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Why I procrastinate

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  • Why I procrastinate

    There seems to be some disagreement as to what causes procrastination, in general. According to Allen David, it's either the lack of knowledge of what to do next, or the lack of motivation / excitement. On the other hand, Neil Fiore writes that procrastination is caused by fear and its avoidance. Perfectionism can be looked at as the fear of being imperfect, not living up to the expectations. The creator of procrastinators-anonymous.com suggests yet another idea that procrastination, at least for some victims, is similar to chemical addiction.


    This article is an attempt to look at my own procrastination and figure out what causes it. Many thanks to those who read this and offer their insights.


    MY PROCRASTINATION SYMPTOMS:

    1. Any school assignment. I have a Ph.D. now, so no more school for me, but I've procrastinated when it came to any sort of assignments, throughout my academic life, up to and including writing my dissertation and scheduling my defense.

    2. Taxes. I wait until the last day or two, and then I don't have enough time to finish, so I file the automatic extension, which buys me 4 more months, and then I wait until the very last moment again.

    3. Bills.

    4. Any dealings with governments or customer services get put off indefinitely.

    5. Cleaning up the house, doing dishes. My place is a mess.

    6. Exercise. Sometimes, I'm a real exercise freak, training regularly. But if anything, like the flu or other personal circumstances cause an interruption in my near-daily routine, I stop exercising for months. I tell myself that I should get back with the program, but it takes a while.

    7. Backing up my computer. I live megabyte to megabyte. If I want to download something, I need to figure out what to delete.

    8. Reading books. If I pay for a hard copy of a book, I feel obligated to read it, which results in my not reading it.

    9. Job search. Since graduating over a year ago, I lived on my personal savings. I told myself that I shouldn't look for a job, because working "for the man" is for suckers, there are plenty of better opportunities out there that need to be explored first (Come to think of it, I was right, technically, c.f. milliondollarhomepage.com) So, my job search was nonexistent to halfhearted. I also kept inventing various other reasons why looking for a job could wait "just a couple more months". Now, I'll have great difficulty explaining to any potential employers a rather big gap in my resume (2 out of 3 did ask). It's not like I did nothing at all, but it looks weird to them, whatever I say.


    POSSIBLE CAUSES:

    I don't think any single one of the causes I listed earlier applies to all of the manifestations of my chronic procrastination. For example, it's hard to see how fear or perfectionism prevents me from doing the dishes regularly.


    THINGS I TRIED:

    Making public commitments. I tried this, and it worked in some cases. What I would do, is bet actual money, i.e. tell a friend that I'd owe him $10, if I don't file my taxes by April 12, and another $10 if I don't file them by April 13. I often end up losing some cash, but saving myself from far bigger problems.

    This does not cure my procrastination in general. And in some cases, it just does not work. I can't make a commitment to work on some problem for N hours a day, because it's hard to define what constitutes working. How about lying on a sofa and thinking or staring at my computer? Earlier, I made a bet with a friend that I'd send my resume to 2 potential employers every day (until midnight). What I ended up doing was waiting until 11:30pm or so, and sending it to random employers. Worse, since I knew I didn't have time to write a reasonable personalized cover letter, I would choose to send my resume to unlikely employers, lest I blow my chances with the ones I did want to work for.


    NEXT ACTION:

    Looking for a job in my field shouldn't be too hard. I think my skills are reasonably in-demand. The thing I should, err... MAY WANT TO do right now is pick 10-20 most likely employers (I find this very hard, for some reason), contact them, and ask my former boss to send his reference letter to 8-12 of them. Before that, I need to make some quick fixes to my resume, which shouldn't take more than an hour or two...

  • #2
    "The greatest enemy of a good plan is (the dream of) a perfect plan."

    --Carl van Clausewitz (Paraphrased)

    Comment


    • #3
      You're making progress in identifying the kinds of things that you procrastinate on.

      I think you need to consider another motivater of procrastination--rebellion. Many of the things on your list are externally imposed tasks: taxes, paying bills, etc. You know you don't *have* to do them. It's just that you will avoid worse consequences when you choose to do them on time.

