Procrastination: Wrestling the Demon

The Bible named procrastination as one of the Seven Deadly Sins, classified as Sloth, that is, persistently failing to do what one should do. Evil exists when good (men) fail to act. Entrenched procrastination most certainly has the potential to ruin one’s life and such procrastinators are able to adversely impact family members and colleagues as well.

Joseph Ferrari, professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago and a noted researcher in the field of procrastination, reports that the disorder takes several forms and that he and fellow researchers have identified two primary types:

1.) Chronic procrastinators, who are perpetually unable to complete tasks.

2.) Situational procrastinators, who delay taking action on tasks that are considered particularly loathsome.

Procrastinators are unable to learn from the negative outcomes of their avoidance behavior. That they have suffered previously from failing to fulfill responsibilities does not motivate them to get busy when the next important task appears. Procrastination is the “quintessential” breakdown of self-control, according to Ferrari and his fellow researchers.

At this point in the story, I would have liked to present a neat and clever solution to the problem, all artfully phrased to make me look smart. But I’m sorry to say that solutions for procrastination are weak. Situational procrastinators have the best prognosis and everyone falls into this category from time to time. The next time that you just can’t face up to doing whatever, set a personal deadline and find the discipline to adhere to it, so that you’re not frantically working to get things done. Just do it and move on.

But chronic procrastinators are a very tough nut to crack. I know this from personal experience, because many years ago I had a long-term relationship with such an individual. His inability to make good decisions, which included chronic malignant procrastination coupled with passive aggressive behavior, caused me to leave him. I guess he loved me, but not enough to get his act together. I will never get over the disappointment that he caused me.

Ferrari suggests that organizations can diminish the common tendency to wait until the last-minute to complete tasks by rewarding early action and de-emphasizing penalties for lateness, in the process shifting from the threat of punishment to the pleasure of reward and keeping the lid on stress along the way.

On a personal level, which is where the procrastination battle lives, Ferrari advises to refrain from enabling chronic procrastination…..”let the fridge go empty, let the car stall out. Don’t bail them out.” However, that approach to fulfilling responsibilities will sometimes adversely impact the other half of the couple and it is not always practical to allow that to happen. As I found out, chronic procrastinators are not good life (or business) partners because they do not hold up their end. You may have to terminate the relationship, because things are unlikely to get better.

If you are a chronic procrastinator reading this post, consider that we all have only so many years in life and it is important to get on with things. It is a given that sometimes we have to suck it up and do what we don’t like. But then it’s off your plate and you can think about the fun things.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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