I'll Think About Procrastination Tomorrow

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If you’;ve seen the movie or read the book "Gone with the Wind", you’;ll recognize this legendary line from one of the story’;s principal characters, Scarlet O’;Hara — I’;ll think about that tomorrow. If you’;re a procrastinator, this line may give you small comfort, as though you’;re ready and willing to put off doing things until tomorrow, you at least think about them! Procrastination is no laughing matter and most of us are subject to occasional bouts with the problem. Some people are literally paralleled by it. If it’;s even an occasional problem for you, doing something about it can make you not only more productive, but also more satisfied with yourself and your efforts.

You can sort through the Internet for self-help articles and learn the top seven reasons people procrastinate and the top ten reasons and the top five reasons and a variety of other psychological chatter mean to enlighten, which all too often serve only to confuse, However , there are two reasons that seem to make most lists and might come closest to an understandable explanation for many of us. The reasons are perfectionism and failure. When you mix these two with the ever-present tic tock of life’;s great decision maker – the clock – you have a recipe for successful procrastination.

Perfectionism, Failure, and the Clock

You’;ve heard the phrase "The perfect is the enemy of the good." The notification is simple. Pursuit of a perfect solution more often than not prevails a good solution from being reached. For some of us, anything less than a perfect solution is unacceptable. Sometimes burdened by the memories of parental praise for the 7 A grades achieved on a report card coupled with exhortations to raise the 3 B or C grades to A level, we feel less less than the best is enough enough.

If a good result is perceived as failure, what can we do? If you do not try, you can not fail. What makes this an even more effective strategy for maintaining perfectionist standards is one of humankind’;s greatest decision makers by default – the clock.

Vast arrays of tasks requiring a decision or the completion of specific actions are extremely resolved by the expiration of some kind of deadline. In effect, the ticking of the clock stops, and time steps in. An individual who finds an attractive internal job posting invites submitting the application in the interests of getting it perfect and the deadline for submission passes. The clock stepped in to save the day. The expiration of the deadline effectively absolves the individual from responsibility for failing. He or she did not fail; they simply ran out of time.

Although procrastination can be a chronic and debilitating condition for a select few, for most of us it is a problem we conquer from time to time, with surprising results. Many complex tasks appear to guarantee failure since there is no way something so large can end with a perfect result. On those occasions when we actually get into such tasks, we surprise ourselves with the realization that it was not nearly as difficult as we thought. Therein lays the kernel of a potential solution for procrastination – getting started.

The principle in this approach is deceptively simple, and it is derived from those age-old bromides like "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," and "You eat an elephant one bite at a time." The idea is to force yourself to take the first step, hoping that the second will be easier than the first and the third easier than the second.

Do something to get started. That’;s the secret. Most people have had the experience of realizing the hardest part of getting something done is getting started. Easier said than done, however, as the human mind is capable of a host of self deceptions designed to keep you in the comfort of not starting because if you do not start it, and if you don ‘;t complete it, you can not fail.

Here’;s a trick some writers play on their own minds when they are caught in a wicked form of procrastination sometimes referred to as "writer’;s block." When staring at that terrifying blank sheet of paper or blank screen, they get started by typing the phrase many used to learn to type – "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country."

Remember, the idea is to get started in any way you can. Writers need to write and not everything they write comes out perfect the first time, but it can always be made better. So despite the words "now is the time" may be nonsensical, they are words and blocked reporters keep typing that phrase over and over and sooner than later, words that do make sense and are appropriate to the task at hand do come out. The task is started!

The process might seem absurd, but it works. There are many variations on this theme. In the case of the task of updating the resume, the trick may be to say to yourself "I’;ll just read what I have." Once read, the next trick may be to make a few changes to the first section, telling yourself you’;ll stop after that and finish the rest "later." Congratulations! You’;re starting and physics tells us a body in motion will keep going!