The Procrastinator: an Avoidance Artist

The procrastinator’s life is spent honing a multitude of excuses for why now is not the time for action.  Procrastination is endemic in today’s fast-paced, go-getting and career-driven society.  It sets in around the age of twelve, is treatable but generally not curable and episodes will reoccur periodically throughout one’s life. The implications for the many companies and the economy at large due to excessive procrastination among the workforce are critical, culminating in a lack of productivity in industries where clients demand projects at a fast turnaround pace, and cutting company profits by up to a third.  Another consequence noted by business owners and employers is a sleepier workforce in the wake of project deadlines which has been termed “The Midnight Oil Effect”.  Absenteeism has been steadily rising over the past 15 years, coinciding with an unprecedented increase in technological progress. Occupational therapist Dr May B. Laytor in her recent paper on this phenomenon, has attributed this to employees feigning illness in a bid to buy themselves extra time to complete their work projects before their cut-off date. Lady procrastinating The Condition – An overview A keen worker and pillar of society, the procrastinator can hold down a job and appear perfectly competent and at ease to friends and co-workers.  His problem is primarily concerned with getting started on tasks that require urgent completion, such as a work project, an essay for college or decorating a room in time for a guest’s arrival.  The procrastinator can cope with activities that are perceived as leisurely such as sports, painting or watching all the Lord of the Rings films in one night.  However, he cannot confront those banal duties demanded by his work or school, or even home life.  The common factor triggering all episodes of procrastination is being obliged to carry out a dull task when you would rather be doing something more entertaining and less energy-intensive.   Empty notebook Possible Symptoms Many procrastinators are exceptionally talented individuals.  Their creativity feeds off that adrenaline rush brought on by the excitement of nearly missing a deadline.  If you suggest to your procrastinator friend that it really is high time he began that project since he only has a week left before the submission date, you will find a litany of explanations about how he has other priorities, such as the house needing cleaning, the bath requiring urgent repairs, some friends coming round this evening or that he really must do some background reading and make a few more lists first.  Before he can begin, he may go out and buy a new notebook and pen.  Perhaps he needs to sort all his documents into a new filing system.  This necessitates urgent purchases of pristine ring binders and plastic wallets, leaving an extra day’s grace before commencing the ever-looming project.  If none of the above is sufficient to save him from project apathy, he will fall back on the tried and tested get out of project-jail card: “I’m too tired to start it now.  I need a good night’s sleep.” Pencil shavings If it’s a work scenario, he may experience symptoms such as prolific pencil sharpening, the consequences of which may be perilous for human and pencil alike.  Splinters produced by the shavings can become lodged in nail beds causing all manner of discomfort, and the pencils will be rendered unusable due to their being too short. Uncharacteristic generosity may be displayed by your procrastinator colleague offering you a cup of tea every 30 minutes and insisting on doing your photocopying for you. Newspaper and cup of tea Alert signs: Knowing when to intervene These are some typical excuses to alert you to a procrastinator: “It doesn’t have to be done until next week” “I had a lot less time to do it last time and I still completed it” “I’ve got a more pressing assignment, right now” “I need to sort out this filing system as I can’t concentrate with all this chaos” “I should really do some more research” “I work better under pressure” “Not until after I’ve done…” “Let’s get Christmas out the way first” “Shall we have another cup of tea first?” “I’ll start it tomorrow”   The Treatment Treatment may seem unnecessarily abrasive but strict measures need to be taken, if not for the procrastinator’s sake, then for that of those around him, his employer/tutor and the economy. All distracting agents, such as mobile phones, e-readers and magazines must be confiscated and stored under lock and key.  It goes without saying that Facebook should be disabled by your IT department.  Only work emails should be accessed.  The procrastinator requires constant supervision while in an office where there are pencils, kettles and telephones around.  This is to prevent his misuse of these articles.  Only when starved of all possible distractions will the procrastinator succumb to the need to put pen to paper, acknowledging that doing his work is more entertaining than doing nothing at all. Disctracting things, coffee, e-reader, magazine In extremely potent cases of this affliction where the procrastinator also happens to be a daydreamer, who, limited from outer sources of amusement, will retreat into his theatrical world of thoughts instead of beginning work, one must administer a dose of dummy deadline to provoke an early adrenaline rush.  This is where a false memo is composed and forwarded directly to the patient, bringing the impending date forward by a few days and adding immense pressure.  Our friend, panicked, will request one last cup of tea for the road and will don his imaginary ideas helmet to speed down the project highway. Are you a procrastinator and what are your tricks to avoid work?     Kirsten Hawkins