      As for the employment issue, again, it sounds like you know what you want to do about it. Here I agree it's the fear factor you need to deal with. Try breaking down the Next Action to the smallest possible least-threatening atomic action. The NA is not "update my resume", but "open my resume file", not "call my old boss", but "dial ins-ert-phon".

      For more, try searching this forum on "cringe-busting".

      Comment


      • #4
        re: procrastination

        I actually believe Allen's two questions do apply to procrastination. Alan Lakein, in his book "How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life", identifies two causes of procrastination - overwhelm and unpleasantness. For the former, I use divide and conquer (i.e., ask "What's the next action?" - the HOW). For the latter, I try to refocus on why I've committed to doing it (i.e., ask "What's the successful outcome?" - the WHY).

        I don't know if this will help, but here are some additional raw notes I took Lakein's book:


        On procrastination:

        First, make sure it's the right task.

        Two causes: overwhelming (complex, time-consuming) or unpleasant (odious association, usu. emotional).

        If overwhelming: use Swiss Cheese method - poke some holes in it (make a start), aka "instant tasks" (IAs): If less than 5 minutes, makes some kind of progress. to use: list IAs, pick highest priority one, do. rule: IAs should be easy to start and connected in some way to overwhelming project. (can help make surprising inroads). if can't plan: admit can't plan, but if I *could* plan, then what would the plan be? try a "leading task": taking a physical step, e.g., sharpen a pencil, move "thing" (e.g., letter) to be in front of you; remove all distractions. take advantange of current mood, e.g., feel like talking -> talk to someone about task; give self pep talk; make a commitment to someone

        If unpleasant: recognize at Decision Time, slow down the final decision; to over come distaste: 1) Deal with the unpleasantness directly (fear). 2) Recognize the greater unpleasantness that results from delay (risks). 3) Create enthusiasm that counterbalances the unpleasantness (stress the benefits).


        matt

        Comment


        • #5
          Right there with you, slacker!

          Originally posted by slacker
          There seems to be some disagreement as to what causes procrastination, in general. According to Allen David, it's either the lack of knowledge of what to do next, or the lack of motivation / excitement. On the other hand, Neil Fiore writes that procrastination is caused by fear and its avoidance. Perfectionism can be looked at as the fear of being imperfect, not living up to the expectations. The creator of procrastinators-anonymous.com suggests yet another idea that procrastination, at least for some victims, is similar to chemical addiction.
          I'm not suggesting any of these ideas are wrong, but I wonder if there isn't also sometimes an impulse toward self-destruction. Just how close to the ledge can I go, and just how much do I really care if I go over?

          Is there anything you DON'T procrastinate about? Maybe taking care of your car/bike/favorite electronic toy or item of sports equipment, or caring for a pet, perhaps?

          It sounds like in general you do the exercise thing far better than most.

          Comment


          • #6
            Too Simple

            I'm probably too simplistic about this, but for me I either want to do a thing or I dont. If its something I dont want to do, I either procrastinate or make myself do it. I admit that it sometimes tricky to decide whether or not now is a good time to do that thing, but to me thats not a procrastination issue.

            Procrastination in the negative sense means to me that I choose not to do something I should and could do right now. In the positive sense, it means I make a plan to do something sometime in the future that I cant do right now.

            I read a book called "Happiness is a Serious Problem" by Dennis Prager in which he suggests that we should always be asking ourselves if what we are about to do will make us happier or not. Oddly, stuff I'd really rather not do often makes me happier once its done.

            Comment


            • #7
              Is there a n/a before you make the list?

              Is there something tangible that you must do in order to be able to make that list of the most likely employers? Like visit the reference section of the library or locate some kind of trade association list. If you are selecting from an existing list, do you need to make the criteria explicit that you will use to identify a likely employer? Or. if you are creating a list, do you need to figure out a way to identify possible or probable employers. Finally, is your situation such that you can afford to do that kind of systematic job search or should you take any job you can find that will pay the bills but leave you with enough time and energy to search for the position you really want?

