Since Covid, no-since childhood, I have procrastinated. I put things off til the last possible minute. If something had to be done by Monday morning, I did it Sunday night. That has been the story of my life. My dad called me lazy when he would get exasperated with me cause I needed his help at the last minute. All through my life I was guilty of such practices. As a young father I have Often felt like a hypocrite when I would chide my kids about waiting til the last minute to do things. They were smart enough to know I should practice what I preach but they never threw it up in my face! In spite of this I had two very successful careers. Perhaps I had fine tuned my skills enough that they prevented my discovery as a fraud. Every day in my classroom I expected the principal to come in and say,
“Aha! You are not a teacher!” I always felt deficient!
That’s another story for another blog. But I digress! Since Covid, I have been doing a lot of introspection. I have also been doing a lot of buying stuff on line. I needed a printer/copier and ordered a great wireless one through Amazon. It sits in the box on my living room floor. I needed a light over my bed so I could read at night and found a nice sconce to hang on my wall. It sits in the box next to my bed. Through Wayfair I ordered a Mid Century TV stand. It sits in its box in front of my tv. Then, of course, there is my office, desk piled high, bills begging, pleading to be filed neatly away in their respective folders, tabletops piled high with mail and hearing aid proposals and return address labels from every organization I ever donated to(never end a sentence with a preposition!) So what is the point of all this? I said that I have been doing a lot of self reflection.
I sat in my house one day and saw all the boxes, saw the pile of stuff in my office and scratched my head. What the hell is wrong with me? Those boxes have been there for months, the office has been this way since the fall. Enough, tomorrow I will get to work on these projects. But I didn’t expect to be up half the night trying to figure out why I do this. After running it silently through my head a million times the pattern and the motive became clear. I wasn’t lazy or afraid of doing the work. I was afraid of starting the project. But why? And suddenly, like the flashing neon lights from the motel across the street, came the reason – loud and clear. I was afraid I wouldn’t succeed. I feared I couldn’t do what had to be done. I am not mechanically inclined, don’t know how to use all but the basic tools! By putting it off, I am avoiding the truth about myself as I know it! My confidence is shot! Actually, I never had confidence in the “manly” world of building things. Put me in a social setting and I have no hesitation to succeed. The realization was miraculous, and it only took 60 plus years to identify what has me frozen. I am proud to say I have a beautiful new tv stand, a light over my bed and an office that smells of lemon wax and cleanliness. There are still a few jobs left but I can put those off til tomorrow!
Fear of Fixing
Well, George could have been writing about me – end of (as the British say)! Well maybe not actually end of story, because I have a hypothesis: procrastination = learned helplessness. Yes, I think it’s learned.
When I was a kid, I idolized my Dad – he could do anything! I watched him cut a perfect archway in a blank plaster wall, armed only with a handsaw. Now c’mon, if I tried that it would be an episode of Polyhedrons Gone Bad. I watched him bring a listing brick chimney back in line with the house. There didn’t seem anything he was afraid to tackle by himself.
He had time to teach me baseball, boxing, archery, golf, chess, and all kinds of card games; there was lots of praise and lots of shared laughter during those activities. But repair was a different story – it was dead serious and not an instructable. I was the kid who always handed him the wrong wrench and shone the flashlight in the wrong place. Repair always seemed like an out of body experience for me. My younger brother initially felt the same way – but more about that in a second.
My Dad grew up without a father and worked from an early age. He had no paternal guide, but also no one told him he couldn’t do something, so he fearlessly jumped in. I think that’s important.
Back to my brother. Rich found a group of friends that liked to revamp bicycles and build model rockets. He became a hands-on guy. Somehow that street cred worked for Dad and they both had their heads under cars every weekend. I looked on and just gave up the possibility of being initiated into these mysteries. Truthfully, I did not miss it.
However, the net result was that for years I’d shy away from tasks I did not think I could do well. This was unfortunate, because my father set the example of doing everything himself, so I also felt the failure of not being up to the task. Faced with the choice of attempting something I ought to do, but did not have the confidence to do – or hiring a skilled person to do that task – I would do neither. Lots of procrastination. What was it that Henry Ford said: “If you think you can do a thing or think that you can’t, you are right?” Interestingly, because I didn’t put a high expectation for “fixing” on my kids, both turned out to be amazingly capable of fixing anything. Just like my father!
It took years for me to realize the methods for breaking down a task into bite-size elements – I nudge things to death — that’s my approach these days. Plus, there’s a YouTube for every problem. I’ve also relaxed the standards by which I judge my work. All of that seems to lower the barriers to moving forward with projects. And the bonus is that I can also call my wizard kids for advice!
Putting Things Off
In my work, as in my life, I learned the value of doing what needs to be done in a timely fashion. In addition, addressing those things that are most difficult and challenging should take precedence over those that are easier. However, understanding these important principles and consistently acting on them are not necessarily synonymous: at least in my personal experience.
For me, motivation plays a big role in whether I address and complete things in a manner that allows for interruptions, accidents, or unanticipated obstacles. If I need to get my house ready for an upcoming home inspection I’m good at planning ahead, targeting a completion date days before it’s needed, and then addressing all those things I didn’t account for in the extra time allotted. And, I’m getting better at making those difficult phone calls sooner rather than later or never. But, rest assured, I don’t often identify such things as “important” enough to take care of them when I should. Take this blog entry, for example. I am fortunate to be working with two of the most supportive and understanding men I know. Consistently being the last one to submit my blog original or blog rejoinder, I know they will sincerely accept my delay without question. But why do I put off my writing? Sure, I’m going through the process of selling my house and looking for a new primary residence. But each of them is also, at any given time, going through challenging times and yet continue to provide their entries on or closer to our target dates.
I’m not sure I understand my procrastination. Yes, reading their pieces before I respond often inspires me. Yes, I know they will not pressure me or say anything to cause me to feel guilty. Yes, I do feel this is not only important but one of the few things over the last few years that has offered me a sense of community, a sense of value, and a source of learning. And yet, I continue to take a laid back approach to getting my piece done in an equitable and timely fashion.
This is one example of many for me. And, since I don’t feel particularly good about putting off those things that matter, it’s time to do something about it. Stephen Covey wrote, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”
Perhaps it’s time to change up some thinking and some poor habits. Of course this necessitates starting immediately rather than after the sale of my house or after I get some rest or …you know the drill.
George and Wal, get ready for Hen’s new and improved, on-time blog delivery system!