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

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Procrastinating 101: Too "Busy" to be on Time?

Yeah.  I see the irony.  Here I am trying to share what I'm learning from Diana DeLonzor's Never Be Late Again:  7 Cures for the Punctually Challenged--and I'm two weeks late with this post!  

In my defense, I was only up to the first of seven "cures" before I fell behind.  And there's been some unusual stuff hitting the fan in my life of late.  (No pun intended.)  I am going to make every effort to remain on track from here on.  

Today in Procrastinating 101, we are, appropriately enough, looking at "Cure Two:  Beat the Busy Syndrome."  We begin with the ritual set of questions, intended to ascertain whether we are "Producers."  DeLonzor instructs us to answer these probes:
  • Do I feel the need to squeeze as much activity as I can into each day?
  • Do I view unproductive time as time "wasted"?
  • Am I pleased when the day goes by quickly?
  • Do I often underestimate everyday tasks, such as getting dressed in the morning or driving to work, even though I've performed those routines many times before?
Two or more "yes" responses qualify us for the title.  (My own magic number is somewhere between two and four, depending on how scrupulously honest I am.  Which puts me in there with Zero Mostel, or Nathan Lane, depending on the era.)

At the core of what DeLonzor calls "The Busy Syndrome" are a couple of key characteristics.  One is the fixation on productivity and accomplishment so common in our culture.  Many of us seem caught up in the attempt to prove our worth, to ourselves and others, by whirling through our days, complaining about how much we have to do while continuing to grow our schedules and commitments.  Add to this the magical thinking about time which comprises the second trait typical of "Producers," and you get the sort of habitual lateness scenarios DeLonzor relates, and I blush to read.  

DeLonzor's "magical thinking" about time refers to the tendency to underestimate the amount of time necessary to complete a task, which results in trying to cram several too many activities into a short period of time.  Related to this difficulty is a general reluctance to arrive anywhere early, which might necessitate waiting.  Thus, we "busy" people find ourselves pushing the envelope on a regular basis, and constantly coming up short.  And late.

Why do we have so much trouble being realistic about time?  DeLonzor suggests that right-brain dominance may account for some of the problem, since the left brain is responsible for organizational skills and accurate time assessment.  She shares, as well, Dr. Neil Fiore's notion of a Peter Pan Syndrome, in which an individual raised by indulgent parents fails to outgrow an "all things possible" attitude.  Such people "have a tendency to see the world and their surroundings as they would like them to be, rather than the way they really are."  (I know someone like this, but I wouldn't say that it applies to me.)

Following a seemingly obligatory cultural criticism section, in which we are invited to step back from the competitive, achievement-focused values and behavior that surround us, DeLonzor points to a way out.  She advises the reader to:
  • Change your attitude about squeezing so much into each day.
  • Stop thinking of "waiting time" as "wasted time."
  • Overcome "magical thinking."
For each of these goals, she outlines a number of exercises designed to promote its realization.  Two that I found especially appealing were:
  1. the suggestion of replacing "If I hurry, I can. . ." with one of the following mantras:
  • "Am I being realistic or optimistic?"
  • "Am I doing too much?"
  • "Is this something that I need to do, or something I merely want to do?"
    2.  the idea of listing everyday tasks; estimating how long they take to accomplish; and then actually measuring how long they take.

I suspect that these two activities would address the habitual, and according to my children "obsessive" task-involvement which I engage in to the detriment of arriving on time anywhere; and my unrealistic assessments of what I can get done in a given amount of time.  (I persist in thinking, for example, that I can shower and dress in ten minutes, despite my daily failure to do so.)

And now, if the reader will excuse me, I have to do three more loads of laundry, finish the dishes, call my sister, work on projects for two clients, and spend some quality time with my husband before turning in early. . .

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