Daring to Utter the P-Word

Procrastination can be a dirty word. But if you’re guilty of procrastinating, you’re in good company. Although some people make a habit of putting off just about everything that’s even slightly unpleasant, most of us put off doing at least some things that we find particularly avoidance-worthy.

If you think of procrastination as a crime, procrastinators are not only perpetuators, they’re also victims.

Even if you just dabble in procrastination and eventually finish all or most of the unpleasant tasks you put off doing, you pay dearly for putting things off. Procrastination is exhausting, stressful, and it can do a number on your self-esteem.

It takes – and wastes — a whole lot of energy to avoid doing something you know you must do. Famous psychologist, William James, put it best when he said, “Nothing is as fatiguing as the hanging on of an uncompleted task.”

Speeches don’t help

Whether you make a habit of procrastinating, or you procrastinate only on special occasions, you’ve probably given yourself speeches like this one: “Look, you’re going to have to do this dreadful thing eventually anyway. So, why not just do it now so you can cross it off your list and not have to keep thinking about it?”

Of course, speeches like this, as much sense as they make, rarely do any good. The truth is, when a truly unpleasant task is staring you right in the face, doing what makes sense is no match for the powerful urge to put it off.

We all do it

So, what exactly is procrastination? It’s waiting until the last minute to do something you know you should do but sure as heck don’t feel like doing. The last minute is the point at which you finally feel in your gut like you absolutely must do a task no matter how unpleasant it is. It’s the point at which continuing to leave a dreaded task undone actually feels worse than doing it.

In a very real sense, we all procrastinate. We all wait until the last minute to do the unpleasant things we know we should do. Some people are lucky enough, however, to reach the last minute right away. For others, it can take forever for the last minute to come.   

A counter-intuitive way to end procrastination

So, what can you do if it’s taking too long for you to reach the “I absolutely must do it now!” point?

The answer is, MAKE THE LAST MINUTE COME SOONER! That’s right, deliberately create a situation that makes you feel in your gut like you have no choice but to do the dreaded task sooner.

Allow Dennis to illustrate.

Dennis hated doing his taxes, and he was typically miserable for the many weeks every year that he spent not doing them. He always waited until the last minute, which resulted in a mad scramble with lots of panic, drama, and stress. He, of course, knew better than to keep putting off the inevitable. But knowing better didn’t do him any good.

Then Dennis got smart. He deliberately created a situation that made him feel like he had no choice but to get his damned taxes done well before the middle of April.

Here’s how he did it. In February, he wrote an inflammatory letter to the IRS. He put it in an envelope, addressed it, put a stamp on it, and gave it to his assistant with strict orders to mail it on March 1 unless he exchanged his completed tax return for the letter before then.

He was as miserable as ever until he got his tax return done. As usual, he absolutely hated doing the work and avoided doing it for as long as he could. But he couldn’t avoid it for as long as he had in the past because he was now freaked out by what might happen to him if the IRS were to get the nasty letter he wrote. So, he got his taxes done before March 1.

By making the last minute come sooner, Dennis enjoyed the most deliciously stress-free six weeks he had ever experienced as a taxpayer!