they need to do.

    There are other costs. People who procrastinate often have less time to do a good job on that important task, when the time comes to do it. When we do finally do the necessary task, we don’t do it as well. We often feel rushed when we do finally do it. When we procrastinate, we sometimes break our promises. Or we fail to maintain good relationships with friends and family. Do you have any texts or unreturned calls in your phone? People who you know you should reach out to? But it’s just been so long that you feel bad replying now? I have those. I have several—and it’s not like I don’t have the time to reply. I’m procrastinating—and I’ll regret it later.

    So why do we do it? The simple answer is: to avoid negative emotions. It is what psychologists call a problem with self-regulation. When faced with necessary but unpleasant tasks, the procrastinator chooses to delay as a way of avoiding the pain in the short run. Now, the procrastinator might feel even worse pain in the long run. But to avoid the negative emotions, he invents other time-wasting things to do in the short run.

    Let’s take an example. There are two people, one is named Jeff. The other is named JR. They both have two goals: to excel at work and to stay in good shape. They both have to do a report for work that they don’t like. It’s due tomorrow.

    They both decide to delay it. JR decides he’ll take advantage of the time and go to the gym, and do the report later. He knows he has to do it, but he’s just going to get the workout in first. When he gets home, he opens the file and starts writing. He knows it’s unpleasant, but he also knows he has to do it. He went to the gym earlier, so now it’s time to do the work. He buckles down, dedicates four hours to the task, and finishes the report on time. He does a good job.

    Jeff, by contrast, starts by opening the report draft. He sees the cursor blinking on the page and that’s when the negative feelings hit. He opens a browser and checks the news. Then he does a few things around the house—nothing important. He gets back to his desk, but can’t face the misery of doing the report, so he decides to clean out his inbox. Inbox-zero is a great productivity hack, right? That’s productive! By nine at night, he still hasn’t started. Unlike JR, he didn’t get his workout in. He’s feeling the stress of the report all day and eats junk food to alleviate that stress. Finally, at ten o’clock, he starts the report: he has no choice. Unfortunately, now he has to rush through it because it’s so late. He goes to bed well past his bedtime, doesn’t sleep well, which will affect his productivity tomorrow. Unlike JR, he didn’t do a good job on the report and he didn’t get a workout in. He did useless things all day and ate junk food.

    Both Jeff and JR delayed the unpleasant report. But only Jeff is the procrastinator. Only Jeff failed in both his goals.

    These are the true costs of procrastination. It’s this situation repeated over and over, year after year, with unpleasant tasks large and small. They’re missed opportunities, they’re unmet goals, unrealized potential. And this pattern of behavior intensely affects about a fifth of the population. On Monday’s lesson, we’ll talk about strategies to deal with procrastination.


    Have you joined us for a live event yet? Some of you have liked them so much that you joined for two! And a few people have even joined us for three. By now, all of you would have gotten an invitation to at least one call if—and this is a big if—you’re on the email list. If you’re not yet on that list, you’ll want to get on it by visiting PlainEnglish.com/mail and you’ll get invitations to future live events.

    Buckle down

    Time to buckle down and get some work done. Did you hear that? What does that mean? Buckle down and get some work done? To buckle down means to do a task with focus and determination. When you buckle down, you concentrate on the task at hand. You eliminate distractions. You work hard on that one thing. And you get it done.

    To help you remember this, a buckle is something that keeps you in place. The part of your seatbelt that locks you in is a buckle. The part of your belt that holds the two ends together is your belt buckle. So when you buckle down, you hold yourself in place: you almost fasten yourself to the task.

    When your kids come home from school, what do they do? When I was a kid, I would come home and rest and relax for an hour or two, but then I would buckle down and do my homework. I didn’t like to leave it until late at night. Wait, sorry—who am I kidding? I wasn’t allowed to leave it until late at night! In my house, my mom made sure I buckled down and did my homework before it got too late.

    I got some time to relax shortly after getting home. But after an hour or two—I would say, on most days, by four or five o’clock—I had to buckle down and do my homework.

    That’s a very specific, tactical sense. You can also use “buckle down” in a more long-term sense. If you don’t buckle down this semester, you might not graduate. This semester means, this half of a school year. You don’t have to do homework 24/7 this half of the year, but if you don’t buckle down—in general, if you don’t concentrate and study—then you’ll be in trouble.

    I read an article asking, “Is this the year you buckle down and finally get that promotion at work?” Is this going to be the year you do your best at work? The year you put forth your best effort, the year you waste the least time, the year you concentrate on your professional goals?

    Can you think of an organization that always wastes time, until they have to deal with a crisis at the very last minute? If you guessed your national legislature—your Congress, your Parliament—then you and I were thinking alike. Our politics in the US are—have been—very divisive of late. And it’s been hard to get any type of agreement between the two sides in our Congress. But when the scale and scope of the coronavirus became clear, lawmakers buckled down and resolved their differences and came to an agreement on a stimulus package for the economy. Lawmakers buckled down—they set aside their made-for-TV moments (for the most part) and got a bill passed. An imperfect one, if you ask me, but they got something passed that was generally positive. They buckled down and got it done.

    We have a new celebrity of sorts in the US, the 79-year-old Dr. Anthony Fauci. He’s the federal government’s main leader of public health and he’s the person to whom people are turning for the latest updates on the national situation with the coronavirus. Two weeks ago, he warned us that we were going to face the worst week of the pandemic so far. And it was a bad week. During the Monday briefing, he said: “Just buckle down. Continue to do the physical separation, because we gotta get through this week that’s coming up.”

    JR’s song of the week

    The song of the week is “Time After Time” by Cindy Lauper. JR selected that because it appears multiple times in the movie, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” Long-time listeners may remember that I read that book in Spanish a while back. The movie is available by streaming now—it’s on Hulu here in the US—so if you’re looking for a good English-language movie, that’s one for your list. Cate Blanchette stars as the protagonist, Bernadette Fox. It’s a cute movie, and this is the song that Bernadette sings with her daughter Bee in the car. “Time After Time” by Cindy Lauper. Thanks JR for selecting that song this week.


    That’s all for now. Coming up on Monday, part 2 of today’s discussion. We’ll talk about what to do if you find yourself procrastinating—not just delaying, but really procrastinating. What are the strategies to help you get over this self-destructive habit. That’s coming up on Episode 254 on Monday.

    Thanks again to all of you who have joined us for a live event.

    If you have not yet joined us, get on the email list at PlainEnglish.com/mail and watch your inbox for an invitation to a future event.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

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CeciliaJR
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CeciliaJR

I need those tips! 😂

Luis89
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Luis89

hi, when is the next meet in zoom?

Jeff
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ChrisKolb
Member
ChrisKolb

Maybe one little step to avoid procrastination is to listen to episode 246. There was a very good quote of the week where William McRaven, the former US Navy admiral told the world: „If you make your bed every morning, you will achieve the first task of your day.“ In my opinion he is absolutely right and I think it is one little step on the right track in avoiding procrastination.

Jeff
Admin

Definitely agree!

REBECA
Member
REBECA

Hi Jeff and JR, I finally made the decision to join PlainEnglish Plus and I am very happy. I will try to keep my lessons on time and see if it will work for me. I love your example of procrastination with you two, very funny. Unfortunately, here in Brazil, unlike your Parliament, our government is fighting for power when they should be thinking about the population, it’s very sad because most of our population are very poor and need assistance from our government.

Jeff
Admin

Hi Rebeca,

It’s so nice to have you in Plain English Plus+! I can’t wait for you to see the new features that we will be introducing in June. Stay tuned & good luck!