Sunday, March 7, 2010

Procrastination -Americanus Procrastinosis

Procrastination, putting things off until later, has become a serious problem for many people today. Not long ago I had a friend that caused several of us some pretty irritating problems simply because he continually puts things off until the last minute. I have been intending to write something on this subject ever since then -- but I got busy with other things, --and then it rained, --and then my dog ate my notes, --and then I forgot that I wanted to write about it, --and then it was too late so I just put it off for a while longer.... Wow, it is so easy to justify putting things off. It's a wonder I ever get anything done.

Seriously, we have a real problem in this country with procrastination. -Oh, before you say anything, I know. It is not unique to America. You're right. But our culture is uniquely susceptible to it. We are so used to living our lives at a fast pace (cell phones, drive through banks, fast food, and buying on the internet are some examples that come to mind quickly) that we feel a need to just keep moving all the time. When something takes too long, or even looks like it will take too long, --we tend to put it off. How many times when you have gone to pick up something at the store, but when you get there you saw a long line, have you decided to do it later? When you call to check your account at the bank and you get put on hold, how many times have you just hung up and just told yourself "I'll call them back later when they aren't so busy"?

Procrastination is also the enemy of not only convenience but your savings as well. For example, I like to make my travel plans as far ahead as possible. Making my reservations ahead of time can get some very nice discounts on airline tickets (discounts I won't get if I wait until the last minute). It also let's me get booked on flights going at more convenient times. Also, putting in for time off at work makes it less likely that you'll get turned down because other employees already have that time off. Another good thing about not procrastinating is that you are more likely to get hotel rooms, and better rates, if you book early before they start filling up at you destination.

These are just a few of the ways procrastination can pull it's dark cloud over your life.It is hard to recognize because it is so sneaky. It gets into you by telling you to put off something small and unimportant. Just little things you'd hardly notice. Then, as this becomes habit and you grow successful in manipulating your chores, it starts moving up the food-chain to more and more important things. Until one day you start off on Monday and instead of working through the week, you find the week flying by and suddenly it is Friday and you discover, to your horror, that you have not accomplished anything.... -Then you forgive yourself and say "It's O.K., I can come in early Monday and get most of this caught up....."

This condition is also highly contagious. It spreads in a community like wild fire by simply setting bad examples. It spreads from family from member to member and at work from employer to employee. In fact, it is so contagious and so like a disease let's call it 'Americanus Procrastinosis'. Once you have it, there is no known cure. Just like an alcoholic and his bottle, you are addicted to putting things off. All you can do it be aware of it and treat it daily by saying to yourself "It does not matter how much time I have to get this done, I am not going to put it off. Not this time anyway."

I have a very close friend that suffers terribly from Americanus Procrastinosis. He is not from this country. He is here attending a University and is working on his second Master's Degree. He is intelligent (he has an almost perfect 4.0 GPA). He is meticulous in his dress and decorum. So much so that he actually carries an iron around with him in his overnight bag so that he has a freshly pressed shirt and pair of pants every day. He was raised in a family that took great care in making sure he studied and got to work on time and insisted he always looked his best. They helped him by making him pay attention to the details and not to "put off the little things". But, in spite of his good upbringing, he has contracted Americanus Procrastinosis since arriving here in the USA. Without his Mother and his Father there acting like a vaccine against this sneaky little disease by reminding him to get his chores done, he has started putting things off. The result has been late homework assignments and projects, which can hurt his grades. It has also made him one of those guys that don't seem to have a sense of time. He often winds up waiting until the absolute last minute before he goes to class or appointments. That means he is often late, sometimes very late. He has gotten so good at manipulating he system that he can not tell you what time a class starts, but he knows exactly what time the Teachers Assistant takes the roll. He has missed dinner reservations and often missed the opening few minutes of the main feature when he goes to the movies. A good portion of his life is spent perpetually chasing the clock, making explanations and offering apologies. This behavior is not going to serve him well when he graduates and tries to get a good job. When he goes for those interviews and is late, no MBA is going to help him get that employment offer.

The insidious thing about this disease is the way it self perpetuates. Once you have it and recognize it, you find it easy to tell yourself that you are only going to put off tasks "this once".... And you keep putting off controlling the habit until you are forced by something, some unfortunate incident, to face it.

But don't despair. I have good news for you! In my wanderings around the country I found a very wise old Buddhist Monk that told me he had found a way to stop procrastination dead in it's tracks -and one of these days I am going get around to looking him up again and find out what it is.......

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