WASHINGTON, April 14, 2012 - Some of us remember one or both parents hovering over tax forms, a pencil in their mouth, madly punching numbers into a mechanical calculator. Somehow, they managed to stuff the IRS envelope and make it to the post office before midnight on April 15th, year after year. It is quite a feat of timing when you think about it, almost an art form.
Procrastination is, however, considered and undesirable trait despite its popularity. Those called procrastinators are usually people who put off unpleasant tasks, but there are other kinds of activity people put off too. Thinking for one’s self, or considering the emotional impact our actions have on others, are two intangibles that people can avoid.
We put off boring, challenging, and anxiety producing activities, opting for pleasurable ones, even when we know the more difficult, scary, or mundane eventually must be done. Many a procrastinator has asked, “Does it matter that much, as long as things get taken care of?”
A therapy client, Emily, once confessed, “I let my kitchen counters clutter-up for three or four days, then I clean up the mess. Three or four days later I clean it up again. This has always bugged my husband and caused arguments.”
“A friend of mine suggested that for one week I clean each mess in the kitchen right after it’s made. She told me once I realized how much better I would feel, I’d keep doing it. I thought it was worth a try, but by day two I was going nuts!”
“That week my time in the kitchen seemed divided into a constant stream of little, separate tasks. It put my stomach in knots. I admit the kitchen looked nice when it was picked up, but I went back to my “usual” habit after that week, and stopped feeling bad about it.” Chalk one up for procrastinators.
We are All Wired Differently
If people get things done and are not hurting themselves or others by procrastinating, is it such a terrible habit? It depends which side of the fence you are on. Procrastination is frowned upon by those who get things done right away. They are annoyed by procrastination. Those who put things off do not get annoyed with people who don’t. They see life differently.
If you look at life non-productively, for example, procrastination is reasonable. Life can get very mundane. If someone works at a tedious job for eight hours, it makes sense that they will avoid tedium when they get home. There is also the odd, outside chance that if you wait long enough to do something it will go away. This rarely happens, but it does.
Some delayers insist that they need the pressure of a close deadline to get things accomplished. One college student remarked, “I have so many questions and ideas in my head. I never get anywhere writing papers ahead of time. But, the day before a paper is due I have to put something down, so I stop thinking and just write.”
Why They Don’t Change
Most people who procrastinate with some things, but generally take care of business, are not discomfited enough by their delayed actions to do anything about it. It is only their more proactive partners who are made uncomfortable. This is the origin of nagging, by the way.
Over the centuries, nagging has proved to be a useless motivator. All proactive partners may as well chill by moving on to the next task on their own to-do list.
When It’s a Problem
Procrastination is a serious issue when it negatively affects your livelihood, relationships, and daily functioning. Losing money, jobs, partners, friends, and opportunities because of putting things off can ruin the quality of your life, and the people you care about. The stress and shame felt from delaying activities can lead to other problems, such as headaches or depression.
Constant stress has long-haul health consequences, too. Most of us need to reduce stress, not add to it. Even hard core procrastinators will admit it feels good to get something done now, instead of later. One less thing on the mind lightens the load.
Maybe on tax day you will have already invested (or spent) your refund. Or, you might be one of many sitting at the computer, entering income data, and hoping you are claiming all your rightful deductions. Early or late, the taxes get done.
Procrastinators need to ask themselves whether the cost of putting things off is more than they want to pay. Those who are trying to love a procrastinator are better off realizing delayers will not change until they want to. If procrastination is destroying the quality of your life, know this habit can be undone and you will likely need help doing it.
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