I must confess: I have a problem. I’ve had this problem for a long time. I don’t remember a time when I did not have this problem. It’s called procrastination. That’s right. I’m a procrastinator. I was so upset over this problem that I joined Procrastinators Anonymous. I went to my first meeting about three months after joining. On the door was a sign that read, “Meeting Postponed.” Then I noticed something hand written in the bottom corner. I took a moment to look closer. It seems that the sign had been there for more than a year.
Recently, I’ve noticed an increase in articles and studies on procrastination. They seemed to have the same conclusions. Procrastination is at epidemic proportions in the USA. Those reports have been passed on to the American Psychological Association and other organizations. But, to date, nothing has been done to solve this problem.
Procrastination is not only an epidemic, but it’s becoming an acceptable result of hiring people in corporate America. Maybe this is why there is such a push to develop robots that can do the work of humans.
I read a study recently that showed that when businesses fire non-productive workers and bring in new hires, the new workers are worse procrastinators than the ones that they had fired. It’s almost like there’s a school that teaches people to be productive procrastinators while expecting to be promoted for their efficient procrastination. The Peter Principle at work.
Recently I read that the worst type of procrastinator is that person who will read all about procrastination, learn how to overcome it, begin to feel guilty about it. Then they don’t do anything about it. I guess that illustrates what Homer Simpson once said, “If something is hard to do, then what’s the point?”
Several years ago, I had an eye-opening experience. In my creative writing class in graduate school, my teacher explained that true creativity often comes after a reasonable delay before writing. If I remember correctly, he said, “Waiting on the inspiration to strike may take a while.”
“Ah, ha!” I thought. “I’m not really a procrastinator after all. I simply take the time necessary for the inspiration to strike so that I can get to work.” In other words, I realized that I’m being creative while I’m doing nothing. Sometimes, I need to wait, read about the project, think about it: let it “noodle around” in my head. Then when I feel inspired, I get busy writing the project that was usually due the next morning.
See? I don’t procrastinate, I allow the creative processes to do its work in my brain. I need to wait until I feel like doing it. Now, before you get angry at me for making fun of what some people believe is a serious issue, let me share something with you. Joseph Ferrari, a professor at DePaul University has written the following: “Procrastination really has nothing to do with time-management. To tell the chronic procrastinator to just do it would be like saying to a clinically depressed person to ‘cheer up.’”
Ferrari and other psychologists think that procrastination happens for two reasons. One, we delay actions because we feel like we’re in the wrong mood to complete a task. And second, we assume that our mood will change in the near future. Of course, we all realize that waiting until we “feel like it” is often a route to disappointment. A process that I have used for many years is the same process suggested by psychologists in several articles that I have read. I learned that if I set a deadline for myself, I’ll put everything off until after the last minute because I set the deadline. But, if someone else sets a deadline for me, I believe it is my responsibility not to disappoint that person.
So, whenever I have a deadline set for me, I set reminders along the way to help me keep up with my progress until the project is completed. Thus, over the past fifty years, I have accomplished numerous achievements and recognitions for my work in education, theater, communications, and ministry. And that from a chronic procrastinator.
Oh, and that simple process came from one of the greatest over-achievers I have ever known. That person was not a licensed psychologist or even a trained counselor. He was not a doctor nor even a health care professional of any kind. He was a highly intelligent man with a college degree that he received while working full time to pay tuition and support himself.
Although he held no graduate or professional degrees, he was a recognized scholar and writer in his field. He was highly thought-of and revered by everyone who knew him. He was a simple parish pastor who loved people and spent his life serving them. And I’m proud to say that he was my dad. One of his favorite quotes near the end of his life was by Gloria Pitzer, the “Recipe Detective”:
“Procrastination is my sin. It brings me naught but sorrow. I know that I should stop it; so, In fact, I will, tomorrow.”
One final note on procrastination: A trick that I have taken from the right-hand mirror on my car. I have a sign that I put just above the calendar on my wall. It says, “Warning: Dates on this calendar are closer than they appear.”
My challenge to you? If you have a procrastinator dwelling inside you, remember that sometimes it’s okay to wait; but, be sure you never miss a deadline!