“I’ll gladly pay you Friday for a hamburger today.” Well, Wimpy, the lovable sometime-petty-scam-artist best friend of Popeye, never did pay for his beloved hamburgers (or for any of his meals for that matter), but he may have set the record for procrastinating over a payment.
Procrastination—that charming habit of postponing something which in fact requires prompt action—has earned such notoriety that it has been given its own day on the calendar. Yep, you heard that right, its own calendar day, which happens to be September 6, Fight Procrastination Day, an auspicious day because it comes right after Be Late for Something Day. Unfortunately, few are exactly jumping for joy in celebration—and fewer still know or remember it, having turned south on reaching Be Late for Something Day.
Each one of the planet’s time-bound seven billion has been guilty of procrastination at one time or another, unknowingly contributing to personal and general misery, as well as to not a few disasters along the way. Everyone is guilty of its small pleasures and its not-so-small pains: from Albert Einstein to SpongeBob (see season 2, episode “Procrastination,” tomorrow), from insurance agents to medical professionals. Even the cheekily named Procrastinators Club of America, whose slogan, “We’re Behind You All the Way,” all but gives away its timely take on procrastination, is guilty.
It’s a real bad habit, procrastination. For one, it’s corporate evil just by its definition: A behavior is procrastination if it is these three things: counterproductive, needless, and delaying (say researchers Schraw, Wadkins, and Olafson). No company would look kindly on a resumé decked out with them. For another, it’s bad for your well-being. Studies reveal that procrastination can actually cause anxiety, stress, and the biggie, guilt—just the recipe for sabotaging productivity at work and at home, and for destroying credibility for not being able to deliver on a commitment.
So here are three simple tips—no putting off now— to make Fight Procrastination Day more a day to remember than a day to—Hey, did Federer win the U.S. Open?—forget.
Decide. Making a decision represents progress; not making one, a retrogression. Not deciding only makes the fence sitter more frustrated and even more fearful of translating thought into action. When you put things off it doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t know what the right decision is. Often, you in fact do! It’s just that you’re being a scaredy cat fearful of making a decision or just being a lazy dog. Delaying the decision to take the first step for, say, a project only promotes procrastination. The solution: Don’t delay. Decide.
Just do it. His Airness and the bright boys at Nike had it right. The longer you think over a plan, a project or anything that needs action, the less likely it will be to your liking and the more likely you’ll put it off. That’s human nature. The truth is, it’s actually not as imperfect as you think it is. Keeping a perfect-plan mindset only perpetuates procrastination. Michael Jordan was certainly not a perfect basketball player, but that didn’t keep him from becoming the greatest basketball player of all time. The moral of the story? Just do it.
Take that one step. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” That’s Lao Tzu talking from 2,500 years back and the recently departed Neil Armstrong from 1969: That one small step is actually a giant leap for all potential procrastinators. Many planned undertakings, simple or complex, fail to boot up simply because that all-important first step has been kicked to the backburner. Fear of failure or change or the intimidating possibility of hard work often dooms the first step and inspires procrastination. Now here’s the kicker: the more you put things off, the more intimidated you become; and the more intimidated you are, the more you procrastinate. It’s a devilish loop. Fortunately, there’s redemption: Take that one step.