February 13, 2006

I have plenty of things I should be working on right now.

If you're a hard-working person who carefully plans and prioritizes your work, you have every reason to hate me. I would hate me too, if I didn't have to live with myself.

I am a compulsive procrastinator, and I refuse to admit that I have a problem. In fact, I kind of enjoy it.

All my life, people have been trying to convince me to stop procrastinating. Sometimes, I'll even try interventions with myself. Usually when I'm at a stressful breaking point, I will tell myself that I've had enough of this whole charade, that I need to get my act together and start doing things in order of priority... right after I finish this game of Bejeweled...

There are some definite upsides to procrastinating.

Minimize the time spent on unpleasant tasks.

I think that work, just like a gas, will expand to fit its container.

I have tried the whole "Start with what's important, then make time at the end of the day to relax" strategy. It's a bunch of hooey. Once I start working on something important, I'll keep revising it until I'm satisfied.

On the other hand, when I only have one hour to put together a project that should have taken me days, I'm amazed at how quickly my inner critic steps out of the way.

Savor every moment of your life.
There is no sleep that is more enjoyable than those ten minutes between morning snoozes. Those fleeting, precious minutes that you have decided to allow yourself - you cherish each one, as if it were your last.

I feel the same way when I am procrastinating. Suddenly I find myself playing the best game of Civ ever, enjoying the most gripping conversation of my life, or feeling compelled to take a walk because - hey, it's just a gorgeous day.

Some of the best moments in my life happened when I had much better things to do. When I think back on my college years, I don't remember all the papers I wrote or my trips to the library. I remember riding down the street in a shopping cart at midnight or going to the Big Steer with my friends at 4 a.m. because we had been up all night studying for finals.

Redefine productivity.
So, I have a major work assignment hanging over my head. But isn't it about time I cleaned the rain gutters?

When I'm procrastinating, I can use useful but less important tasks to help avoid the impending deadline.

People sometimes ask me how I balanced working full-time and getting my MBA. It was easy: I used work and school to offset each other. If I had a paper to write, I'd work on my Intranet site. If I had a work presentation coming up, I'd scrounge up some homework to keep me busy.

Rationalize your shortcomings.

I've done pretty well in my life as a procrastinator. All my diplomas were built on all-nighters, and while I never had a 4.0, I always graduated with honors (and even gave a couple of commencement speeches that I'd written or memorized the night before).

Every once in a while, I ask myself what my life would be like if I stopped procrastinating and put out my best effort. What a terrifying proposition!

Procrastination is a great defense mechanism. If my work turns out sub-par, I can always remind myself just how quickly I threw it together. It wasn't me that failed; it was my time management system.

It's a hell of a rush.

The reason I keep procrastinating is because, usually it doesn't fail. It works out splendidly. People tell me things like, "I can tell you put a lot of work into this!" and I seldom bother to correct them.

For the last few months, I have been working on creating a training manual for our Tax department. The project had no real deadline, so it just kept getting bigger and bigger. Some days, I would agonize for hours over a single paragraph. I had about 60 pages of text in three different online folders, and it wasn't really fitting together.

Then, I found out there was a class starting today that would require the manual. I thought about working on it last week, but I spent a nice relaxing Saturday playing Civilization, modifying my MySpace profile, and napping with my cat. Sunday, I slept until 11:00, went tanning, picked up some lunch, and slipped into the office that afternoon. Then I got frantic.

Between 3 p.m. yesterday and 7:30 a.m. today, I wrote 52 pages of training material and pulled it all together with barely a minute to spare.

I should be exhausted, but I'm high on life. I was a little worried about the quality of my training manual, but as it turns out, this is my lucky day. The training class got postponed, so I have the rest of the week to look over my work, show it to other people, and make revisions.

I guess I know how I'm spending next Sunday.

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