Putting it off and getting it done
February 26, 2008
EAGLE COUNTY ” Battle Mountain High School senior Bret Pearson is a procrastinator ” or so he thinks.
Faced with deadlines for journalism class, the 17-year-old dawdles by playing “Guitar Hero,” then crams his interviews into the last few days before the articles are due.
“It causes stress, but the stress is kind of a fuel for creative thinking,” he said.
A new book called “Productive Procrastination” asks us to rethink why we put things off ” and suggests procrastination can be a good thing.
Postponing some tasks is a key component of time management, author Kerul Kassel argues.
Her book distinguishes between destructive and productive delays, so readers can cross misguided goals off their “to do” lists.
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Kassel noticed a disturbing trend while she was working as a faculty member for an organization that trains coaches (think mommy coaches, divorce coaches, executive coaches).
People she talked to were saddling themselves with unreasonable expectations, then beating themselves up over failing to meet them.
“I thought: If we could just be free from a lot of the self doubt and a lot of the unreasonable, unsustainable expectations we have, we could use a lot more of our potential,” Kassel said.
In a survey she conducted, people listed “lazy, slacker and loser” as the top labels associated with procrastinators. But Kassel argues people are actually smart to procrastinate on some issues.
Kassel said procrastination can be useful when a goal isn’t yours, it’s someone else’s, the goal isn’t worth pursuing or there’s a better way to reach your intention.
Procrastination also makes sense when the time is wrong to pursue a goal or you lack information you need to continue, she said.
Done properly, procrastination can free up time and mental energy to pursue the things that are most important to you, Kassel said.
One example in the book discusses “Shiela,” a real person who felt a sharp pang of self-disapproval every time she thought about her unfinished dissertation.
But Shiela had an epiphany after attending a presentation on procrastination.
She realized the doctoral degree wasn’t really something she wanted for herself. “Her heart wasn’t in it,” Kassel wrote. “It was a family expectation and she wasn’t even particularly interested in her area of study, but had just sort of accepted it as the path she was supposed to tread.”
This falls into what Kassel dubs the “it’s not your goal; it’s someone else’s” category of productive procrastination. Avon mayor Ron Wolfe says he can relate.
“Particularly if you’re a husband, a father, a business manager, an elected official, a lot of other people’s priorities come to bear on your life and while we have to be reasonably responsible and accommodating of everybody else, especially our family, sometimes there are things that are just not a priority,” he said.
At the root of procrastination is a fear of being overwhelmed, a sensation we experienced as children before we could process intense emotions, Kassel argues.
Compounding the problem, modern Americans are bombarded with choices and obligations, which can lead to what she calls overload.
The top three areas where people procrastinate are getting organized, financial tasks such as making a budget or drafting a savings plan; and various forms of writing.
Battle Mountain High School senior Amy Webb says she procrastinates by surfing myspace.com when she should be working on papers for creative writing class.
“I can’t write if someone’s making me,” she said. “I have to do it on my own time so I can come up with ideas.”
Likewise, Wolfe said he delays on making big purchases and home repairs. Drafting “to do” lists helps him prioritize tasks.
“As they say in the Army, ‘Don’t just stand there, mister. Do something,’ and that’s a good philosophy for life,” he said. “Doing something is better than doing nothing, as long as it’s not foolish.”
Sarah Mausolf can be reached at (970) 748-2938 or email@example.com.