We know it doesn’t serve us, yet we also all do it to varying degrees. To what am I referring? Procrastination, also known as the act of delaying or putting off doing a task or making a decision. And according to Professor Joseph Ferrari of DePaul University, “around 20% of U.S. adults are chronic procrastinators.”
Regarding most matters, my self-discipline and persistence are quite high. Especially when it comes to work related projects and deadlines, and my physical and emotional fitness and health.
But there is one personal project that’s been on my to-do for years.
I live and work out of an approximately 600 square foot, one-bedroom apartment. Recently, I decided to hire a professional organizer. Because for the last nine years or so, I’ve been in a “fight” with my home and am in desperate need to get a better handle on my space.
And, I know the reason for my struggle is emotional.
After my mother died and I sold her home, I brought back two carloads of boxes. Those boxes remain on the floors of my living room and bedroom closet…unopened.
Over the years, I’d tell myself, “‘just open a box, put the timer on for 20-minutes, and get through as much of it as you can.” But, I don’t; I always find something else that “needs” my immediate attention.
The more time passes, the clearer it is that I am unable to tackle this project without some support. And, more specifically, objective support.
Yes, friends have offered to help me. But, in an odd way, I feel like a stranger, that didn’t know my mother and doesn’t know me well, could better help me manage the sentimental aspects of this project.
Turns out, I am an example of a “passive procrastinator.” This is someone who delays doing a task or making a decision “because they have trouble making decisions and acting on them due to their emotions.” This is different from an “active procrastinator,” or someone who thrives off of working under time/deadline pressure.
It’s Not About Laziness
Most people judge procrastinators or indulge in self-judgment about it believing it’s a time management issue.
So, they go about trying not to be a procrastinator by managing their time differently. However, for some of us, time management isn’t the problem. It’s related to something else.
The topic of procrastination came up during brunch this weekend.
Afterward, I started thinking of the people who defer important financial tasks and choices they deem unpleasant, boring, and stressful. Or, who simply don’t get started because they don’t know where to begin.
On the surface, they, too, blame it on the lack of time. But if you dig a bit deeper, it has very little to do with time or self-control.
It’s often against your better judgment.
And yet, you do it anyway.
During a speaking engagement last week, a participant revealed they’ve been procrastinating getting their estate plan started. Scheduling an appointment with an attorney to get the process rolling is actually the easy part. Understanding the emotions that are preventing them from doing it is less so. (As much as I believe estate planning is an act of love, let’s face it, it does require us to confront our mortality.)
Another shared they have a lot of money sitting in a savings account, want to invest, but haven’t because they don’t know what to look for in a financial advisor. For them, I bet the fear of making the wrong decision about the professional they hire is what is keeping them from asking colleagues, friends and perhaps family members for referrals. I know they are not “stuck” due to a lack of access. There is also likely some trepidation about possibly losing their money.
Where in your life is being a passive procrastinator playing itself out?
If it’s in the realm of money, what’s a financial task or choice you are avoiding?
The Weight of Procrastination
Knowing that there are instances when procrastination is an emotional problem doesn’t mean there isn’t a cost. Because you and I definitely pay a price for this behavior.
At times it shows up in terms of lost time, more stress, or money (money lost or additional money spent). Or, it could be a combination of all these factors.
If you are reading this and are feeling like I’m calling you out (hopefully in a loving way), you are already doing the first thing required to stop procrastinating: You’ve admitted that you are doing it!
Once you’ve admitted it, you can explore the why behind it. (In my case, these boxes contain items that had meaning to my mother. Some will also have meaning to me, too. But, not all of them. That’s been hard for me to reconcile.)
Enlist support from others. It could be from family, friends, or colleagues. Or, it could be by hiring a professional. You don’t have to go from inaction to taking action…alone.
I bet whatever is the task or choice you are avoiding, it is something that cannot be completed in one sitting. (Otherwise, you likely would have done it already.) So for every task or choice you’ve identified you need to make, create a deadline for the sub-tasks and “smaller” choices and put these deadlines on your calendar.
If possible, limit the number of other projects you are doing whilst you are focused on bringing the thing you’ve been avoiding to the status of “completed.”
Identify the payoff of continuing to avoid the task and choice. Even if it is simply that you’ve grown comfortable with your current situation.
Likewise, identify the payoff for completing the thing you’ve been procrastinating doing. After I’m done working with the professional organizer, I’m going to get my apartment painted. I am hoping for my space to have that “just moved in” feel to it like it once did.
When you are trying to get to the other side of procrastinating on something that is emotionally charged, it is important to find the balance between moving forward and also not beating up on yourself if your progress is slow.
This is actually when you need to be extra gentle with yourself. If necessary, amp up whatever it is you do to take care of yourself.
Because a cluttered mind can’t make wise decisions.
Nor can it be creative.
Nor can it make decisions that honor the time value of money, i.e., recognizing that money today is more valuable than money in the future – all things being equal.
So, if you are a financial procrastinator or delaying a task or choice that is related to some aspect of the intersection of your money, life, and business, your financial health may be dependent on you getting a handle on this.