View Full Version : Just do it ... later

06-30-2005, 07:05 AM
For procrastinators, there's always tomorrow

By David Barton -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PDT Thursday, April 15, 2004

For purely journalistic reasons, I waited until the last minute to write this story.
I feel bad about that. Really, I do. And the editors aren't too happy with me, either. One just looked at me and shook his head in thinly veiled disgust. And that hurts.
But it had to be done.

You see, I needed to get into the mindset of a typical procrastinator. And doing it this way seemed safer (and cheaper) than putting off my taxes.
Because normally, of course, I never put anything off. Just like you.

And if you believe that, I've got a set of time-management tapes I'll sell you. Cheap. And I'll get them right to you.
Procrastination - defined in Webster's as "to put off doing something unpleasant or burdensome until a future time; to postpone (such actions) habitually" - can be a nightmare. It is, at least potentially, a time-wasting, money-draining, relationship-destroying, ego-damaging, health-hurting, soul-wrecking curse. And a lot of us suffer.

For instance, the IRS expects to receive 9 million requests for filing extensions by today, the deadline to file taxes. And that's not because all those millions had something more important to do.

It's because at the root of most procrastination lies one of the most basic emotions.

"It comes down to fear," says Skip Weisman, a personal coach based in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., who helps people overcome procrastination.

"Fear of not getting it done well, of rejection, of raising the expectations of others, of failure, of success ..."
Of success? Oh, yes, says Weisman.

"One of the things I've learned is that most people come to me because, at a core level, they have a very low self-esteem, which means they think they're not worthy of success. They ask, 'Who am I to succeed at this level?' And if they were to succeed at it, they would still feel they would be exposed in some way.

"So I'm continually reinforcing people that they've done great things, because the successes can get buried."
Clearly, then, procrastination is a complex issue, not merely a matter of forgetfulness or even laziness. And it is no laughing matter.

Still, as with many things we fear - everything from death to taxes - we tend to make light of it. Ask self-described procrastinators about their problem, and they'll make a joke.

"I was going to model my procrastination style after my dad," says Bee reader Jeff Parkin, "but I just haven't gotten around to it yet."

"The recreation department offered a class titled 'How To Avoid Procrastination,' writes Bee reader Carol Roy of Auburn. "But I couldn't go; I didn't sign up in time."

"I think (humor) is a huge defense mechanism," Weisman says. "If I had a dime for everyone who joked about procrastination or laughed it off, I'd be a multimillionaire. Every time I mention my program, they say they'll get back to me later, ha ha ha ... but I'm tired of it.

"There are some really sad stories about health issues, people who spend enormous amounts of money, whose relationships are strained ... and I wonder: At what point does it stop being a joke?"

While embarrassment leads procrastinators to make light of their malady, the costs are real, and in some cases, profound. The steady accumulation of uncompleted projects and missed deadlines adds a weight to life that is greater than the sum of the parts.

Sacramentan Steve Woodard, 53, knows the feeling well. He makes repeated jokes about his missed tax deadlines, about the trip he's been putting off taking for two years and all the rest, but when asked about how it feels, he is candid.
"It's like being pecked to death by chickens," he says. "When you start realizing that other people are a little irritated at you, and you realize it's because you promised you'd do something, and it was a long time ago, and you start thinking, I missed this, I missed that ... I feel guilty."

Woodard recounts having disappointed a friend to whom he'd promised some help, but then put it off for weeks.
He finally wrote her to apologize, to which she responded: "I've already given up on you. I'll pay you for your time, but I hope you get better."

"It was a knife to the gut," he recalls. "Because she was right. And we're no longer friends. It was a blow to my self-image."

Self-image has a lot to do with procrastination, which is why life coaches take it so seriously.

Kaye Williams is a 49-year-old mother of five who lives in rural Kentucky. She recently claimed the title of America's Biggest Procrastinator, awarded by Weisman as a promotional tool for his coaching business.

Williams was motivated not by an appetite for public humiliation but by Weisman's award to the winner: a year of personal coaching that would normally cost $3,600.
Speaking by phone from her home, Williams is chagrined by the media attention, and quickly says almost reflexively, "I don't think I'm a procrastinator - I'm just waiting for the right moment."

But Williams may not be joking. She says she likes her creative work, but that when she "pushes" it, she's not happy with the results.

So she spends a lot of time waiting for the right moments. Which, she admits, don't come often. Or she sets impossible conditions, such as needing to have the entire house to herself. Or, she says, when she finally writes something, she judges her work too quickly and too harshly.

"I have shelved all kinds of stuff, and then two years later, I look at it, and it was great," she says of her writing. "And I think, 'What was I thinking?' It's like there's a little police force saying, 'Do not enjoy this.' "
Meanwhile, the familiar weight of incomplete projects weighs on her. She is well aware of what's at stake.

"The pressure for me is creating meaning out of my life," she says. "I raised my kids, but that's them doing something, not me. The push is to have meaning in what I do, and the stuff that I work on doesn't feel like it has meaning if it isn't shared.

"That's my biggest fear," she says, "that it will have been meaningless. If I write a masterpiece, and no one ever reads it, does it matter? That's the pressure ... that my whole life will be wrong."

This tendency of uncompleted tasks to snowball, to take on an oversize psychological gravity, is why it is so crucial that people get a handle on their tendency to procrastinate, says Weisman.

Controlling procrastination can be done in many ways, he says, but one is to realize that "anytime you're in a situation when you can procrastinate, you usually take the easy path, doing what's comfortable. In that moment, it's more gratifying to be the couch potato than to get up and do what you want to do. It's a laziness that comes from the tendency to indulge in instant gratification, which is an immature way to live your life."

With this in mind, Weisman says he likes to amend the dictionary definition of procrastination.
"I say, 'Procrastination is a habit of postponing or delaying needlessly, developed through an immature decision-making strategy based on the need for instant gratification."

By expanding the definition in that way, Weisman hopes he can show his clients the way past the procrastination roadblock. And the crux is learning to make mature decisions based on long-term goals, not on what feels good in the moment.

"As Tony Robbins says, 'It's in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped,' " Weisman says. "From the moment you get out of bed, every day is a series of decisions, and you have to be vigilant to make the right ones."

Weisman suggests a handful of questions to ask when confronted by a decision:

What are you saying to yourself about this decision? What difference does it make in your life, doing it or not doing it?

What's going on with your body? Lying around makes it tough to get into motion. Are you hungry or thirsty? Those can get in the way, too.

What are your expectations? Is this going to be difficult, overwhelming, create too much change in your life? Or do you expect good changes?

Finally, Weisman suggests asking: What does this decision mean to you? If there's no purpose or meaning behind your goal, you're not going to go after it. Figure out what you want, and why.

On the other hand, says Kathy Sanborn, a Sacramento-based personal coach and author (2003's "The Seasons of Your Career"), while chronic procrastination can be debilitating, "sometimes procrastination can be a good thing."
"Acting when your intuition tells you to wait is contrary to your best interests," she says. "For the most propitious moves, instead of rushing blindly ahead, take action only when it feels right."

Or, of course, when you're forced into it by, say, a deadline. Getting a procrastinator to finish a story on procrastination is its own special circle of Dante's hell. But never underestimate the fear of consequences: The threat of unemployment is sometimes the best motivation of all.

06-30-2005, 01:37 PM
eh, I'll read this later. j/k, very interesting read, thanks.
Oh, and also on the part where they quote Tony Robbins, I couldn't help but think of that one episode of Family Guy...