I only have 25 minutes to write this post before midnight.
Why? Because I have been working on my Girl Scout financial paperwork. Why? Because it is late. More than six months late.
I may not be an expert on procrastination, but I am definitely an expert in procrastination. You know the old joke, the one about the procrastinator whose ancestors must have come over on the Juneflower? That’s me.
They say that we tend to repeat actions that give us some sort of reward. I don’t think this is the case for me when it comes to procrastination, that I put things off just so I can go out and do things that are more fun. I don’t see myself as a slacker; in fact, I tend to have a lot on my plate. I am definitely not lying around eating bonbons and reading for pleasure instead of doing the things I should. I can’t, because I am busy doing the things I should have done yesterday. Or last week. Or more than six months ago.
I don’t think I put things off because I am selfish, self-centered, insensitive and ungrateful. (At least I hope not!) Just as I don’t run late because I am trying to impose my schedule on others in some sort of power trip, I do not put things off out of spite or to make others wait so that I can be in the driver’s seat.
Why, then, do I not complete important tasks in a timely manner?
Perfectionism. I have a very unfortunate need to do things “properly.” I can’t fudge the Girl Scout paperwork, for example; that would be wrong. So I have to be sure I have checked every possible place I might have put a receipt, go over all my personal checks and VISA statements to be sure I didn’t pay for anything out of my own funds, and check and recheck all the meeting notes to be sure that every bit of dues money is accounted for. (Trust me, making all this extra work for myself is not the operating mode of a slacker. An OCD sufferer, perhaps, but not a slacker.) Unfortunately, when I think of a task like this paperwork, I think, “I only have a few minutes right now, which isn’t enough time to do it properly. I’ll work on it this weekend.” Of course, when the weekend comes, I will be too busy with…
Firefighting. On any given weekend, something has reached a crisis. This is the only thing that will get my attention until the crisis is averted. This weekend, it will be the Girl Scout paperwork. I have worked on it for hours tonight and will work on it for hours tomorrow. By the time I am done, I will be so exhausted that I will need to reward myself for all my hard work before I move onto the next crisis, so I will read something or visit a friend, perhaps, when I could otherwise be working on the…
Backlog. If you have to do everything well, The Math really works against you. There just isn’t time. You know how you go to the doctor’s office, and the first patient runs a little long, and then each subsequent patient runs long, and by the end of the day the lucky people have to wait forever in the waiting room? That’s my life. The extra time I spend trying to do the first thing (perfectly, mind you) runs into the limited time I have to do the next. And so on. And so on. And so on.
Fear. Why do I think everything has to be done perfectly? The only answer I can come up with is fear. I worry about what will happen if I don’t do it right. (Apparently, whatever the consequences might be, they are more scary than not doing the whole “deadline” thing right.)
Insufficient Memory. I try to keep track of all the balls I have in the air at any given time. I do. But somehow I never “have the time” to do things like check my calendar – or even write things on my calendar, frankly – and I can’t seem to remember them all. This causes things to slip through the cracks until they are brought back to my attention by some horrible consequence or another.
System Overload. Needless to say, living my life this way can bring me to the point of despair. There is never enough time, I can never do anything well enough, I will never catch up, and I become convinced that I am a worthless human being. Luckily, I have a husband and a daughter who are willing and able to convince me otherwise, because there are times that I need a lot of convincing. These are the times when I probably do look like a slacker, as I take to my bed or drown my sorrows in Jane Austen fan fiction. But the motivation is not pleasure; it is pain.
So how do I ever get anything important accomplished?
Fear. Oooh, here is that sneaky little Fear again! Apparently fear is quite the motivator for me. This is probably why I tend to perform so much better at work than at home: the stakes are higher.
Terror. I’ll be going along working overtime trying to get Year End accounting done at work (yeah, I’m a bookkeeper, which makes the Girl Scout paperwork situation that much more ironic) when all of a sudden, BAM! Greg decides he is moving in tomorrow! Aaaaaugh! Now I have to frantically pull everything out of the basement and explode it all over my whole house when all of a sudden, BAM! I check my December to-do list to see how I did and it reminds me that I still don’t have the Girl Scout paperwork in, and cookie season is upon us! Aaaaaugh! So I have to stop working on the basement and spend my every spare minute working on the paperwork when all of a sudden, BAM! I remember that I promised my sister I would call my nephew for his birthday two days early because he is going to be out-of-town and now it is after midnight so I can’t call. Waaaaaahhhhh! Now I am beating myself up again, so I write Kevin a Happy Birthday Facebook post though I know that’s not the same thing when all of a sudden, BAM! (Repeat to the point of System Overload.)
Adrenaline. See Terror, above.
Shininess. Of course, certain important things get done because they are shiny. This blog is one of those shiny things. It does cause Perfectionism to fester (I am upset with myself right now because I did not get this posted before midnight, for instance) but – for the most part – does not cause Fear or System Overload. It has so many benefits for me that I keep doing it: keeping in touch with my family and friends, giving me a chance to write, simply being something at which I can be successful. I do repeat some behaviors for the rewards they give!
Just as I have been trying to purge my home of all the excess clutter, I am trying to purge my life of all the excess tasks. I fear that the next 9 weeks will be so chock full of busyness that I won’t get a real grip on everything, but I think Europe will be a good reboot to my system. By the time I get back, no one will even remember me, let alone remember everything that I might not have gotten done… or that I might not have done perfectly.
- I’m grateful! that David has been so understanding when I was late – an hour later than I thought – to pick him up. For the second time in two days. After I told him not to take a ride with someone else because I thought I could get done in only 15 extra minutes.
- I’m lighter! I am making progress on the financial paperwork. Yes, I do know how much more smoothly it would all have gone if I had just done it right then, a little bit at a time. That’s the dark side of being so far behind. You set aside today’s simple task because yesterday’s task is on fire, and by the time you have put that fire out, today’s task will be that much harder because of the time that has gone by. Oh, yes. I certainly know it.