Menstuff® has compiled the following information on procrastination.

Experts explain why the key to being on time is understanding why you're always late
It's Never Too Late to Stop Procrastinating
Staying Healthy in Times of Stress: Stress Can Make You Sick, but It Doesn't Have To

It's Never Too Late to Stop Procrastinating

You can break the cycle of putting off important tasks you can be doing today.

It's such a long word, you almost want to put off saying it. It's Procrastination -- also known as delaying, shillyshallying, and excuse-making. But if you chronically put things off, you will suffer for it -- fines, late payment fees, nosebleed tickets, and often, bad, hastily done work that can lead to unpleasant consequences. Plus -- don't forget that nagging feeling and a suspicion that you are "not worthy."

William Knaus, EdD, a professor at American International College in Springfield, Mass., wrote the book on not writing the book. Co-author of Overcoming Procrastination; Do It Now -- How to Break the Procrastination Habit; and The Procrastination Workbook: Your Personalized Program for Breaking Free of the Patterns That Hold You Back. Knaus tells WebMD that even people who are perpetually late qualify as procrastinators.

Procrastination, Knaus tells WebMD, is an automatic habit process that leads to needless postponement. "It's automatic," he says. "It happens seamlessly time and time again." Symptoms include:

"These are all what we call 'mañana diversions,'" Knaus says.

Procrastination can also be born of disorganization or forgetfulness. Fear is also a motivator -- what if you don't do a good job or do you know how to do a good job? Anger can also bring out resistance -- you don't want to be controlled!

Other procrastinators are, strange as it sounds, perfectionists. They don't want to do something if they can't do it perfectly. Even though a desire to not leave things hanging is also a trait of being a perfectionist, these types of people often let tasks pile up because they cannot do them perfectly in the time allotted.

Procrastination Can Be Bad for Your Physical Health

All this thinking, delaying, excuse-making, and pangs of dread not only can make your brain an unpleasant tangle, but it can affect your physical health. Timothy A. Pychyl, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, has done a number of studies on procrastination in the academic setting. He started out studying how doctoral students structured their studies, but quickly became more interested in what they said they were going to do, but didn't do. "I started out looking at actions," Pychyl tells WebMD, "and ended up looking at inaction."

In one study, his procrastination research group looked at 374 undergraduates and found that students who put things off were more likely to eat poorly, sleep less, and drink more than students who do homework promptly.

Pychyl speculates that this behavior flows from the inability to control impulses. Many assignments are devised by others, too, he says, so students are less interested and invested in them than in their own research. Up to 70% of students in one study said they procrastinate.

"Stress compromises the immune system," he adds. "Procrastination is a stressor." Also among things students put off? Getting help and starting healthy behaviors, such as exercise.

"Making the decision to put something off," Knaus says, "provides only a temporary feeling of relief."

How to Kick the Habit

"There are different reasons people procrastinate," Pychyl says, "so there are different routes to stopping it. All behaviors are a combination of personality and situation."

Just knowing you do it is not enough to make you stop, Knaus emphasizes. "You may know a six-pack [of beer] a day is bad for you, but will this make you stop?" he asks. "In a sense, procrastinators are optimists; they think they can escape by putting things off. Change is a process not an event."

Some suggestions for breaking the habit:

"The habit of resisting the feeling of recoiling will become inherent," promises Knaus. "I believe when brain scans are perfected, they will show that your brain will change -- structural changes will follow behavioral changes."

And the best approach of all? "Ask yourself if, in the end, this is something you need to do," McMeekin says. Maybe it could be delegated. Often we need to delegate."

One catch: You can't put off the decision to delegate.

Experts explain why the key to being on time is understanding why you're always late.

New York lingerie designer Carolyn Keating was thrilled to land a job interview with Victoria's Secret. She knew that being on time was essential to making a good impression, but there was just one problem. "I had written down the address wrong. I meant to check it the night before on the computer, but I didn't." When Keating finally arrived at the correct address, she was 30 minutes late. "I felt embarrassed and it really flustered me," she tells WebMD. "I carried that insecure, worried, flustered energy throughout the interview." She didn't get the job.

