Procrasti-Nation 9/07

September 2007

computer

A few years ago when I bought my spiffy new Mac I had this crazy idea to network it with my older model. Here’s the crazy part. I believed that while I would be working away on my spiffy new Mac my children would be fighting at a chance to use the old Mac that was now theirs. Okay, I was dead wrong. Sometimes I’m so naive.

For far too long I looked at my old Mac, wanting to be rid of it but not knowing what the heck to do with it. Here was my thought process. "Surely someone must want or need my precious old Mac. I hate to just recycle it. I could advertise it, but that would mean I’d have to figure out a price and actually sell it. And the only thing really worth selling is the monitor. Mind you, I paid $1200.00 for the printer . . . " And so it went – for nearly three years. This classic case of procrastination drained my energy every time I cast eyes on the idle computer.

Then my reliable friend Google pointed me to the Electronic Recycling Association (ERA) http://www.era.ca/donations/recycling/index.html where useable equipment is donated to charities. Here was an option I was comfortable with. Within hours I had stripped my baby of precious data and packed her up for travel. The surge of energy that followed this activity was quite a blast. No electricity involved. I accomplished more in the following days than I usually do in a week.

According to an article in Psychology Today by Hara Estroff Marano, 20% of people see themselves as chronic procrastinators. These are people who don’t pay their bills on time and leave Christmas shopping until Christmas Eve. In the college setting, up to 70% of students identify themselves as procrastinators. Ouch!

Let’s be honest. Despite the many negative consequences and feelings associated with procrastination, we all succumb to this behavior at one time or another. We are a procrasti-nation.

Getting fit and healthy continues to be on our to-do list. Two-thirds of Canadians aged 25-55 are not physically active enough to meet the guidelines for sufficient physical activity set out in Canada’s Physical Activity Guide. If you are convincing yourself you will have more time or energy to get fit later, you’re procrastinating. Come on Canadians; let’s get moving.

If taking action creates results and feels so darned good, while inaction leaves us vulnerable to negative consequences and makes us feel incompetent, why are we so likely to procrastinate? From my observation, research and personal experience, I would venture to say that feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, indecision and perfectionism play major roles.

In the case of my old Mac, I was anxious about doing the research (technical computer stuff – yuck!) and undecided about how to act, so I did nothing. Fear of one kind or another is at the root of most causes of procrastination.

Knowing what’s important and what is just small stuff will help you operate versus procrastinate. I have many times chosen to let a small problem lie with the belief it will handle itself, and invariably it does. This is vastly different from working from the illusion that you will have more time tomorrow or you will feel more in the mood tomorrow to do your taxes, study, lift weights or clean the garage. It’s an illusion and a sure sign you’re procrastinating. Don’t talk yourself out of taking action today. Instead, adopt a "do it now" philosophy.

It’s ever so easy to create diversions. For example: I have frequently observed my kids head to the fridge just as they are about to do homework. It’s an act of substituting a more pleasurable activity in favor of the priority activity. Who wouldn’t rather have a snack than do homework, initiate a difficult conversation or go to the dentist? Watch for the emotional diversion. It’s an excuse like, "I’ll work better once my tummy is full." Have you done that? We can keep ourselves very busy in order to avoid the primary task and we’re often not even aware we’re doing it.

Procrastination isn’t always bad. It can be a red flag worth your attention. If you’re feeling paralyzed about a situation or notice that you’re dragging your feet ask yourself, "What am I afraid of? What is it about this situation that makes me uncomfortable? What would alleviate the pressure?" Once you understand what it’s all about, it’s usually easier to decide and/or act. Exploring these questions might save you from an action you might later regret.

Nonetheless, sometimes you’ve just got to jump and trust that the net will appear. We can’t usually remove fear, but we can act in spite of it. Once we begin to act, the fear factor falls apart. Taking small steps in order to just get started can alleviate feelings of overwhelm. What seemed daunting now seems do-able.

Procrastination is not about being lazy; it’s about being stuck. If you want to shake things up in your world and create some positive energy, take action on something you’ve been putting off. The bigger the action you take the bigger the boost. Small actions count too. They create momentum and add up quickly. Getting rid of my old computer started a domino effect of clearing and reorganizing my entire basement. I feel lighter, motivated and ready for anything coming my way.

Nike fully understands. "Just do it!"

Have a look at Canada’s Physical Activity Guide for inspiration on becoming active your way. http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/pau-uap/paguide/