Better Living Through Procrastination

 Posted by on May 17, 2010  Add comments  Tagged with: ,
May 172010

This post title is about as sarcastic as you can get, because we all know that procrastination solves nothing. And yet it seems to be my coping mechanism of choice.

Right now, I have a laundry basket half full of papers and mail to deal with. I’m not exaggerating. For two weeks now, I’ve “handled” it by simply digging around to find bills that need to be paid. Then I shove the basket in DJ’s closet and try to pretend it’s not there. Except I know that it is, and I know that I should deal with it, so it’s a constant burden on my mind. You often hear me recite this quote from Dale Carnegie, “It’s not the things we do that make us tired, it’s the things we don’t do.” For me, this is absolutely, 100% true.

This quote is from one of Carnegie’s books, called How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. Even if you aren’t familiar with Dale Carnegie, you probably know of his most famous book, How To Win Friends and Influence People.

Dale was a midwestern boy who grew up poor, on a farm in Missouri. He tried his hand at many professions, including acting, but he found true success in teaching courses about public speaking. He later developed courses in sales and public relations, and his methods are still taught today. Over 8 million people have completed Dale Carnegie training (including my husband, and he continues to apply the principles he learned to his life today).

I’ve read and enjoyed all of Dale Carnegie’s books, but How to Stop Worrying and Start Living is the only one I’ve actually purchased. I have a 1948 hardback copy because I enjoy reading books in the original language and context of the time, rather than the “revised and updated” versions. I’ve read this book over and over because it’s so matter-of-fact, interesting, and reassuring. I’ve always been a worrywart, but there was a time, after Bee was born, when I was crippled by worry. I was suffering from postpartum depression, and I stewed and fretted over everything. My husband and I were still landlords, dealing with unpleasant financial and legal situations, and I coped with my fear and anxiety by, essentially, doing nothing. Bills and letters kept arriving, and I kept tossing them into a pile, to be dealt with “later.” As time went on, and the pile took on epic proportions, I became more and more upset and anxious, to the point where I couldn’t even sleep at night.

When I read Carnegie’s book, I learned that I was creating more anxiety for myself through procrastination. I needed to adopt these good work habits to restore my peace of mind:

1) Clear your desk of all papers except those relating to the immediate problem at hand. If you visit the Library of Congress in D.C., you will find 5 words painted on the ceiling, “Order is Heaven’s First Law.” This should be the first law in our homes as well, as order does much to ease anxiety. A desk littered with unanswered mail, papers to be filed, and to-do lists that are never completed is a constant reminder of “a million things to do, and no time to do them,” and is a major source of fatique and worry (this is why the laundry basket full of papers causes me so much stress).

2) Do things in order of importance. I don’t know about you, but when I’m facing unpleasant chores that I don’t want to do, I tend to flit around, doing all kinds of unessential tasks as an avoidance technique. I call them my “hysterical displacement activities.” It looks like I’m busy, and that’s how I justify it to myself – until the end of the day, when I’ve accomplished none of the important and necessary things that I really needed to get done, and have reached panic mode.

3) When facing a problem, deal with it immediately (if you have the facts necessary to make a decision). It’s best to resolve matters promptly and move on, and yet putting off decisions is another way that I avoid dealing with the unpleasant, and cause myself unnecessary mental burden.

4) Learn to organize, delegate, and let go of perfectionism. A major reason for procrastination is perfectionism. It’s difficult for perfectionists to delegate tasks, because we have the attitude that we’re the only ones who can do them correctly. The problem is, we never have the time to do things perfectly, and so we don’t do them at all. If we accept help, and lower our standards a bit, we can accomplish so much more, and reduce the burden of undone work.

So….today I’m going to remember these 4 good work habits, and clean out that laundry basket. Tonight I’ll rest easy, knowing that my work is finished. If you’ve been putting off something, will you tackle it today?