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The Most Dangerous Habit – Procrastination

Eh, it's nice outside, I'll finish disarming this nuclear bomb tomorrow.

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Eh, it's nice outside, I'll finish disarming this nuclear bomb tomorrow.
I think my most dangerous habit, the one that will be the most difficult to break myself of, is the fact that I procrastinate… constantly. I think that there has to be a reason for it beyond just a lack of interest in doing something. My first instinct is to say, “I can get to that later.” It doesn’t much matter what it is, I’d just rather not do something now, if given the chance.

I’m not sure where the urge to push everything off comes from, and I’m afraid that if I can never understand it, I’ll never be able to deal with it. I see the impulse to procrastinate as the one thing in my life that has always held me back. Most of my life, I’ve been able to get away with it by sheer merit of my work. It doesn’t matter if I get things done late if I can do them better than most of the people around me. Knowing that makes it easier for me to push-off things at work and home. The habit itself has started to affect me in a place that I never thought it would, though, and that’s in my hobbies and dreams.

According to this article on procrastination on Psychology Today, chronic procrastination goes deeper than what it first seems like. Chronic Procrastination is actually a self-regulatory disorder that can be extremely difficult to overcome. The article is short, but just from what little information that it presents, I can start to see where I can extrapolate how that changes all of my behavior.

I overeat because I like food and have a hard time telling myself to stop. I have a stimulant addiction because I’ve convinced myself that anxiety helps me carry out my goals in life. I play Zuma on Facebook regularly, because it doesn’t mean anything, and it lets me push-off everything else I have to do, and everything I want to do.

According to the article, there are three flavors of procrastination:

  • Thrill Seeking – People who procrastinate to get the rush that comes with the anxiety of being under intense pressure.
  • Avoiders – People who put off doing anything because they’d rather be seen as lazy than as a failure, or maybe even as successful.
  • The Indecisive – People who put off anything that requires them to make a decision because they’re always terrified that they’re making the wrong one.
I don’t necessarily agree with that, because I can look at myself and realize I have all three of those as problems I need to overcome. I suppose that could also mean I’m an especially bad case.

I never said I wouldn’t benefit from having some form of professional help.

Recognizing that I have this giant problem isn’t just going to make it go away, it is something I’m going to have to learn to cope with and overcome. To that end, I’ve set out on the internet and started searching for solutions that go beyond “By yourself a day planner you giant, lazy bastard!”

The first thing I found was a list of tips and tricks that I can start using now over at OnlineOrganizing.com. The basic idea is to just set down everything you have to do in a day, prioritize it, and work in small bit-sized sessions at a time. When you work on something, make sure you have a real goal so you can say, “ok, sweet, this is done,” and then do one thing at a time, taking little breaks in between.

They also emphasize that you should keep a record of what you’ve accomplished everyday so you can see what you’ve managed to do, and feel like you done something. This is the thing that stuck out the most for me, because too many times, I’ll work on something and get a bit done, but I still feel like I haven’t done anything at all. There are days that I spend at work hammering away from 8:00 to 5:00 and am actually very productive, but in my mind there is no difference between those days and the days that I literally sit at my desk and alternate between playing zuma or taking a power nap.

So, I think that starting this week, I’m going to start writing down everything I do at work in a day. Not only will it make me feel like I have achieved something on any given day, but on the days that I don’t get anything done, I can look at my list and go, “man, I kinda blew it today.”

The last thing that was emphasized by several different sites I looked at (including the University of Buffalo website, and MindTools.Com), was that you should reward yourself for accomplishing your goals. I’ve never been very good at rewarding myself, probably because my incredibly poor impulse control (see that whole lack of self-regulation thing). Instead, I’m going to try doing the opposite. Discipline is considered one of the cornerstones of the warrior, and I certainly lack that, so here is my plan:

On days that I can look at my to-do list and honestly say, “I’ve finished everything important,” I will let myself do what I normally do. On days that I can’t, well then I have to punish myself a little, and I think that means on those days I will add 10 minutes to my workout.

There is no purpose of a punishment if it doesn’t benefit you in some way, and there is no way I’ll hold myself to it if it involves denying myself something. I already work out, and adding ten minutes to it won’t be that big of a deal, but I know the soreness of my muscles will remind me about it the next day.

So, here’s to a future where I don’t get in my own way, at least not as much.

Published by M.A. Brotherton

M.A. Brotherton is a writer, blogger, artist, and fat-kid from the suburbs of Kansas City, Missouri. He’s tasted a little bit of everything the Midwest has to offer, ranging from meth-tweaking rednecks in massive underground cave complexes to those legendary amber waves of grain. When he’s not writing, he spends most of his time screwing around on the internet.

7 thoughts on “The Most Dangerous Habit – Procrastination”

  1. Stereo.* says:

    Preaching to the choir here, love. I think, were procrastination an Olympic sport, I’d take the gold (unless I succumbed to my whole “eh, maybe later” schtick.) I’m sort of tired of myself because this is what I do – put things off that really shouldn’t be put off; things that are important but which I reason can’t really be that important otherwise I would have pulled my finger out and got it done already. Sucks but is something I’m trying to beat.

    Your work list is an awesome idea. I do something similar. I have a giant work to-do list but separate it down into daily “things I have to complete today” lists. Makes things seem just that bit more manageable and also lights a fire under my ass if the day comes to and end and these things ain’t done!

    1. M.A. Brotherton says:

      I have a hard time with real to-do lists, because I fill them with crap that doesn’t really matter. I can do that instead of working on real things, and still pretend I got stuff done.

  2. Patti Murphy says:

    I really like your approach. I may steal it. I have such a hard time motivating myself to do things in the summer. It’s hard to work inside when my brain is out there somewhere lying on a beach.

    1. M.A. Brotherton says:

      It’s working so far, too. I keep looking down at my list and going, “Oh my god! I’ve almost done all the things!!!”

  3. Tracy Mangold says:

    I’m the thrill seeker type – at times – especially in school or as a journalist. The one thing about television producing (news) was the definitive thrill to last minute additions/changes. LOVED it. I also procrastinate I think out of fear of success which makes me an avoider I guess. My problem is I’ve always been successful at whatever I tried and that scares me. Great post, Matt!

    1. M.A. Brotherton says:

      The psychology today article specifically mentions creative type people as being likely thrill-seekers because they believe they are more creative when they are under pressure. The article writer is even a little condescending because he goes on to say, “they’re not, and thus squander a lot of potential.”

      I was like… grrrr…. I like writing on the deadline.

  4. Sara Olson-Liebert says:

    What? Why am I just *now* reading this? Did I procrastinate reading this? Because this makes so much sense for my life right now, it’s flat out ridiculous.

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