              Comment


              • #8
                So, slacker, are you *REALLY* smart? When you do stuff like pay the bills, figure your taxes, wash the dishes, are you totally bored out of your mind?

                JDC

                Comment


                • #9
                  tools to stay on track

                  Click here: David Seah : The Printable CEO™ Series

                  Have not used these yet, but I think these are compatible with GTD.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by JDC
                    So, slacker, are you *REALLY* smart? When you do stuff like pay the bills, figure your taxes, wash the dishes, are you totally bored out of your mind?

                    JDC
                    Well, I'm just *a* slacker, but I don't think there's much correlation between being smart and being bored. If anything, smart people probably have a better chance of finding or creating interest in any given task or environment.

                    So, slacker, do you feel bored when you face tasks you tend to procrastinate about? Or or do you feel anxiety, or resentment, or something else?

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by ActionGirl

                      So, slacker, do you feel bored when you face tasks you tend to procrastinate about? Or or do you feel anxiety, or resentment, or something else?
                      I found it difficult to answer this question at first, but I now think I know why. I feel that "boredom" is a catchall term used for everything one does not want to do. Merriam-Webster defines it as "the state of being weary and restless through lack of interest". So, I guess, boredom is implied in all of the tasks I procrastinate about. Anxiety, on the other hand, may be present in some cases, but not all of them (dishes, chores).

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Desultory
                        The NA is not "update my resume", but "open my resume file", not "call my old boss", but "dial ins-ert-phon".

                        For more, try searching this forum on "cringe-busting".
                        So, the 2-minute rule does not apply to such "leading tasks" ?

                        As I understand, "update my resume" is a project, part of a bigger project "get a job", but NA is "open my resume". What goes on the to-do list?

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          I think GTD and The Now Habit are complementary

                          rather than in conflict.

                          Fiore identifies about 5 main reasons for procrastination and these are a mixture of the runway right up to 50,000ft level. GTD is only really focussed on the runway and 10,000ft level so it is no surprise that it only addresses a couple of the issues.

                          Some of the tips that Fiore gives on breaking things down and making sure that everything is captured are easily transferrable to GTD. Even the relaxation and focus techniques can be parralleled with the need to be operating in the here and now.

                          Although I am still a work in progress I have found both books very useful.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by slacker
                            I found it difficult to answer this question at first, but I now think I know why. I feel that "boredom" is a catchall term used for everything one does not want to do. Merriam-Webster defines it as "the state of being weary and restless through lack of interest". So, I guess, boredom is implied in all of the tasks I procrastinate about. Anxiety, on the other hand, may be present in some cases, but not all of them (dishes, chores).
                            I don't think boredom is a very helpful term for this discussion just because it's so vague. As far as dishes and chores go, I don't even consider that procrastination. I may be more or less consistant about doing chores, but it doesn't fit my concept of "procrastination" unless I'm avoiding the task AND there is an important reason that I shouldn't, e.g., the health inspector is coming or I'm expecting guests. I *procrastinate* about school projects or filing taxes, whereas I simply put off housework or don't do it as well as or often as might be ideal. (Maybe I'm also reacting the fact that housework is never really done--there will be more dishes to do tomorrow, so it doesn't really matter that much if I do them once a day or once a week.)

                            What makes it procrastination, in my book, is that I know perfectly well that it's completely irrational to put off the task, and yet still have immense trouble starting and/or completing it.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              slacker, i have a ph.d. too and i have nearly all the things on your checklist as well ! believe my surprise when I read your thread. the only difference is that I do get motivated to get a job and dont slack on that for some reason. I have read GTD and Now habit a number of times and still I have some of the problems. I dont have the answers but some ideas:

                              1. Tony Robbins has helped me a lot bc I think I just had some more fundamental problems.
                              2. Are there some big things in your life, family, relationships that you havent properly faced that are still haunting you ?
                              3. Do you see a psychologist/psychiatrist to help you with (2). i feel it helps me.
                              4. Just do nothing for a series of days. Just indulge yourself. You will get so sick of yourself that you will start doing something.

                              Sorry if Im being too interventionist but these things have helped me.

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