Thursday, August 6, 2015

Wait! I Need to Finish Procrastinating

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte's column in the August 6, 2015 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

I don’t remember exactly when I recognized one of my most annoying behavioral traits, procrastination. In all likelihood, I picked the horrid habit up as a child or teenager. It wasn’t until I was in college, however, that I truly realized it was plaguing my life.

In college, most of us seemed to fall into two camps.  There were those who had their papers stacked up in advance all semester, ready to hand in on the due date.  And, there were those of us who wait until the last day, hour, or minute. I genuinely admired the first type and identified with the second.

I’m the one who burned (and continues to burn) the midnight oil. Or to be more exact, I’m the one who rises to get my work done before the birds are awake. Luckily, I hit the ground running when I wake up in the wee hours, and I do my best work very early. However, I am constantly berating myself for leaving my professional or academic work until the last minute.

While I have been writing this column, I’ve taken breaks to empty dishwasher, write a few lists, check on a multitude of emails, and straighten the linen closet. All worthy tasks, but certainly not with the same deadline or importance.

“I work best under pressure.”  “I’m maximizing my creativity.”  “I always get it done in the end.” “I excel at multi-tasking.”

Those are the delusionary excuses most procrastinators come up with to justify the underlying problem of what can often is self-sabotage. There are few benefits of procrastination. Is my sharpest writing done under pressure? Probably not. Am I choosing between the task that’s most important or least important? Not really. Am I managing my time most efficiently and effectively? Certainly not.

I have no idea when procrastination was officially defined as a behavior. Perhaps writers Shakespeare and artists Rembrandt put off their least favorite projects for those they enjoyed more. Procrastination involves more than professional and creative tasks like writing and creating, however. Many of us put off personal tasks like paying the bills or beginning meaningful conversations. We avoid health issues and delay decisions. It can be an annoyance, or it can be a dangerous practice that keeps us from success and self-actualization.

There is a plethora of books written to help the chronic procrastinator and Minuteman libraries, and ours in Norwood, have them on the shelves. They are in a variety of formats, both in print and audio.

A title that pokes a bit of fun at the serious problem of procrastination is John Perry’s The Art of Procrastination (2012).  Perry claims his book is an effective guide to dawdling, lollygagging and postponing as a means “to get things done.” Perry tells us that we should recognize that there are some power people out there who have no problem creating and producing – such as Hillary Clinton and Bill Gates.  But, Perry argues, the majority of the rest of us can use avoidance and get the creative juices flowing to get some innovative work done. In fact, Perry, claims that as a “structured procrastinator” he wrote his book while avoiding other deadlines. His book is available in both print and audio format for the must-productive multi-tasker.

A recent audiobook is available in the Morrill Memorial Library Hoopla! catalog is Lee Pulos’ Stop Procrastination (April 2015). Dr. Pulos uses the visualization technique and promises to help you prioritize your projects, stay focused, and finally complete the most important tasks through self-hypnosis.

A book previously titled The Procrastinator’s Digest by Dr. Timothy Pychyl has been republished as Solving the Procrastination Puzzle (2013). It’s a short book of just over 100 pages that explain and describe why we procrastinate and why we are self-saboteurs even while we have the best intentions. Of course, a self-help book would not be particularly useful without suggestions for changing our thinking and our behavior. Pychyl has all of those, of course.

Anxiety and a feeling of being overwhelmed can be a cause of procrastination for even those less inclined to habitual procrastination. We all know that worry does absolutely no good in any circumstance.  The longest-living incumbent Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso or the fourteenth) advises “There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”

Now, procrastinators may beg to differ. After all, we exclaim, it is fear of failure and fear of missing a deadline that fires us up! Yet, in The Worriers Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, authors Kevin Gyoerkoe and Pamela Wiegartz claim that it is that anxiety that holds us back and causes us to feel guilty all the time – even when we are attempting to do other things, like have fun and relax. Negative energy, Gyoerkoe and Wiegartz say, are fueling the anxiety, and we will all be better off without it. The problem is that many of us know only the positive results of getting something done immediately before a deadline.

In The Thief of Time (edited by Chrisoula Andreou and Mark White), many essayists consider such philosophical questions as whether procrastination is the result of a lack of willpower or lack of planning. Identifying a problem is often the beginning of change and perhaps understanding your personal behavior can help.

Other helpful books are The Seven Secrets of the Prolific by Hillary Rettig and Get it Done (in 15 minutes a day) by Sam Bennett. Helping the problem before it gets started in childhood is the subject The Everything Parent’s Gide to Children with Executive Functioning Disorder (2014) by Rebecca Branstetter. Time management skills, effective organization, good memorization, and clear concentration are all helpful components of success throughout the school year and life.

Of course, I’ve meant to do something about my bad habit of procrastination.  But, I’ve been putting it off.