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Procrastinators; We Are the 20%

Hi, my name is Jennifer and I am a procrastinator. I was supposed to have this written days ago, but instead I'm scouring my house looking for candles. I always have a candle burning and I wore them all out and scent is really important to me and I like to have my desk set up just so...get the picture? Why do I do this to myself?!

There are a lot of ideas out there. One is that procrastination is learned from family, we are not born with it. Some researchers say that these families tend to have an authoritarian parent and problems with self-control, there may be a history of alcohol in the family and/or the procrastinator. It is estimated that 20% of the population worldwide identifies as a chronic procrastinator. I am in good company. According to Dr. Joseph Farrain, Associate Professor at DePaul University in Chicago there are three types of procrastinators:

  1. Arousal types, or thrill-seekers, who wait to the last minute for the euphoric rush.

  2. Avoiders, who may be avoiding fear of failure or even fear of success, but in either case are very concerned with what others think of them; they would rather have others think they lack effort than ability.

  3. Decisional procrastinators, who cannot make a decision. Not making a decision absolves procrastinators of responsibility for the outcome of events.

I used to lie to myself and say that I fell into the first category. I worked well under pressure. The stress motivates me. But, I know now that isn’t true. I don’t work best under pressure, in fact my work is probably substandard because I haven’t left myself enough time. I just get stuff done because the deadline is hours away. In reality I’m some combination of the second and third categories, with a little of the time pressure of number one thrown in.

I am tired of procrastinating and decided to dig into the whys of my actions. My personal experience is that procrastination shows up particularly when I am feeling overwhelmed; which is often. Or I'm overwhelmed because I procrastinate, it's the chicken and egg syndrome. I can’t respond to one more email, make note of another practice, rehearsal or what kind of shoes my daughter needs for her drama program because I don’t have the bandwidth for it. At least that is what I tell myself. To avoid piling on the overload I close the email intending to look at it later, but I don’t. The result? Piling on the overload. Instead of taking the time to put dates in the calendar I am walking around with unfinished business in the back of my mind, periodically hitting upon it, wondering what I am supposed to be doing about the drama program and if my daughter is missing something. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I am actually making the overwhelm worse by dragging this out much longer than I need to. And for the record, this feeling of overwhelm is a story I’m telling myself about how I don’t have enough time. I’d have enough time if I’d address things sooner. As bizarre as this sounds, the cycle of overwhelm and procrastination serves to keep me stuck. Our brains like the status quo and staying stuck keeps me playing small. It is self-sabotage. If I stay small and overwhelmed I won’t have the time to go out and meet new people, potential new clients and grow my business in the way that I dream of doing.

I went to a networking meeting recently and got a phone call from a contact I’d made there the very next day. I thought she was incredibly efficient. I was going to get around to emailing people later in the week. She is clearly not part of the 20%! I matched her effort and called her right back. We were on the phone for just a couple of minutes and had a meeting on the calendar. It really took me by surprise how freeing it felt to have that done and scheduled. It is an energy drain to have things (appointments, dates, projects, gifts, invitations, decisions) hanging out in the back of your mind waiting for you to act; like apps open on your phone draining the battery while you are not using them.

I started out intending to write a blog post on procrastination. But, this has taken a turn that I wasn’t expecting. In thinking about how good I felt with action, I’ve decided to challenge myself and invite you to join me too. How about a week of no procrastination? How would we feel if we just take action for one week? Will it make a difference? Will it be enough to make action a lifelong habit? I don’t know. Join me for The Take Action Challenge. This experiment is going to be interesting.

Let’s give ourselves a fighting chance and get started after the holiday rush. Our week of action will run from January 11-17. I’ll send periodic prompts and we can post about progress and support each other on Facebook. Do you want to join me? Use the link below to sign up. Fellow procrastinators unite! It’s a new year and time for action!

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