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

Monday, August 8, 2011

Procrastinating 101: Some Assembly Required

Procrastinating 101 is nearing the end of what Dr. Piers Steel has referred to as our "leisurely walk" through his book The Procrastination Equation:  How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done.  This week, in Chapter 10, "Making it Work:  Putting the Pieces into Practice," we look at how we might begin to live all that we have been learning.  

But first, we have to remember all that research we've waded through, all those insights and tips we've garnered along the way.  And then we have to gird ourselves for the project of using all that good stuff in making over our disarray.  And then we have to leap that leap of faith--the one that requires we imagine ourselves as able to procrastinate less.

And I say less because Dr. Steel, among others, has taught me that procrastinating is a tendency that I was born to, and one that I've nurtured long and well.  The temptation to delay we have always with us.

Fortunately, my tiny, dried-up seed of faith has broken open in the soil of Dr. Steel's informative treatise, and been watered this week by Chapter 10's stories of procrastination recovery.  (And, I'm feeling more optimistic all around, after finding yesterday the last missing piece to a jigsaw puzzle my kids and I completed, sans final dark green leafy element, weeks ago.)

In Chapter 10, Dr. Steel reprises the three prototype characters introduced in Chapter 2--Eddie, Valerie and Tom.  Eddie, you may recall, is stymied by low "Expectancy;" Valerie, by low "Value;" and Tom, by issues of sensitivity to "Time."  (Oh, and--plot twist--turns out Eddie and Valerie are married to each other.  Yike, two serious procrastinators in one household!)  But in this next-to-last chapter, our procrastinating friends finally "get it."  Each in their own way, they apply the lessons of the book and emerge from the morass created by their previous difficulties.  Ah, a happy ending.  Actually, three of them.  And more, if we can ultimately count ourselves.

Those of us who are "lucky" enough to fall neatly within one of the three procrastination types represented by our three heroes of recovery should be able to apply the corresponding solutions in a fairly straightforward manner.  For others, like myself, who are more "democratic" delayers--displaying significant handicaps in all three areas--a bit more brain power must be applied to the task of customizing an approach that can work. 

Steel recognizes the cynicism that many of us experience after wading through mountains of self-help tomes.   He references a satirical novel, Happiness, by Will Ferguson, whose premise is "What if someone wrote a self-help book that actually worked?"  But Steel maintains that The Procrastination Equation actually works, just like Ferguson's fictional character's fictional work, What I Learned on the Mountain.  But only if we actually work.  

The moment has arrived to come out of this useful book, and back into our lives.  It is time to (gulp!) put what we've learned into practice, and become former procrastinators.

At the conclusion of the chapter--the "Looking Forward" section--Dr. Steel reminds us of what we are up against:

Nine thousand years ago, procrastination didn't exist.  Back then, if we worked when motivated, slept when sleepy, and acted on other urges as they came upon us, we did so more or less adaptively.  In that golden age, our compulsions fit out daily demands like jigsaw puzzle pieces.  We were designed for that world, life before the invention of agriculture.

Makes you long for cave, doesn't it? 
Fast forward nine thousand years and that same human nature has equipped us with inclinations that are ill-suited to the everyday.  We have to-do lists filled with diets, early wake-ups, and exercise schedules, among a host of other ugly and motivationally indigestible ordeals.  Almost every aspect of our lives reflects this maddening mismatch between our desires and our responsibilities, as we overemphasize the present and sacrifice the future. 

The hope he holds out, the answer to this dilemma, lies in accepting our circumstances, our shared humanity, and "adopt[ing] advice consistent with this understanding."  That is to say, the advice contained in The Procrastination Equation, which, if you'd purchased the book, you would be "holding. . . in your hands."

Last three words in the chapter?  "Now do it." 

Next week:  Summing it up.

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