The Business of Procrastination
We all procrastinate at some time or other.
Sometimes it’s a case of wanting to relax for a little bit. You tell yourself, “You worked all week. You deserve a break.” Sometimes that relaxation period goes beyond a few hours and sometimes it can lead into weeks and months, maybe even years. Sometimes the amount of time you spent thinking about it is actually longer than it would have taken you to complete the task.
I understand. Sometimes the task is just too daunting. You may feel intimated because you’ve never done it before. In other cases, you’ve done it before and know it requires more labour than you want to exert. You may just put off doing something because you hate doing it; there is absolutely nothing fun about it. You know that all the whistling while you work won’t make it any better. You may even know there are potentially bad consequences if you don’t complete your task. Whatever the reason, it’s just not enough for you to make the leap from being inactive to taking action.
This is where the term “return on investment” comes into play. For someone who procrastinates, the reward for completing the task must be greater than the time and effort needed to complete it. I suspect that if there was enough money involved, you wouldn’t even consider staying on the couch. Money is a strong motivator and proof that things never change. If you can remember the term “allowance” being part of your life, you know the reward system works. If someone offered you money to clean their garage, you may clean it (if the price was right) but still not clean your own. The reward does not have to be monetary. Sometimes the reward is a sense of accomplishment or the silence that comes when the nagging stops.
Understand that procrastination implies an opportunity to complete a task. Your life may be a whirlwind of activity so your window of opportunity for completing these tasks may be small or non-existent; however, at some point, you have to determine if keeping busy all the time is a form of procrastination.
Now it’s my turn to come clean. Sometimes the house doesn’t come clean, at least, I don’t seem to make as much of an effort as some people I know. I would feel pretty good about myself for getting the essentials done like vacuuming and dusting, and this over-achiever tells me about doing a full clean, like throwing out items that haven’t been used in years. She talks about planting a roof garden and teaching at a gym in addition to her regular job. Somewhere in there she even manages to squeeze in some fun by going out with the girls or having guests over. Hats off to this woman!
I like to think I am mentally productive. Yes, real work, not mentally productive in the sense of thinking about doing work. For example, I am in the process of putting the final touches on a presentation I am doing in Washington, DC about “Learning Styles and the Cancer Experience.” I hit my deadline for completing the submission of my academic paper that was required as part of my speaking engagement. And I worked on my presentation nights and weekends for what seems like forever. My productivity on the clean-your-house front has lagged considerably.
But I have procrastinated when it comes to actually practicing my presentation. Every time I start to practice, I think of something else I should change in my slide deck. That’s just my inner editor coming out. The problem is preparing to present makes everything more real. I’m going to present to a room full of people I don’t know in about a week. I have no idea how many people there will be.
Like the cancer journey itself, there is the fear of the unknown. What’s chemo like? What’s it like to have surgery? Is radiation as bad as chemo? For those who haven’t had cancer, think of something you’ve done that terrified you; it was life-altering for you. That experience becomes a benchmark for everything else that occurs in your life after that point. Use that life-altering event to put your fears into perspective so that fear doesn't prevent you from achieving new personal bests.
Find something that is important to you and will give you the return on investment that you need to put off your procrastinating until you truly do need a break to take care of yourself.
Over 30-years of writing experience, about 10 years as a cancer survivor, and a lifetime purveyor of wit and laughter.
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