By Manny Roman
I received an email from the editor asking that I submit this column “tomorrow” a full two days ahead of the deadline. This caused a small sense of anxiety since I have been procrastinating writing the column for a full month. He graciously allowed for the previous deadline.
I rarely have an idea what I will write about until the day the column is due. I am a master procrastinator. I have learned that the “line” is often not as dead as it appears. I put off doing almost everything until the very last minute, or later. I have convinced myself that I work better under the pressure of expiring time constraints. My focus is sharper and clearer. This drives some people mad, my lovely wife, Ruth, for example.
Procrastination is good. It is the art of putting things off for a later time. Procrastination is always leaving for tomorrow what we don’t feel like doing today. With practice you get over the anxiety caused by putting important things off.
So, why do people procrastinate? Sometimes the task is unpleasant. Sometimes we just don’t want to do it. We may expect it to be a difficult process to complete, requiring extra effort. Sometimes we hesitate to engage the task due to a lack of confidence in our ability to complete it properly. Sometimes it just is an irritation we wish to avoid. Sometimes it is fear of failure.
Good procrastination is not a sign of laziness. It is a purposeful manner of organizing work to be done. No matter the reason for procrastinating, there is value in putting things off if we do it right. As an example, I was avoiding writing this column until the deadline. So, I put my mind’s back burner to work on coming up with what to write. Then, I began to complete other tasks that I had been avoiding. I drained and flushed the water heater, a very unpleasant task. I finally changed the HVAC air filters, a dangerous task due to their height in the ceiling. I performed some of the other items on Ruth’s long list. My point is that procrastination is a good thing because in the process of avoiding one task, we can justify getting others done.
For this column, I spent time researching procrastination and ran across the most entertaining and informative Ted Talk ever: “Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator” by Tim Urban. Mr. Urban finally has defined why procrastinators procrastinate. The culprit is a monkey.
According to Mr. Urban, we all have a master controller in our brains, a Rational Decision-Maker. This guy makes sure that we spend our time, talent and tools wisely in the endeavor to accomplish all the necessary tasks on time and correctly. He is the captain and driver of the boat. He is at the helm fully in control of the direction.
The procrastinator’s brain is different. It contains a monkey. The Instant Gratification Monkey insinuates himself into control of the helm. When the Rational Decision-Maker says it is time to get some work done, the Monkey says, “No. There is time for all the boring stuff later. Let’s search ted.com for interesting stuff and then we will go get ice cream and then go to a movie and then …” So, you see the Monkey provides a full schedule. There is no room for the work. We enter a dark playground filled with guilt and anxiety in the Rational Decision-Maker. The Monkey does not care.
So, the work is delayed until the deadline is upon us. We wanted to do it and even planned to get it done early or at least start working on it. Then, the Monkey took over. There is hope, however. Procrastinators have another entity in their brains. The normally dormant Panic Monster awakens when a deadline, a career disaster, a danger of public embarrassment or some other scary consequence is imminent. The Monkey is terrified of the Panic Monster and runs and hides in a nearby tree, which we apparently also have in our brains. The Rational Decision-Maker can then take over and implement damage control. This system works for one type of procrastinator.
The real problem is the procrastination where there is no deadline such as entrepreneurial endeavors, exercising, eating right, working on relationships. The Panic Monster remains asleep and the Monkey continues happily in control. The Rational Decision-Maker never gains control and we suffer the attendant consequences such as regrets and unhappiness. It can feel as if we are spectators in our own lives.
I believe this is where having well-defined value systems, goals and objectives can help to keep that Monkey at bay and the Panic Monster asleep. Goals and objectives should always have a time element so that at a minimum, the Panic Monster can come to our aid.
All that said, anyone who knows me knows that I love monkeys including my own personal Instant Gratification Monkey. He and I are not afraid of the Panic Monster. We are afraid of Ruth, however.
Manny Roman, CRES is the AMSP Business Operation Manager.