Chapter 12: The Paralysis of Procrastination
Of the ways we sabotage our success and happiness, the two which are included as chapters in this section are by far the most common: choosing the quickest gratification, and procrastination. These two behaviors are very often found together in a self-feeding, self-sabotaging cycle. Choosing the quickest gratification is the king of self-sabotaging behaviors and procrastination is the crowned prince. The personal, social and financial losses that we deal ourselves through procrastination are incalculable. Habitual tardiness can cost us a job. Delay in paying bills destroys our credit and may exclude us from a home mortgage. When we delay treatment for health issues they can advance beyond recovery, or astronomically increase the cost of treatment. Putting off simple vehicle maintenance can cut the life of a car in half. Avoiding simple, inexpensive home upkeep like painting, plumbing or tuck pointing can lead to expensive repair or replacements. Not returning certain phone calls in a timely way causes opportunities to pass us by. Several hundred people die each year because they procrastinate in changing the battery in their smoke detector, and it fails to warn them of fire. Important relationships dry up, creating depression and guilt, simply because we don’t get around to returning an email, making a call, stopping by or writing a note. Our businesses sputter along at a fraction of their potential because we procrastinate in developing a specific business or marketing plan. Small misunderstandings grow into all-out warfare because we don’t get around to picking up the phone to straighten it out. The list is truly endless….
It’s important to understand that I am not writing about authentic cases of “strategic delay,” in which putting off a task allows us to perform it with advantageous timing, or to gather information, resources, etc in order to perform it better. This chapter understands procrastination as task aversion. It is the irrational delay of intended tasks that are important to our success, satisfaction and well-being.
As with many things, understanding why we procrastinate is the first step in Cutting Away from it in our daily behavior. Understanding procrastination, however, is not simple. Procrastination is a complex behavior that springs from multiple and interacting root causes. There is no “one-size-fits-all” explanation or cure. Just the same, research about procrastination has lain to rest certain myths about it. The problem is far more complex than a simple time-management problem, lack of intelligence, laziness or moral weakness. I also believe that procrastination is intimately connected to two of the Fatal Five: Comfort Zones and Fear of the Unknown.