Another time, Keating and several friends showed up 15 minutes late to a colleague's wedding. "The bride was already at the alter. She was basically saying 'I do' when we tumbled in, and it's hard for six or seven people to tiptoe in quietly. We were worried that we ruined the most important day of her life."

For some people, being on time seems nearly impossible -- no matter how important the event. They're always running out the door in a frenzy, arriving everywhere at least 10 minutes late. If this sounds like you, have you ever wished you could break the pattern? According to Julie Morgenstern, author of Time Management From the Inside Out, the first step is to make promptness a conscious priority.

"Look at the costs of being late and the payoffs of being on time," Morgenstern advises. She says it's important to recognize that being late is upsetting to others and stressful for the one who is late. "I think people's stress level is very high when they're late. They're racing, worried, and anxious. They spend the first few minutes apologizing. One of the payoffs of being on time is that you eliminate the stress of the travel time and you eliminate the time spent apologizing."

The Consequences of Being Late

The consequences of being chronically late run deeper than many people realize, according to psychologist Linda Sapadin, PhD, author of Master Your Fears. "You're creating a reputation for yourself, and it's not the best reputation to be establishing. People feel they can't trust you or rely on you, so it impacts relationships. It also impacts self-esteem."

Once you feel motivated to make a change, Morgenstern says the next step is to figure out why you're always late. The reason can usually be classified as either technical or psychological.

Technical Difficulties

"If you're always late by a different amount of time -- five minutes sometimes, 15, or even 40 minutes other times -- it is likely that the cause is technical," Morgenstern tells WebMD. "That means you are not good at estimating how long things take," whether it's drive times or routine activities like taking a shower.

Keating says she falls into this category. "It's a case of bad planning, of thinking you need less time than you actually do."

The solution, Morgenstern says, is to "become a better time estimator." She suggests keeping track of everything you do for a week or two. "Write down how long you think each thing will take and then how long it actually took." This will help you find a pattern, so you can adjust your time estimates.

Keating says this strategy is helpful. "You have to be realistic about how long certain things take, especially things you do routinely. If you know it takes 20 minutes to blow dry your hair, allow yourself 20 minutes to blow dry your hair," she says, "and leave a little extra time for those days when your hair is uncooperative."

Learning to Say 'No'

Another technical difficulty for some people is the inability to say "no" to additional commitments when they're short on time. You might be a good time estimator, Morgenstern explains, but "your best-laid plans get waylaid when someone asks you for something and you can't say 'no.'"

The solution to this problem is to "practice catchphrases," Morgenstern tells WebMD. Learn to defer or decline requests by saying, "I would love to help, but I'm on a deadline" or "I'm meeting people in half an hour. I can help you tomorrow."

Choosing to Be Late

"If you are literally always 10 minutes late, it's psychological," Morgenstern says. "You're arriving exactly when you want. The question is 'why?'"

Sapadin says the answer depends on your personality type. "For some people, it's a resistance thing," she tells WebMD. "It's a carryover of rebelliousness from childhood. They don't want to do what other people expect them to."

Another category is the "crisis-maker," someone who thrives on the minicrisis of running late. "These are people who cannot get themselves together until they get an adrenaline rush," Sapadin explains. "They need to be under the gun to get themselves moving."

Planning for Wait Time

For most people, running late has more to do with anxiety about where they're going. "There's a fear factor in which people are anxious about going at all or about getting there too early and having nothing to do," Sapadin says.

Morgenstern agrees. "There is a tremendous fear of downtime, an anxiety associated with doing nothing and waiting." You know you're in this category if you'd rather be late to a massage than spend one minute sitting in the waiting room.

To overcome wait time anxiety, Morgenstern suggests planning "something highly absorbing to do while you wait." Try to arrive at every appointment 10 or 15 minutes early and use the time for a specific activity, such as writing notes to people, reading a novel, or catching up with friends on the phone. This strategy can help convert dreaded wait time into time that is productive and pleasurable, giving you an incentive to be on time.

Walking Out the Door

Finally, a deceptively simple tip from Morgenstern: Walk out the door on time. She says many people try to avoid downtime by "shoving in one more thing" just before they need to leave. She calls this the "one-more-task syndrome" and says it's a major obstacle to being on time. "If you really want to beat this, the minute you think of squeezing in one more thing before you leave, just don't do it. Stop yourself in your tracks, grab your bag and walk out the door."

