Ive been planning to write this column about procrastination for weeks, but something always seemed to get in the way.
Even now, I am resisting the urge to get up and grab another Vitamin Water. Or answer a few e-mails. Or file my mileage report.
OK, enough. Just finish, already.
As a lifelong procrastinator (I prefer the term deadline-driven), Im intimately familiar with the consequences of putting off until tomorrow what I could have done today. The birthday cards I never sent. The columns I didnt get time to polish. The stressful, last-minute Christmas shopping that might have been fun a month earlier.
Now that Ive read a new book by Bay Area psychologists Lenora Yuen and Jane Burka, Im beginning to understand the causes of procrastination. And Im determined to mend my ways.
In 1983, Yuen and Burka were running procrastination support groups in Berkeley when they wrote Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It NOW. The book showed how insecurities and need for control hold us back.
If you scratch the surface of a procrastinator, you find a perfectionist, Yuen says. If youre afraid that what you do wont be perfect, then procrastination takes you off the hook. You can always say, I would have done a better job, but I ran out of time.’
The book offered tips, such as setting small goals so you dont get overwhelmed.
Twenty-five years later, the therapists decided it was time for a new edition of their book. With the Internet and other technology bombarding us with distractions, wasting time has become a pandemic.
You can sit at your computer, surfing the Web, and you feel as if youre doing work, Yuen said. All of a sudden you look at the clock and two hours have gone by.
Oh, and that project you were supposed to be working on? Its no closer to being finished. Might as well put it off until tomorrow.
Last week, I sat in the waiting room at Yuens Palo Alto office, frantically skimming the last chapter of her book like a kid cramming for a test. Procrastination had been sitting on my shelf for weeks. I couldnt set up an interview until Id actually read the book, but there was always something else I had to read first. Eventually, I decided the only way to force myself to read the book was to set up the interview.
Once I started reading it, I saw myself on every page. Why do I lie in bed on weekends instead of jumping up and tackling my to-do list? Because I still hear my father chastising me for wasting the morning. Now that Im in charge of my time, I revel in the right to waste it.
Unplug the computer
Yuens comfy office has oriental rugs and a fireplace, but its missing something: a computer. Thats by design, she said. As a recovering procrastinator herself, she knows the value of unplugging.
The constant demand to respond right away becomes suffocating, she said. People end up procrastinating to give themselves a bit of breathing room, to slow down the pace of life, or to gain a sense of freedom.
But if we ignore e-mail altogether, we miss important messages and end up inconveniencing others. The answer, she says, is to respond only to those that are necessary. You can say no. In fact, you must say no, or youll drown.
She ought to bill me for a therapy session. I talked for an hour about how I yearn to recapture the time Ive wasted and how guilty I feel about the books I borrowed from my neighbor a year ago and havent returned. When I left, I felt great, determined to change my slothful ways.
And I will.
Contact Patty Fisher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408-920-5852.