The first half of the first month of the New Year is already gone and it has only just dawned on me that no matter how long I put something off for or make excuses for my inability to do it, a task will neither go away nor will time wait for me to sort myself out!
I logged on to update my blog when I got completely lost in thought. I needed to understand how exactly 14 days went past without me updating my blog nor ticking off my to-do list. Goodness I haven’t even sent the mails I planned to send out though I have drafted it a million times in my head. Even as I write this, I wonder why I am writing on procrastination when my major intention was to talk about my Training Calendar for the year! And worse! I decided to conduct research on the topic when I stumbled on this cartoon and realized just how spot on it was!
I know many of us suffer from this but cannot seem to do anything about it. I guess a lot of it has to do with being in denial or worse, trying to justify why exactly we haven’t met our deadlines or reached our goals! I know for a fact that one of the reasons I procrastinate is because when I start to do things early enough, I end up wasting 80% of the time going around in circles till I have no time left. I realized that I did my best work when I was under pressure and felt justified leaving things till the last minute… and then it became my valid excuse for not doing things at the right time. For me, as long as I delivered, that’s all that mattered! But surely that cannot be healthy or sustainable in the long run!
In fact, taking it a bit further, I always wondered why we were always in a hurry in Lagos. People drive like maniacs, bikemen are daredevils, even pedestrians are something else. How else can we explain why people cannot take turns when navigating a narrow lane and end up wasting 30 minutes of their time when they could have saved 29.5 – a major reason for the bad traffic situation in Lagos! Simply because the average individual around here is constantly running late for one appointment or the other so rather than allow the next man in, 2 seemingly “smart people” cross each other off or hit themselves and end up wasting the whole day and getting everyone else late for work! Why? Because they left home too late! Why? This same procrastination! Of course because everyone else is late for work, each of them refuses to give way and the never-ending cycle just continues…. till of course, someone begging on the streets sees an opportunity to make money or be in control and comes in to intervene and direct traffic! Like seriously!
So my question is… if we know we procrastinate and we know it is counter-productive, then why do we do it?! Or better still, why can we not do anything about it? Could it be because we take things for granted?! I know someone who confessed to me that he lost a multi-million naira contract simply because he could not drag himself to send an e-mail. He sat for hours on his couch staring at the laptop screen but could not bring himself to send that e-mail. He concluded that he had a bad case of ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (which by the way I thought was bull! Clearly he has not really seen someone with ADHD and neither have I to be honest. But from my research, he may exhibit some traits – we all do – but I don’t think his case is as severe as that.
I also recall last year a designer on my contact list who was completely hysterical when she felt everything was falling apart, she was forgetting things a lot, getting everywhere late, couldn’t get things done on time and wanted to seek medical attention. She only seemed to calm down when I told her she was not the only one it was happening to and she should read up on an article I stumbled upon a while back. Truth is… I was worried she would contact a doctor who was not versed enough in this area and didn’t want her causing herself more harm than good till she could make sense of it all.
Now many of us may not admit it but chronic procrastination is actually a psychological problem. Now we’re not saying you’re going crazy or something. But from the following extracts on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Procrastination, surely you are better off admitting you have a problem so you can find workable solutions to it:
“While it is regarded as normal for people to procrastinate to some degree, it becomes a problem when it impedes normal functioning. Chronic procrastination may be a sign of an underlying psychological disorder… For some people, procrastination can be persistent and tremendously disruptive to everyday life. For these individuals, procrastination may be symptomatic of a psychological disorder such as depression or ADHD.”
“Many individuals who consider themselves “chronic procrastinators” are actually suffering from an underlying mental health problem such as depression or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). These individuals often do not understand why they cannot “get it together”, and can become resigned to a life of struggle, frustration, and underachievement. There is, unfortunately, widespread ignorance about this constituent to procrastination, even amongst mental health professionals, some of whom see procrastination as simply a “bad habit”.
Another interesting point on Wikipedia was how people responded or coped with procrastination:
“Individual coping responses to procrastination are often emotional or avoidant oriented rather than task or problem-solving oriented. Emotion oriented coping is designed to reduce stress (andcognitive dissonance) associated with putting off intended and important personal goals, an option that provides immediate pleasure and is consequently very attractive to impulsive procrastinators. There are hundreds of identified emotion oriented strategies, similar to Freudian defense mechanisms, coping styles and self-handicapping. These procrastinators include using the following:
- Avoidance: Where we avoid the locale or situation where the task takes place (e.g., a graduate student avoiding going to University).
- Distraction: Where we engage or immerse ourselves in other behaviors or actions to prevent awareness of the task (e.g., intensive videogame playing or Internet surfing)
- Trivialization: We reframe the intended but procrastinated task as being not that important (e.g., “I’m putting off going to the dentist, but you know what? Teeth aren’t that important.”).
- Downward counterfactuals: We compare our situation with those even worse (e.g., “Yes, I procrastinated and got a B- in the course, but I didn’t fail like one other student did.”). Upward counterfactual is considering what would have happened if we didn’t procrastinate.
- Humour: Making a joke of one’s procrastination, that the slapstick or slipshod quality of one’s aspirational goal striving is funny.
- External attributions: That the cause of procrastination is due to external forces beyond our control (e.g., “I’m procrastinating because the assignment isn’t fair”).
- Reframing: Pretending that getting an early start on a project is harmful to one’s performance and leaving the work to the last moment will produce better results (e.g., “I’m most creative at 4:00 AM in the morning without sleep.”).
- Denial: Pretending that procrastinatory behaviour is not actually procrastinating, but a task which is more important than the avoided one.
Task or problem-solving oriented coping is rarer for the procrastinator because it is more effective in reducing procrastination. If pursued, it is less likely the procrastinator would remain a procrastinator. It requires actively changing one’s behavior or situation to prevent a reoccurrence of procrastination.”
So the outstanding issue is where does one go from here? Are there competent doctors or counsellors out there who can actually assist with this concern?! For me, people need to recognize that those who procrastinate a lot need to be helped. Contrary to what people think, many are not just being lazy! Ok… maybe some are but not everyone! I know I’m not a lazy person but I seem to get distracted a lot! Perhaps because I over-multi-task which is obviously more detrimental to achieving each individual goal.
I won’t pretend I know what the answers are but I guess identifying the problem is the first step. I only got better at my deliverables when I realized it was a serious problem and I made a conscious effort throughout last year, thankfully so… until of course… I went into that “holiday” mode which I am finding myself hard to drag myself out of now…
I also found the following articles… perhaps they can help solve this problem. I’m sure there are loads more out there.
Here’s hoping this article spurs me into action and complete all the tasks on my to-do list. Actually, now I’m quite encouraged to work towards all my deadlines… oh… and start my exercise and healthy eating regime! Guess it’s never to late to turn over a new leaf and get your act together!
Here’s wishing me and everyone out there a lot of luck!