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

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Procrastinating 101: For Those With Short Attention Spans, a Little Book on Procrastination

Having dawdled through the last volume selected for Procrastinating 101--Diana DeLonzor's Never Be Late Again:  7 Cures for the Punctually Challenged--today we begin to make our way through The Procrastinator's Digest:  A Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, by Timothy Pychyl, Ph.D.

The good news is that Dr. Pychyl's book is intentionally short (though not that short--the image here is hyperbole).  As Pychyl says, in answer to the question he imagines his readers pondering--"Why is the book so short?"--
Too often, we start books, read the first chapter or two, and never pick it up again (although we intend to finish it!).  Among procrastinators, this is a terrible risk.  In fact, procrastination is defined by this intention-action gap.  I do not want to contribute to this, so I have written a short book.  [emphasis mine]
While it may be that Dr. Pychyl ran out of sabbatical before he could complete a longer book, I, for one, appreciate his brevity.  I embrace his rationale.  And I am looking forward to his ten short chapters, punctuated with mantras, comics, and practical advice.

The first of these begins with a definition we have seen before--

Procrastination is the voluntary delay of an intended action despite the knowledge that this delay may harm the individual in terms of the task performance or even just how the individual feels about the task or him- or herself.  Procrastination is a needless voluntary delay.

The definition underscores the chapter's mantra, and main point:  "All procrastination is delay, but not all delay is procrastination."

Personally, I am still trying to untangle this assertion as it applies to my own life, and task-challenges.  My formerly Catholic guilty self is prone to accepting blame for the type of delay Dr. Pychyl would let me off the hook for, while at the same time my lazy task-avoidant self tends to overuse excuses.  And then there are those I've met who complicate things by holding me responsible for life circumstances that promote delay--rather like the charge that individuals with cancer are culpable for the personality flaws that invited their disease.  In this vein is the "trainer" who accused me of having adopted one of my children in order to avoid completing my dissertation.

At the heart of the type of delay that is procrastination, says Pychyl, is "our own reluctance to act . . . when it is in our best interest to act."  Conquering procrastination, he asserts, relies on coming to "understand this reluctance," and implementing strategies to change what has become a habit of procrastinating.

In this first chapter, his "initial strategy for change" is to begin to distinguish delay from procrastination in our own lives.  As what he labels a "thought experiment," Dr. Pychyl advises listing "those tasks, projects, activites or 'things'" that we think we are procrastinating, and noting in writing--without overthinking--the thoughts and feelings we associate with each.

This seems useful, and do-able to me.  

My preliminary take:

Some Stuff I May Be Procrastinating About

Task, project, goal, activity
Feelings, thoughts about this task/goal
Working on my novel

Want uninterrupted work time
Does the world need another half-baked story?
Am I a good enough writer to do this project?
Fear; frustration

Tackling the basement

Feeling overwhelmed
Afraid to see how bad it is
Not enough light, since the lighting project has not been completed

Researching/implementing Living Trust

One more complicated item to add to my already too-long list
Afraid of the complexity, and the emotions stemming from step-family issues


Too many other things to do
Don’t have time
Circumstances not conducive
Difficulty settling down; distractions

Making travel arrangements

Worried about spending the money
Too difficult to sort out all the scheduling issues
Don’t like leaving my work and family

Making medical appointments

Worried about spending the money Afraid I’ll find out something bad
Fear of having my blood pressure taken Difficulty squeezing appointments into my schedule

And now I'm supposed to look for patterns.  Hmmm. . . . Does it look like there's some fear at work here?

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