. . . said no one ever.
Procrastination is such a conundrum. And a pain in the butt.
Scenario: You have a project, job, task, whatever. It is important and should be done, should have your attention. You begin it, do a thorough job, maybe even enjoy it, and finish it, feeling satisfied, accomplished, and content.
That’s what should happen, anyway, right?
More likely scenario (in my world): I have a task, job, whatever. It is important and should have my full attention. I think about it and brainstorm, coming up with a lot of great ideas, and then proceed to do a lot of other things instead of the task. Then finish the task under pressure—doing a good job, mind you, but stressing myself out in the process.
Which would you choose? Why, the former, of course! At least I am guessing most people would not go for the latter.
So why, WHY, do people procrastinate? And when I say people, I am, of course, referring to myself. (Hey, I know there are many, many, multitudes of people out there who do the same damn thing, but I am only worried about little ol’ me here.) Why would you put off something that needs to be done? Why wouldn’t you get right down to work instead of waiting until you feel the pressure?
Oh, well, I suppose there is every reason in the world not to focus on something, as this fabulous New Yorker cartoon so perfectly shows:
But isn’t it one thing to recognize that there are all these outside distractions, and another thing to actually let them distract you? So, the question becomes: why do I allow the distractions?
Procrastination can invade all areas of your life:
- The plaster on the ceiling in my kitchen has a crack. I notice it just about every time I enter that room and say to myself, “I should probably fix that.” Then I look down and . . .
- I have a package that I was going to send to a friend for Christmas that I had put in a drawer and forgot about that is now sitting on my desk waiting to go to the post.
- A plastic tote of winter clothes–snow pants, gloves, scarves, and hats sits at the bottom of the stairs waiting to be put away for next year. (to be fair, it has been stupidly cold this spring.)
- A bag (actually several bags) of donation items sits near my front door, awaiting drop off.
My son sits the table over a piece of homework and “allows” himself to be distracted by all manner of things. To be fair, he is only 14 and not as self-aware as a 45-year old. Sometimes when he is aware that he is distracted, he gets frustrated at what’s happening. His father will tease him with something along the lines of—“You must just love doing homework because you spend sooooo much time with it!” In fact, he is very much opposed to doing homework, and that is part of the reason he tries to do anything but the homework, which results in him sitting in front of the homework for muuuuch longer than it would if he just got it done. Crazy, huh?
It is definitely easier to observe others and know why they procrastinate than it is to evaluate yourself. I suspect that in terms of work projects, I have already answered my own question in that second scenario—it’s all about the pressure. I have always worked well under pressure. I am more focused and sharp when I know it has to get done. I was always the kid who wrote my papers the night before in high school, or barely studied for tests, sometimes studying the night before but more likely looking over things before I went into the class. It worked for me. I think it freaked my parents out a little (secretly, I bet they recognized a little of themselves in this behavior!) Only when I went to grad school, did I actually prepare for tests or start papers in advance of deadlines (most of the time!) I guess that’s life experience for you—I was a better student as a person in my late twenties.
Just by writing this, I have forced myself to list some of the things I procrastinate about, which makes me think about why I put them off. I guess I don’t care too much about my “working under pressure” because I am really good under pressure, and if I am being honest, it is exciting to work under pressure. I just wish that I could stop procrastinating when it came to other aspects of my life like fixing ceiling cracks and going to the post office.
I read that fear is at the root of procrastination, and I get that in some cases. You might put off something big because you are afraid of failure or not doing it well—that makes sense. And, ok, maybe I am afraid that if I start repairing the ceiling, I will discover that I need to replace the whole ceiling. But the donation piles? What is the weird fear behind that?? Isn’t self-psychoanalysis just the best?
Who knows if I will ever figure myself out? I know that I can help myself by making lists and schedules and following them. It just annoys me that I have schedule my life and live off a list, you know? Yeah, procrastination can be a problem, but like any problem, recognizing it will help you deal with it.
I will leave you to deal with procrastination (as I deal with mine) and go out there and kick some butt. In the words of Rhino, the hamster (Disney’s Bolt,) “Let it begin! Let it Begin!”
*image from New Yorker Magazine