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A Procrastinator's Mind

Procrastination - For those wondering what it is - a genetic psychology journal describes it as the act of delaying a task until a point of discomfort, without any viable cause or reason.

We can all relate to it; it is a part of being human, having a free will. Now, whether it is a good or a bad quality is debatable. I have come across several accounts from friends, family and even strangers, with some regretting every time they procrastinate, to others who use this 'free will' gift of procrastination to be more efficient and productive. And I, too am a victim of this phenomenon - why? - I am about 4 months late in writing this post !!

It is almost the same story every single time. As the Sunday dawns away, we realize that we have blown it again. Throughout the week I feel like I do not have time to cook, eat, do the laundry, write a post, complete my book and do the usual odd errand. And I eagerly lean towards the weekend - stacking up - to finally get some work done in the two whole days I get for myself - completing chores that need completion, organising things that need to be organised and tacking things that need to be tackled.

But then, the weekend flies away and I barely catchup. Time is not what we are short on, although that is what we keep telling ourselves all week. Sometimes, we sit down early in the day and draft out our plans, but then, we get bored and decide to give ourselves a well-deserved break - and that is where productivity gets killed in action. 

Most of us can relate to this quite deeply from our everyday lives. However, for most people. it is not that they are lazy, or low on energy - they are in fact, early risers, dislike lying on the couch all day, or don't even own a TV. Then what causes them to exhibit a failure to complete the plans ?

Ones who can relate more closely to positive procrastination are student - doesn't matter what you are studying to become. The last minute theses, projects, homework, or lab reports, I am sure most of us have been there, and guess what, things worked out just fine.
I am not a procrastinator. I just prefer to do all my work in a deadline-induced panic.
Here's an account of Christy Dzuik speaking about a procrastination adventure in some magazine - 

A paper is assigned, a month before the due date. I dutifully write down teh date on a scrap of paper and shove it in my notebook. It's a long term assignment, so I don't have to worry about it right away. The countdown begins.

T-minus five days: I go to the library to find a topic. After checking my email and talking to the library assistant about her date last Friday, I sit down with a blank sheet of paper and a freshly sharpened pencil. Is that a tickle I feel in the back of my throat? I get up and find the water fountain. Strolling aback past the rows of books, I can't imagine how I am supposed to pick just one tiny topic. Exhausted from the unfairness of it all, I decide to pack it in for the day.

T-minus four days: I sit down at the desk in my bedroom with the same blank sheet of paper and the same pencil. Whoops-same tickle too. I get up to get a drink of water and sit back down. I call a friend to see if she has started; she is already finished, so I hang up on her. I call another friend I KNOW hasn't started. "Isn't this assignment stupid?" I ask. "Yeah. And dumb," she answers. After an hour of "misery loves company," I get another drink of water and sit down to concentrate. Looking up I notice how dirty my ceiling fan is. How can I work knowing microscopic pieces of dust, possibly filled with carcinogens, are being blown up my nostrils? Where does Mom keep the Pine Sol and stepladder?

T-minus three days: It's Saturday, so I show up for work at McDonald's and come home hours later, too tired to use my brain cells. I settle in with a pizza and my remote control for a much deserved (hey, haven't I been doing homework all week!) couch potato night.
T-minus two days: I cannot find even a halfway decent excuse for writing a paper on the day our Lord has called us to rest.

T-minus one day: Nobody works well on an empty stomach, so I take my time at dinner. Back in my room, I decide to brush my teeth. I look at my tongue in the mirror. Where did all those little bumps come from? And there are so many of them! one, two, three... Finally I sit down with my blank sheet of paper and the not so freshly sharpened pencil. I start writing...a letter to a friend I met in fifth grade at summer camp. Hey, relationships are important! Finished (with the letter, not the paper), I get up to get a drink of water. I sit back down and begin to panic. To calm myself, I play a game of solitaire on my computer (I win). I get a drink of water, reread the assignment, and write my name on the paper. Then I notice my CDs are disorganized, so I arrange them in alphabetical order. I go to the bathroom. Back in my room, I lie on the floor and moan about the injustice of it all. Knowing the end is near, I jump up and begin to write. Hours later, I collapse on my bed-just in time to shut off my alarm.

Due Date! When I get to school, I grumble about how I had to stay up all night, slaving away, just to finish the stupid paper. Then the teacher assigns another one. And believe me, I have learned my lesson! I write down the new due date and carefully file the assignment in my notebook. I will get started right away. but first I need a drink of water...

So, what happens when the desire for fun overtakes the procrastinator's mind. That is a conflict between the Rational Decision-maker, the Instant Gratification Monkey and the Panic Monster who control the minds. To know who these characters in your mind are, this awesomely portrayed, funny, yet enlightening TED talk by Tim Urban will help. Take a look.

As for the good v/s bad effects of procrastination, as Tim describes, it turns out there are two kinds of procrastination - those that involve a deadline and those that don't. And when there's deadlines, the effects of procrastination are contained to the short term because panic gets involved, driving things along. But there's a second kind of procrastination that happens in situations when there is no deadline. So if you wanted a career where you're a self-starter -- something in the arts, something entrepreneurial -- there's no deadlines on those things at first, because nothing's happening, not until you've gone out and done the hard work to get momentum, get things going. There's also all kinds of important things outside of your career that don't involve any deadlines, like seeing your family or exercising and taking care of your health, working on your relationship or getting out of a relationship that isn't working. 

And those with the non-deadlined tasks, have no panic to drive them, have nothing to wake up for, so the effects of procrastination, they're not contained; they just extend outward forever. And it's this long-term kind of procrastination that's much less visible and much less talked about than the funnier, short-term deadline-based kind. It's usually suffered quietly and privately. And it can be the source of a huge amount of long-term unhappiness, and regrets.


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