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

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Procrastinating 101: What Am I, Nuts?

The penultimate chapter in Joseph Ferrari's book Still Procrastinating?  The No-Regrets Guide to Getting it Done is entitled "Procrastination and Personality Styles."  Given its content, a more apt title might have been "Procrastination and Comorbidity."

I was first exposed to this oh-so-charming term as the mother of a dyslexic learner, when I was made aware that individuals whose learning style is not text-friendly have a "high incidence" of comorbidity with other alphabetically named "dis"orders, such as ADD or ADHD, and with depression--especially if they, like my son, are "twice exceptional," meaning that they are "gifted" and "LD" ("learning disabled").  

In Chapter 12, Dr. Ferrari focuses on overlaps between procrastination and "some major yet common clinical disorders," such as impulsivity, self-handicapping, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and ADD/ADHD. He begins by informing us that
Many clinical psychologists and professionals in the helping occupations consider chronic, frequent procrastination to be a major symptom of many psychiatric disorders.
He goes on to report the findings of research conducted by himself and colleagues of his in an effort to tease out the relationships between procrastinating and these afflictions.  Among these findings:
  • The more that people reported that they procrastinated, the more they also claimed to possess dysfunctional impulsivity.
    This seems to be partly an effect of poor planning--overestimating the time remaining to complete a task, referred to in the literature as the planning fallacy.  As the deadline approaches, the procrastinator behaves impulsively--at the last minute.
  • [P]rocrastination is related to a number of self-defeating behaviors, namely, choosing disappointment in life, rejecting the help of others when it's needed, feeling guilty after unexpected positive events occur, rejecting participation in pleasurable situations, criticizing others and circumstances when failure occurs, rejecting others when positive events happen, and excessive self-sacrificing for others.
  • Compulsions, but not obsessions, are related to procrastination.
  • The link does exist between attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity and frequent, chronic procrastination.  . . . [but] only for people diagnosed with ADHD.  . . . [W]ith a larger sample of men and women drawn from individuals who were not formally diagnosed with ADHD, no relationship seems to exist between procrastination and attention deficit.
Ferrari sensibly concludes, however, that
Whether your procrastination is a coping mechanism that you learned, or you have been clinically diagnosed with a disorder and procrastinating accompanies this problem, sometimes a simple solution will work in both cases.

For example, his elucidation of helpful strategies for individuals with ADHD who experience difficulty with transitions from one situation to another is detailed and practical.

In general, I am not enamored of the approach that tends to pathologize procrastination, particularly when so many of us seem to "suffer" from this so-called malady.  It seems to me that any life condition that results in stress and overload might produce the troublesome behavior of putting off things that we are supposed to be doing.  Might those diagnosed with cancer be prone to procrastinating?  What about people with chronic fatigue syndrome?  Parents of multiples?  People living below the poverty level?

While postponement may be "dysfunctional," in terms of conforming to requirements, it may also help us to survive overwhelming circumstances.  Which is not to say that procrastination is to be encouraged, but more that its management may be supported by a compassionate understanding of its usefulness, at times.

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