Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Procrastinating 101--A Little Help From Our Friends

Seems like the weeks are rolling by in high gear just now.  And here it is, Tuesday again, and time for Procrastinating 101.  This week, Joseph R. Ferrari's Still Procrastinating?  The No-Regrets Guide to Getting it Done--Chapter 9, "Social Support:  Getting By with a Little Help from My Friends."

In this chapter, Dr. Ferrari talks to us about relying on the kindness of friends and family, strange or otherwise, to help us through the difficult transition from procrastinator to nonprocrastinator.  I find the notion of a more or less liminal state accompanying habit change intriguing.  It is one way to look at my experiences of the last year, as I have attempted to take myself in hand and leave behind the dalliances that have been my stock in trade for too long.  And I must admit that I have not given much thought to the wisdom of seeking support during the process.

Ferrari instructs the reader about the differences between the terms social support and mutual support, the latter being more of a two-way street.  He gives the example of a 12-step program as a mechanism of mutual support.  But either type is to be preferred to trying to go it alone, according to Ferrari.  

Ferrari maintains that procrastinators tend to be "buck-passers," letting others do the work.  But as I read his scenario of two people dealing with getting the dinner dishes done--one a procrastinator and one not--I was struck with the thought that the situation may be more complex than that.  Both people may be procrastinators.  Or each person may procrastinate in some settings and not others, and on some tasks and not others.  And perhaps there is some interaction between housemates, co-workers, song-writing teams, and Girl Scout troops, so that the procrastinating or nonprocrastinating behavior that we display affects and is affected by that of others.

I, for one, am not a chronic buck-passer.  The household-chore-procrastinators that I live with can nearly always depend on my household-chore-procrastination withering before theirs.  And at work, I am generally reliable and timely.  Where I have difficulty is in putting off the things that matter to me personally.  In these areas, I don't have anyone to pass the buck to.

I found interesting the research Ferrari reported on, showing that procrastinators are more likely to turn to casual friends than to family and close friends for support, as compared to nonprocrastinators; and that procrastinators experience more conflict in their close relationships.  Ferrari holds that this is because procrastinators have, in my words, worn out their close relationships because of their inconsiderate behavior.  But it occurs to me that it is just as likely that people whose close relationships are difficult or dysfunctional may be experiencing the kind of chronic stress that reinforces their tendency to postpone tasks.  A correlational study such as Ferrari seems to resort to can leave us with this kind of chicken or egg quandary.  

I was interested, too, in Ferrari's finding that both procrastinators and nonprocrastinators are more likely to evaluate procrastinators negatively, and to wish to distance themselves from such persons.  Thus, we procrastinators may have difficulty putting together a support group, mutual or otherwise.  Ferrari suggests that making new, nonprocrastinating friends who can be our role models may strengthen the changes we are trying to make.  This seems a tad instrumental to me, but maybe that's an aspect of my heretofore dysfunctional, procrastinating self. 

Next week:  (bum-ba-bum-bum) Academic Procrastination.  (Oh, goodie!)

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