When did I become such a procrastinator? My far wiser sister, (a consummate can-do opportunity grabber and problem-solver) says “We DO what is our priority.” Which means, those things that I keep ignoring—important paperwork, commitments, tasks, minutiae—they don’t rank very high on my list. Which means, by not attending to them I have rendered them unessential. Still, the unessential, the undone, the left fallow… haunt me.
We DO what is our priority. So where do my preferences take me? What is more important than let’s say taking an hour or two to complete my “estate planning”? Twenty-some pages have been awaiting me for some time. This critical paperwork will articulate my children’s care should I (God forbid) leave too soon; will give permission to (yes please) pull the plug on me should I (God forbid) lose capacities. It’s all here, neat and tidy, spelled out—well, except for the blanks. Serious questions need answering. Contingencies need arranging. These matters of great consequence need DOing.
As if a mountain of paperwork has any real control. Ha! My “birth plan” was a detailed and explicit document, carefully drafted by both father and mother, then witnessed and signed in INK by my tolerant (also far wiser) obstetrician. We had it in writing! As if a mountain of paperwork can influence birth. Ha! Things go the way they go—though damned if we don’t go trying to control them. My daughter came into the world in a spectacularly complicated and unexpected way—absolutely NOT the way we’d planned. I wouldn’t change one moment of it…not one of the nearly 1800 raw moments it took to get her here. Birth plans, like all plans, are subject to change…and sometimes they are completely irrelevant.
Plus, I am averse to paperwork. It speaks to the convoluted way in which we manage our living. When did our day-to-day existence get so messy? Why must everything be stated, documented, processed, and certified? I am not willing to cede control to that mountain of paperwork, as if. Yet, this is the world I live in: litigious, notated, recorded, registered, chronicled, indexed. Why can’t life be simpler? When did the handshake lose power? When did a man’s (and of course, a woman’s) word lose value? Trust has eroded. In its place we have mountains of documentation. It is all very smothering.
We DO what is our priority, though it often feels like outside forces are directing us. Ultimately, because having children means I cannot ignore nilly willy my obligations, I will move some of the paperwork further up the food chain. But what of the rest of it? What about the phone calls that need returning? What about those? Or the face-to-faces that need facing? Surely Great Grandma, as matriarch of the family (and a most-beloved woman in my life) is a priority? But cutting the grass, oh though it be longish, is it really so vital? And painting the house, oh though it be flaking, is it really so vital? I feel the weight of my deferments like a Catholic feels sin: burdened and guilty. Yet I keep on not DOing certain things. Why? Dr. Joseph Ferrari, PhD, (wisest of all when it comes to this issue) is a leading international researcher in the study of procrastination. He says “Procrastination is not waiting and it is more than delaying. It is a decision to not act.” Is that what I am doing? Deciding NOT to act? Overtly acting NOT to act? Hmmm.
In choosing not to act, here is the bevy of rationalizations I have at my disposal:
Top 15 Procrastination Rationalizations*
- Ignorance: “I didn’t know I was supposed to do that.”
- Skill deficiency: “I don’t know how to do it.”
- Apathy (1): “I really don’t want to do this.”
- Apathy (2): “It really doesn’t make any difference if I put this off.”
- Apathy (3): “No one really cares whether I do this or not.”
- Apathy (4): “I need to be in the mood. I’m not.”
- Fixed habits (1): “But I’ve always done it this way and it’s hard to change.”
- Fixed habits (2): “I know I can pull this out at the last minute.”
- Fixed habits (3): “I work better under pressure.”
- Inertia: “I just can’t seem to get started.”
- Frail memory: “I just forgot.”
- Physical problems: “I couldn’t do it; I was sick.”
- “Appropriate” delays (1): “I’m just waiting for the best time to do it.”
- “Appropriate” delays (2): “I need time to think this through.”
- “Appropriate” delays (3): “This other opportunity will never come again, so I can’t pass it up.”
Look at all those excuses! Check out number six. That’s me alright. I wonder: what kind of mood accompanies the completion of legal documents? And just when is that mood going to show up? Yes, my sister, I hear you: We DO what is our priority. We follow the path of least resistance. We do what feels good. We follow our bliss. The great American Mythologist Joseph Campbell probably didn’t spend a great deal of time on minutiae. He said, “If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are—if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.” Maybe that is what I have been doing all along, living my life. I just wish my “hero’s” journey did not involve so much paperwork.
*Source: Tuckman, B.W., Abry, D.A, & Smith, D.R. (2008). Learning and Motivation Strategies: Your Guide to Success (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall