Thursday, July 10, 2008


"Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task."

How true, how true! We all have those things we don't want to do; they seem to permanently appear on our To Do List and no matter how big or small the task is, we dread doing it or we simply continue to put it off, for reasons we're not even sure of. Sometimes, we simply have so much to do, that we become overwhelmed and paralyzed and therefore take no action whatsoever. This behavior, which even the best of us are guilty of from time to time, can quickly become a pattern and a habit that is hard to kick.

Having these uncompleted tasks can drain us -- or as William James' quote so aptly puts it --- it fatigues us. Oh, but how can that be, you ask? If we've not put any effort into completing the task, how can that tire us? Well, that's kind of the point. By having this "To Do" constantly hanging over our heads, it becomes a burden. The proverbial albatross around our necks. It usually takes less effort to do something than the amount of effort it takes to avoid doing it.

So how are we to overcome this? Well, let's take a look at the type of things we tend to put off. Are they seemingly small things? Are they relatively big, important things? Each one needs to be evaluated on it's own, so we can get to the heart of the matter. After all, you cannot resolve something, if you don't know what the problem is, right? Sometimes we don't prioritize correctly or we are unsure of how to go about a certain task so we stall. Sometimes we avoid it because we know it could be a source of stress.

For example, one of the things I procrastinate is anything to do with having to speak to a Customer Service Rep over the telephone. The reason? Well, past experience, for one! I know I will have to go through a long-winded automated menu, punching in account numbers, birth dates and what-have-you. Then, I may get to the next menu, in which none of the options reflect the reason for my call, then I will be on hold for 10 minutes, and then either one of two things will happen next: I will inexplicably be disconnected or I will finally get a "live" CSR on the line and will have to repeat all the information I keyed in on the automated menu, then explain the reason for my inquiry, then will be told by the apathetic rep that I will have to call another number, or that there is nothing they can do to help me. End of call. But the beginning of my aggravation. A year or two ago there was a cartoon at the back of Parade Magazine. A man is in a doctor's office and was completing his physical. Instead of being hooked up to a treadmill with wires to conduct "the stress test", the doctor informed the patient that his stress test would consist of dialing an automated phone operator (the doctor stands, phone in hand, looking at the patient, sitting on the exam table). How appropriate! So, yeah, I tend to put that stuff off, even though it needs to be addressed. So, how can I mitigate this stress? Well, I try to resolve as many things as possible by email. But when I do have to call, I try to relax and do it at a time where my stress level is not already high. If I am calm to start with, even the worst call is less likely to raise my blood pressure. I need to be prepared and do it at a time where I am more relaxed. But then there are some nights where I am like, "I'm in a good mood. I don't want to ruin it by having to deal with this." So, the battle wages on. But remember, we all must pick our battles wisely.

Evaluating the things you avoid will help you to overcome them. Do you avoid things related to technology because you're not savvy in that area and it confuses you? Do you avoid things related to money because your finances are lacking? Do you avoid things related to a particular person because they hurt or annoy you? Identifying your reason for avoidance, will enable you to break your procrastination habit. Sometimes the reasons are based in fear, some are less threatening, but some are more serious, like self-sabotage.

Do you find yourself often saying "I don't have time"? Be conscientious of when you say you "don't have time". Often, "I don't have time" really means "I don't care". And there's nothing wrong with that. Putting time and effort into things you don't care about is disingenuous and doesn't do anybody any favors. By identifying what is valuable to you and what is worth your time, you will find yourself reprioritizing and you will find less on your To Do List and more on your To Don't List.

This is a good thing!

William James, the pioneering psychologist, philosopher and pragmatist, (and godson of Ralph Waldo Emerson) knew what he was talking about, over 100 years ago, when he said ""Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task."

1 comment:

fatfighter said...

I have been an expert procrastinator lately! I think it's because I've suddenly become ultra-unorganized which is sooo not like me!! I got distracted easily when I starte perusing blogs... ;)