Are you a procrastinator? My wife will be happy to tell you--I am. It's not a character trait that I am particularly proud of. But I have to be honest, like some others, I have a tendency to put off today what I can do tomorrow--much to the consternation of my family and friends.
I admire people who want to cross everything off of their to-do list today, no matter how unpleasant the task may be. They are not happy until the job is done. Some of these folks take it a step further. They complete all the unpleasant tasks first! I take my hat off to them, and sometimes wish I was more like them.
According to researchers on the subject, 20% of adults identify themselves as chronic procrastinators! Of course, this self-diagnosis covers a continuum from mild to severe. For some people it permeates every aspect of their lives (they don't pay bills on time, forget to cash gift certificates, or they leave their Christmas shopping to Christmas Eve). But then for others, (like me) they only put things off at home, but stay on top of their work chores. My wife still hopes that one day I will actually complete my taxes by April 15th rather than by October 15th!
When I look at this issue, I think that there are some basic differences between the temperament of procrastinators and their get-it-done-now family members. (Remember, opposites attract--so it’s not uncommon for a put-it-off guy or gal to be paired up with it do-it-now type). The former are more "process" oriented and latter are more "goal" directed. This leads to approaching tasks very differently!
"Process" oriented adults are very influenced by how they "feel" doing the job. In other words, the degree of satisfaction or enjoyment in the "doing" is what motivates to them to approach the job and complete it. Accomplishing the goal is not as important to them.
"Goal" oriented folks are motivated by accomplishing the goal. Completing the task gives them pleasure and purpose--regardless of how enjoyable or unpleasant it may be to actually do the work.
There may be other differences too. Some procrastinators may be passive-aggressive. They delay completing tasks as a way of indirectly expressing anger at others. It can be a passive form of rebellion. Or it is a form of self-sabotage. The procrastinator may be "making" a critical parent "right" but not being successful in life. It can also be a learned behavior. These individuals may have never been held accountable. Their parents always excused their lack of follow through. And of course, they may have learned this trait from one of their parents.
The old adage--"I'll work on my procrastination problem tomorrow" is not an effective approach. Like any habit, there are many reasons for how it may have developed, but that does not excuse today’s bad habits. Behaviors can be changed.
So here are some helpful steps for those of us who put things off.
Acknowledge the problem. Recognizing that this approach to low interest or low satisfaction tasks (for those of us that are process oriented) is maladaptive is a necessary first step.
Commit to change. Make the decision to work on this problem—today.
Find ways of making low satisfaction tasks more enjoyable. I don't enjoy doing paperwork, at work or at home. But when I have paperwork to do, I plug in my MP3 player and listen to rock music. I enjoy listening to music, and that makes the paperwork task more satisfying. I love to listen to the Rolling Stones when I am doing housework.
Pick a low interest task, do it first, leave enough time, and complete it.I know this is tough, but think of how much better you and your spouse will feel when it is accomplished (especially your goal oriented partner!). It will also make you feel better too.
Reward yourself with a high satisfaction activity. Now that you have accomplished a low interest task, do something you enjoy. I love to walk around Green Lake, rain or shine after I finish a yucky housework task.
Make starting and finishing unpleasant jobs your personal challenge. Adults can make change if we recognize that it's important and we want to do it. It may take a while to accomplish it. For us procrastinators, do it now!
Procrastinators—share your success stories!