This article would have been much better if I hadn’t waited until the last minute to write it.
But then I wouldn’t have been able to claim that I did what so many procrastinators do regularly: I delayed work on a task to give myself an excuse if I happened to make a complete mess of it. It’s not that I’m lousy at my job, I could plausibly say. It’s just that I had so many other things to do at work and at home that I couldn’t give it my best effort.
These sorts of self-serving excuses are so common that psychologists have coined a name for the practice. They call it self-handicapping. Think of self-handicapping as a strategy of intentionally sabotaging your own efforts. Why would anyone be so self-defeating? Because erecting your own barriers to success offers protection from the ego-crushing consequences of failure. When I postpone work on a project that I fear is beyond my capabilities, I am creating an obstacle that I can point to as the reason for flopping. It’s not that I’m too incompetent to succeed. It’s just that I waited until the last minute; I didn’t give it my best shot. “The chronic procrastinator would rather have other people think he lacks effort than that he lacks ability,” the procrastination researcher Joe Ferrari of DePaul University told me.