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

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Procrastinating 101: Charting our Way Out

So it's Tuesday morning, and time, once again, for Procrastinating 101.  And between now and dinner time, I have to bake a requested Red Velvet Cake for my Valentine's Day birthday child, who turns 21 today.  And shop for its ingredients, and some other stuff.  And deposit my paycheck so I can pay for the shopping.  And find the check I've mislaid since picking it up yesterday.  And report to work for three hours.  And prepare dinner, and a room to eat it in.  And pick up our in-for-repairs-AGAIN car on the other side of the city.  And figure out when and how I'm going to exercise.  And pay an overdue bill.  And work on my clients' projects.  And finish this blog post.  And. . . and. . . and. . .

At least some of this workload is the result of things put off earlier--though I probably couldn't get them done before because I was dealing with that day's backlog.  Was there some original sin of procrastination that has set this all in motion?  Am I doomed to be playing catch-up ad infinitum?

In any case, I'm ready to learn what Dr. Timothy Pychyl's The Procrastinator's Digest:  A Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle can teach us today.

Chapter 2--"Is procrastination really a problem?  What are the costs of procrastinating?"--begins with the ponderous mantra "Procrastination is failing to get on with life itself."  Sounds like a pretty big, all-encompassing problem, not the minor irritation of stand-up comedy legend.  The kind of thing likely to cause some serious regrets, as Dr. Pychyl learned from a psychologist expert in grief counseling.  
The regrets of omission related to our procrastination were most troubling in the grieving process.
And procrastination has a negative effect on the quality of our work (Pychyl cites Dr. Piers Steel's meta-analysis); our feelings (research shows that, even though we are ostensibly choosing an initially more pleasant state, in fact we're not enjoying it all that much, as feelings of guilt and dread intrude); and our health (as a result of stress, and failure to deal with health maintenance in a timely way).

But the bigger picture cost of procrastination is at the heart of the chapter's mantra.  As Pychyl exhorts us
When we procrastinate on our goals, we are our own worst enemy.  These are our goals, our tasks, and we are needlessly putting them off. . . . When we procrastinate on our goals, we are basically putting off our lives.
Dr. Pychyl is brilliantly concise, as befits his small book, in characterizing procrastination as 
a symptom of existential malaise . . . that can only be addressed by our deep commitment to authoring the stories of our lives 
and reminding us that
[t]o author our own lives, we have to be an active agent in our lives, not a passive participant making excuses for what we are not doing.  When we learn to stop needless, voluntary delay in our lives, we live more fully.
I don't know about you, but he makes me want to get off my butt and get on with it.

As a strategy for strengthening our commitment to act, Dr. Pychyl sends us once again to the chart.  This one directs us to reflect on costs and benefits related to those goals we have been putting off.  I have filled mine in in a preliminary, cursory fashion below, working as I am with limited space and time.  (And planning to avoid too much public self-incrimination.)

Task, project, goal, activity
Costs associated with procrastination
Benefits of acting in a timely fashion
Working on my novel
Someone else has already written some of the books I could have done
The satisfaction of being who I want to be, doing what I supposedly want to do
Tackling the basement
Continuing irritation, inconvenience, and potential injury
Finding long lost stuff, friends, whatever else may be lurking there
Researching/implement Living Trust
Dread of battling children scarier than death itself
Peace of mind
Feeling harried too frequently
Lower blood pressure; feeling calmer
Making travel arrangements
Higher costs of plane tickets purchased within days of departure
Savings; more travel choices
Making medical appointments

Exacerbating physical problems
Recovering sooner; limiting damage

Go ahead.  Try it yourself. We have nothing to lose but our time--which some of us aren't making the best use of anyway!

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