I was making my daily Psychology Today rounds and came across this article about procrastination by Dr. Timothy A. Pychyl. Initially I thought he would be extolling the under-appreciated benefits of procrastination but his musings are more multifaceted than a simple, “Oh sure, do it later, you’ll thank yourself for it.” He frames his thoughts with an example of fixing his dishwasher, remarking that “perhaps I needed two kinds of delay. One was the conscious choice to delay in order to seek out alternative solutions. The other form of delay was a more unconscious process of task avoidance. I didn’t feel like working on that task further (particularly because I didn’t know how to proceed). So, I procrastinated in order to repair my defeated sense of self (or at least repair my mood) and to renew my stores of willpower to face the task again.”
Key points are in bold throughout the piece, the first of which is, “All procrastination is delay, but not all delay is procrastination,” which reminded me of something a geometry teacher said many years ago: Every square is also a rectangle but not every rectangle is a square.
The concept and mindset of “I don’t feel like it” is powerful, and depending on whether a person is (already) prone to needless delay coupled with their time-management methodology, certain tasks would never get done. As I contemplated more about Pychyl’s differentiation between doing something now vs. doing something later, it occurred to me that the flip-side could be instant gratification vs. delayed gratification. Why champion the virtues of waiting to do or acquire something later rather than succumbing to an impulse of the here-and-now and malign the waiting to execute a task? Is it because of that “I don’t feel like it” mentality?
I tend to be an impatient person, so I frequently make impulse DVD purchases but if I know something will be less expensive if I’m willing to wait 4-10 days for shipping, then I can delay the gratification of watching a certain film. This tendency towards impatience also coos in my mind the refrain of “why do tomorrow what you can do today? You’re going to have to do it sooner or later, why not sooner?”
Thus, when it comes to paying bills and starting/finishing certain work assignments, even if the due date isn’t for another week or three, I experience a strong near-yearning to (want to) do it now.* There are times when I’m glad I started on a project one to two months before it’s due because any changes that need to be made end up only taking up 10 to 30 minutes of my time. It causes anxiety too, though, because I know how much time and effort is required to complete the task and instead of focusing on the duties-at-present, I’m latching on to duties-to-come. Consequently, in inverted fashion, I have a compulsion to start on what is anticipated…”I have to do it later anyway, why not do it now.”
Such is how I operate. Since everyone has their own modus operandi and tendencies, it can be challenging to accept or make sense of why person X waits til the last minute to do what he could’ve done earlier and why person Y starts immediately and then has to do double the amount of work because of all the revisions that have to be made.
I’m trying not to dwell on the why’s of other people’s process. As long as the patient doesn’t die, the client is happy, and the constituency is not taking to the concrete or digital streets in protest, to each his own.
* It’s gotten so “bad” that I wish I could pay for money I haven’t spent yet but know I will. For instance, if I spend an average of $500 each month on one credit card, I wish that when I pay for the last statement, I could withdraw $1,000 from my bank account so that next time I have to pay that card’s balance, I may only have to pay between $5 and $50. I know. Nutters.