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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Finally! The post on procrastination I have been delaying for weeks

The new year is coming and, with it, comes one of the great pleasures of life: finding a new notebook/planner. I have not yet graduated to an electronic planner; in fact, I am resisting it with all my might. Getting a new, fresh, made out of paper planner brings up great school memories. Each year, in August, my mom would take me to the store to get school supplies. My favorite part of that was to look for a new planner. I remember them revolving around comic book themes like Garfield, Mafalda or Gaston Lagaffe.

Nowadays I buy my new planners for January instead of September, and I have gone from playful to more serious planners: one of my favorites is a medium sized, red Moleskine one. The paper is so soft the pen glides on it like a dolphin on water.

This year, however, I am departing from my traditional beloved Moleskine: I fell in love with another one. It does not have the same luxurious feel to it, but its front page immediately caught my eye:

The Creative Procrastinator? Surely this planner had been made for me! As I began flipping through it, it became more and more obvious that I had to take it home. This planner contains sections such as "Things I have to do but that can wait a day, or two, or three..."; "Small things I have to do before I can do the big things I have to do"; "Things I absolutely have to do unless I absolutely don't want to do them"; and "Things people have been bugging me to do for a really long time".

There are doodle blocks and lists of questions to answer when you don't feel like working:

"List 10 killer dishes you'd request if you had your own personal chef."

"List five jobs you wish you could do and five jobs you hope you never have to do."

(Don't you feel like answering those right away? I totally do! In fact, as I am writing this my head is filled with pictures of bouillabaisse and rouille croutons, only to be interspersed with images of me in the role of a happy editor-in-chief or life coach or sommelier.)

Each page of my new planner also provides with a "procrastinator tip" or piece of wisdom. When I started reading them I simply could not put the friggin' thing down. I recognized myself so much it was almost scary. For example:

"Remember to stop, smell, prune, and photograph the roses along the way. You can count their petals, too."

(This might explain my fascination for all of nature's phenomena...)

"A conscientious person waters the plants, pets the animals, comforts a neighbor, and calls at least one ailing relative or friend before beginning the day's work."

(It does make for a very healthy social network - and healthy plants and pets!)

"Uncompleted tasks are biodegradable and disintegrate over time."

(I wish!)

And there are lists. Lists of tips, lists of signs (you're a procrastinator), and lists of justifications for procrastinating. Here are some of them:

"Things to do when there's no emergency beyond avoiding the things you don't want to do:

Tip #4. Learn how to shut off your main water valve. While you're there, stop and think about new landscaping projects.
Tip #9. Devise fire escape plans for fires starting in 10 different places."

"How to use your pet as a procrastination partner:

Tip #4. Teach your cat how to fetch. Good luck.*
Tip #10. Sit with your pet in a comfortable place and read Moby Dick out loud."

* I have actually succeeded at that with late Azraël; he could fetch a little ball... and loved it!

"10 reasonable reasons to continue procrastinating:

Reason #2. You'll lose the adrenaline rush of completing a task at the last minute and might search for a less healthy addiction."

"The best ways to clear a cluttered mind:

Tip #1. Lie on your side and imagine all your worries, woes and work deadlines draining out of your ear. Then roll over and do it on the other side. This will empty both left and right brains.
Tip #2. Make a paper airplane out of your to-do list and fly it off a tall bridge.
Tip #10. Watch a cloud until it dissipates or drifts away. Then write a haiku about it."

"What to say when your work is due and you're not done:

Tip #6. I'd tell you why my work isn't done, but then I'd have to kill you.
Tip #10. I sprained my willpower muscle."

"Warning signs that your procrastination is at a crisis point:

Sign #1. You've made a master list of all your lists.
Sign #3. You can't get through a half hour of work without doodling or daydreaming." (Uh oh...)

Other than flipping through my new planner, and copying excerpts here on my blog for the benefit of my readers, I have been spending time reading articles on procrastination online. Surely, delaying my work to read about this topic cannot be considered procrastination?!?

If this is something you are interested in (because, just like me, you'd rather spend hours getting informed about your main flaw than actually doing your work), here is a link that you might like. From a more serious standpoint, this article does a great job at debunking the myths that abound about procrastination. If you're tired of procrastinating and ready to tackle this unwanted behavior, this article is a great starting point. You know what they say: the first step is to admit you have a problem.

Unnecessary Illusions and the Truth about Procrastination
By Timothy Pychyl:

ILLUSION #1: Procrastination can be beneficial. Delay can be beneficial, and we need to delay often as we plan, organize and optimize our use of time. Procrastination, on the other hand, is a needless form of delay that is self-defeating as a form of self-regulatory failure.

ILLUSION #2: It's just a matter of a few "all-nighters," it's not really harmful. Procrastination has been shown to undermine performance, well-being, even our health.

ILLUSION #3: It's just poor time management. No, it's about self-regulation and willpower.

ILLUSION #4: Worry helps me cope. We have many irrational beliefs that contribute to our procrastination.

ILLUSION #5: I'll just check my email, it will only take a minute. Yes, it may only "take a minute" (or a few seconds to "check your mail"), but a minute later you face the same decision. Hours later, you're still checking mail, updating your facebook . . . where did the task go?

ILLUSION #6: I work better under pressure. No you don't. You ONLY work under pressure.

ILLUSION #7: That assignment is due months from now, it's not that important. Oh, how we like to discount future rewards. Future tasks seem abstract and lack a sense of urgency. It really is an illusion of our task perception.

ILLUSION #8: I'll feel more like it tomorrow! No you won't, but you may do the task tomorrow because "your back is up against the wall."

ILLUSION #9: (After a poor performance due to procrastination) It could have been worse! OK, this isn't truly an illusion, but we are deceiving ourselves to make ourselves feel better in the short term. We focus on downward counter factual thinking to make us feel better now.

ILLUSION #10: Oh, procrastinators are perfectionists. Not so, only those perfectionists who have internalized maladaptive standards, often involving a lot of negative self talk.

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