It is…midmorning. My dangerously sugary, half-n-halfed to death, black tea is gone, my most pressing matters dealt with and my ‘second wind’ is on his way, but caught in heavy traffic on the I-605. In other words, I am dead in the water and it’s only minutes before I lose momentum completely.
The self-satisfaction from what I’ve completed now gone, I sit at my desk, fidgeting nervously at the impending wave of demotivation. As it dawns on me that all emergency fires are doused, I almost relax but, just as quickly, feel as if someone, or something, is watching me.
Neatly tucked away between my folders, I glance over and see what I fear. The child in me cringes and tries to run, not wanting to pull out that dreaded captor, that enemy to liberty: The List.
Its presence is unmistakable. There’s a burn mark on my desk, where it sits every day. I think I see a proverbial glow. The adult in me concedes, picks it up and looks at it, all the while thinking: “What don’t I have to do right now?”
This scenario may be familiar to you.
I am a guilty, guilty procrastinator. I did it in high-school, I did it in college, I did it while making coffee drinks, I did it when I had to make sales calls, and I do it now, when there is something not-pressing. What’s worse? I have gotten away with it. Furthermore, I know that I am not the only person who does this and that this disease can permeate every area of our lives. It sneaks in, looking like a friendly break, then ruthlessly robs us of precious time and potential–a little folding of the hands, a little nodding of the head. You know.
When I entered the 2012 job market, I realized, with some shock, that people care very little for credentials or, even, degrees. They are most concerned about your life habits, will-to-succeed and attitude, none of which are courses offered at university.
Interviewing showed me that, though college gives you critical information, it provides very little in the way of life skills, and what you are is what you make yourself. Not exactly a shocker, but I did graduate thinking that I had all necessary skills. But I was missing one, critical certification:
The Y.L.E. (Year of Life Experience), which has a core course called: “While There Are Extensions In School, There Aren’t In Life.”
So, procrastination is a no-no and I’ve harvested the consequences of engaging in it. Yet I still try. So I asked myself: Why do we procrastinate and how can we fix it? I am not going to answer every facet of these two questions, just shed light on underlying reasons and brainstorm on how to take back time, instead of it taking us…well, that didn’t quite work. But bear with me.
I did a little research on this and, though there are many reasons for procrastination, I think that these are the most applicable to our age group.
1. The Big Lie. I found a quote by Bill Watterson that says: “You can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood. What mood is that? Last minute panic.” How many times have we heard someone say, or told ourselves, “I work best under pressure”? According to an article in Psychology today, this is a big lie that allows us to feel safe while we “squander [our] resources.” Cue nervous nail biting.
2. The Big Rush. People who qualify as thrill-seekers procrastinate for the euphoric rush of getting something done at the last second; of not knowing whether they’re going to make it. Woo-hoo! I can definitely relate to this.
3. The Big Fear. Some people procrastinate because they want to avoid the moment of reckoning, that moment of success or failure: “[T]hey would rather have others think they lack effort than ability.” Wait…I can relate to this, too.
4. The Big Choice. Some people fear making a decision and actually can’t make themselves do it, so they wait for decisions to happen to them. I did this with majors and higher education until windows of opportunity had closed and the decision was made for me.
OK, we say. So it’s an escape—big deal. Why does it matter if everything gets done in the end? Never mind that I can’t sleep between the hours of 12 – 3am, or have two stomach ulcers and ate my own logistics report last week. That’s normal. Right? Wrong. According to the same article, students (working people, too) that procrastinate show “evidence of compromised immune systems…[have] more colds and flu, [and] more gastrointestinal problems. And they [have] insomnia.” In addition, their habit “destroys teamwork in the workplace and private relationships.” Wow. Serious stuff.
But can it be fixed? Apparently, procrastination is, at its core, avoidance of pain and discomfort. But here’s the thing about pain and avoidance: “When we move away from pain, it increases — it’s like a monster pursuing us in a dream. But if we turn around and face pain, it shrinks…when you move toward it, pain turns into power.”
Now, isn’t that true? When we avoid anything—writing a paper, cleaning the house, changing the oil, sending out resumes, turning in financial aid forms, quitting our job to pursue a better one—doesn’t that thing feel like a ghoul, haunting us at every turn? The paper ends up mediocre, the house stays mostly dirty, our car starts to sputter, that perfect position we might have had gets taken, the window for financial aid closes and we stay at a poorly suited job, which we hate.
In short: We are robbed of our time and potential.
In the same article, the author says we beat this by moving through the pain and the fear of failure. We don’t have to go out and do the scariest thing we’ve ever avoided. We just need to steadily strengthen our anti-procrastination artillery, by noting when we want to avoid something and, instead of scurrying away, face it head on. When we do this, relationships strengthen, unexpected opportunities pop up and we take back our lives.
So I’m going to try one thing this week and you may laugh, but I seriously hate it to my very core: Filing. Wow. What is more mind numbing than thumbing through a sea of tabs and sticking papers into folders, with a vomitus green hue? In my book—nothing. But this next week, whenever I feel myself rebel against filing, I’ll ‘Just Do It’ and see how things go. Then maybe I won’t be so afraid when my tea runs out. 🙂
Also…procrastinate doesn’t even look like a word anymore.