The primary reason that many of us fail at successfully completing the various tasks before us has a lot to do with how we deal with procrastination. Procrastination steals valuable time from us and puts us in what I call “hurry up offense” mode. In this mode, we are fooled into believing that we produce better under rushed circumstances. However, most of the time we end up handing in subpar work and each time this work is accepted, it strengthens our habits for not producing work that is indicative of our true potential. This validates the practice of procrastinating on future projects. Procrastination enables us to misuse our creativity, thus creating countless excuses instead of meaningful work. For example, one might be truly convinced that a certain genre of music must be played in order to start working on a task. If this music is missing, so is the determination to start the work. Hence, procrastination produces a factory of justifiable excuses, increases the act of avoidance, stifles your ability to educate yourself in areas that you are unfamiliar with, smothers the practice of participation, and confirms the behavior of completing the less important tasks as opposed to the tasks that deserve our immediate attention.
I believe that the very first step to having a more productive life starts with a complete acknowledgement of the power that procrastination has over us. We praise the smoker and the alcoholic for acknowledging their problems first before implementing a plan to stop smoking or drinking, so why should those who procrastinate be any different? The reason that we continue to procrastinate lies in our failure to give it the respect that it deserves. When we procrastinate we simply see it as a minor infraction that can be remedied by the institution or implementation of the countless self-help tools that are readily available to us. However, the first step must be an acknowledgement of the problem. We must take ownership of the problem before attempting to address the problem. We must admit to ourselves that we are not simply procrastinating when we fail to move forward with our goals, but that we are in fact procrastinators. So, like the smoker who proclaims that he is a smoker and then slaps on a patch, and like the alcoholic who announces, “I am an alcoholic” and then enters into a 10-step program, those who procrastinate must do the same. They must step up and confess to being a procrastinator (i.e. “I am a procrastinator”).
This admission, this affirmation, will propel you into what I call a defensive line of tolerance where you are constantly on the lookout for the debilitating practices of your past. While in this mode, your defensive line of tolerance will shut down the excuse generator by decreasing your level of tolerance for excuses. Your admission will give you the kind of clarity that will enable you to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of all of the excuses that once paralyzed you and prevented you from accomplishing all of your goals.
So, if you procrastinate, your first goal should be to reduce the hold that procrastination has on your life. You must first acknowledge that you have a problem. After this acknowledgment, you must affirm out loud that you are a procrastinator. At this point, let your defensive line of tolerance guide you towards a solution to the issues that are preventing you from achieving your goals. For example, if you are someone who constantly completes the less important tasks on your to-do list before completing the more pressing ones, I suggest the following:
- Let your defensive line of tolerance propel you towards a full evaluation of your list.
- Remove the most pressing item from your list and place it on a separate sheet of paper.
- Cross the item off of the first list. This solidifies that you are officially working on this item.
- Acknowledge that you are going through this process because you are a procrastinator.
- While looking at the pressing item on list 2 convince yourself that if you do not work solely on this item, the less important items from your first list will infiltrate your defensive line of tolerance, thus putting you back into the hurry up offensive mode.
The historical evidence on the adverse effects of procrastination are overwhelming. Even as early as 1742, the debilitating powers of procrastination were known and worth the time for discussion. Here we see the great English poet Edward Young as he pleads with his readers to: Be wise to-day; ‘tis madness to defer; Next day the fatal precedent will plead. I am one who believes that we should always learn from the teachings and discussions of the past, however when it comes to the practices of procrastination, one only has to look at his own past, his own grades, and his own product of work to fully understand whether a problem exists. If upon this examination procrastination prevails, it will be your assertion, your admission, and your affirmation that will enable you to propel over the penalizing practices of procrastination.