Why do we choose to procrastinate?



Do you procrastinate? Put off doing some things that you know need doing, but just don’t get around to it?

There are thousands of books, articles, white papers and blog posts on procrastination, its causes, how to overcome it, what it costs us.

There is a huge amount of good advice out there, and some not so good too.

I have been struggling with procrastination in a certain area of my life for a few weeks, it is not a life or death matter, but if not attended to will cost me money. I am the first to admit that my failure to tackle this task is my own fault, I am being irresponsible in not having completed it already, it is not very difficult but it is extremely boring.

As a self-employed person, I must submit my tax return by 30 June, 8 days away. It has been on my daily action plan for weeks, I have even moved it up to one of the top priority items, but I  have not started it yet.

Today was a comfortable change from our 3 day mini heat wave this week, this morning while I was out enjoying the sight of crops refreshed after yesterday’s good rain, I started examining the reasons for my reluctance to get my tax return done well ahead of the deadline. There is something about being outdoors, away from a desk and computer that helps the thinking process.

I do not usually have a problem making choices – I have made scores of bad ones in my life. Nor do I struggle with making decisions most of the time, I have made my share of good ones and some real disastrous ones too.

In my days in the corporate world and in my own businesses, I had to fire and retrench many people, not at all pleasant, but necessary. I have also had to hand thieving employees over to the police, knowing that (in Africa) they were not going to be treated with kid gloves. On several occasions I have had to shoot horses, cattle and dogs to put them out of their misery either from old age or injury. None of that is easy, it is certainly not for the faint-hearted, but it is all part of life, someone has to do it.

Why then is it so difficult for me to get a simple thing like a tax return completed?

It’s all about making the right choices.

It is difficult to self analyse and the results tend to be somewhat suspect, but here is how I explain it.

1) Resentment at spending time on activities I view as unproductive.

2) No obvious reward – I know that I will not be getting a refund.

3) Perception that risks from not meeting the deadline are not very high. (Penalties are only money after all)

4) Find the task simple but extremely boring.

5) Need to spend a few hours getting accounts in order before the job can be done.

Perhaps too, my suspicion of big government, horror at the way it is attempting to control every aspect of our lives, by taking away our individual rights and concern over how our hard-earned taxes are spent also increases my reluctance to get the job done. Almost like being asked to pay one’s own executioner.

I am not against paying taxes, I do recognise that we must have a government and it has to be funded by the people it serves. Problem is that in most of the Western nations, the tax system is immorally geared to punishing the successful and rewarding the slackers, a  recipe for mediocrity which is now achieving its aim.  That and forgetting government is supposed to serve the people not vice versa.

It never ceases to amaze me that those who shout so loudly for “equality” are  happy to see successful people pay a higher rate of tax. Equality would be a flat rate tax system. Fairest of all would be zero income tax and a high rate of sales tax. That way personal choice would dictate how much tax was paid. Human nature being what it is, the wealthy would still pay considerably more because they would spend more.

If ever there was a case for outsourcing, this is it. I thought about it last week, then when I saw how much preliminary work I need to do just to get my accounts in order to hand over to an accountant, I realised I might as well finish the job myself this year.

Finding a good accountant will be a priority for next year.

It is all about choices, and unless we perceive more reward than risk, we choose to procrastinate on important things and spend time on the stuff that we believe offers greater or quicker rewards. Even when we know that we will have to get them done eventually.

We only procrastinate because we choose to.

What do you think? Do you have a better answer for why we procrastinate?

Wishing you success in all your endeavours.

Peter Wright




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  3 comments for “Why do we choose to procrastinate?

  1. June 22, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    You pose an interesting topic, but just get your taxes done and be done with it! We all procrastinate on things, but it’s mainly because we are scared of it or just plain don’t want to do it. We all have to pay our fair share of taxes, and on time, in my opinion.

    I find myself procrastinating the most when I am stuck or come up against a wall. But, deadlines loom and force me to work through them, so I usually am pretty good about getting them done!

  2. June 26, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    Don’t worry Dave and Steve, I will get my taxes done, probably a few minutes before the midnight deadline! Filling in forms and routine paperwork are things I tend to put off. I am better at getting started on some of the more difficult things that are more challenging.

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