Staying Healthy in Times of Stress: Stress Can Make You Sick, but It Doesn't Have To

Studies show people with medical conditions such as heart disease, mental illness, or other chronic diseases are most vulnerable to the negative consequences of stress, but healthy people are also at a risk.

The link between stress and heart-related problems has been widely studied, and researchers say that mental stress increases the body's demand for oxygen by raising blood pressure and heart rate. For people who already suffer from heart disease, this additional burden can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and even death.

Stress can also act as a trigger for heart attack or stroke in people with undiagnosed heart disease, according to David S. Krantz, PhD, chairman of the department of medical and clinical psychology at Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Md.

He says stress can set off dangerous plaque ruptures in people who may not know that they're in the early stages of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, and those ruptures can lead to potentially life-threatening events like heart attacks or strokes.

Steven Tovian, PhD, director of health psychology at Evanston Northwestern Healthcare in Evanston, Ill., says stress also directly affects a part of the nervous system that controls the glands, heart, digestive system, respiratory system, and skin.

That means any pre-existing medical condition that is influenced by a nervous system response such as chronic pain, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), digestive disorders, or headaches is likely to become exacerbated by stress when the already overworked system becomes overloaded by additional stress.

In addition, Tovian says anyone with anyone who suffers from a history of mental illness, such as depression and anxiety, is also at risk for a worsening of symptoms at times of extreme stress.

Attitude Is Everything

But you don't have to be ill to suffer from the effects of stress on your physical as well as mental health. Stress can also make healthy people more vulnerable to sickness by weakening the immune system and making it easier to catch a cold or other contagious illness.

Suzanne Segerstrom, PhD, says what happens is that certain components of the immune system become less effective at fighting off illness, especially those caused by viruses, when exposed to stress over days or weeks. But she says attitude plays a critical role in tempering that reaction.

"The main principle is that the effect on the immune system is not a factor of what's happening in the environment, but it's an effect of your perception of it," says Segerstrom, who is assistant professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky. "To the degree that you feel threatened or overwhelmed, the immune system will be affected more."

Segerstrom says that people who focus only on negative information to the exclusion of more positive information will perceive more stress and, therefore, suffer more serious consequences in their mental and physical health. That's why it's important to keep a balanced perspective on events going on in the world as well as closer to home.

Relieving Stress and Getting Help

To ease the negative effects of stress on your health, experts recommend the following tips to reduce your stress and keep your life in balance:

Attempt to maintain a normal routine. Sticking to a schedule can help you feel more in control of your life even when the circumstances around you are chaotic.

Make and keep connections with friends, family, clergy, and other confidants. Maintaining a strong social support network can act as a buffer against stress.

Make time for things that you enjoy, whatever that may be, such as playing with your children or pets, exercise, reading a book, etc.

Give yourself a break and stay away from things that rile you in times of stress. Limit contact with people or things that cause stress, especially around bedtime.

Participate in a volunteer activity. Assisting others in a time of need can be empowering.

Take care of yourself. Don't let stress affect your diet, sleep schedule, or exercise habits.

Tovian says there are also several warning signs to look for that can signal when stress levels are exceeding healthy limits. Symptoms of stress overload include:

If you suffer from these symptoms, experts say it's important to reach out to family and friends. If your symptoms continue, seek out advice from your doctor or a mental health professional trained to deal with these issues.

Therapies to help people fight the health effects of stress usually target either altering factors in the environment that are causing stress or changing how people perceive and respond to stress through counseling on stress management, biofeedback, and/or drug treatment.

Sources: By Jennifer Warner. David S. Krantz, PhD, professor and chairman, department of medical and clinical psychology, Uniformed Services University, Bethesda, Md. Steven Tovian, PhD, director of health psychology, Evanston Northwestern Healthcare, Evanston, Ill. Suzanne Segerstrom, PhD, assistant professor of psychology, University of Kentucky. Health Psychology, November 2002. Circulation, Journal of the American Heart Association, March 26, 2002.

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