August 27. “Procrastination is opportunity’s natural assassin.” (Victor Kiam)
In my 52 years I have had an ongoing flirtation with procrastination. Sometimes I am able to resist her charms, and I get ahead on projects and tasks. Other times her siren call to let things go until later is too great for me and I cave in. I can think of classic examples of times when I got ahead, and of times when I fell behind. Each would tell a tale of opportunities found and lost, and of quality attained or squandered.
I know that when I start early on things, when I get that momentum going, that I can produce great things. Going all the way back to the famed “Ohio Report”, and continuing through my academic, professional and personal lives there are countless other examples where I seized the opportunity early, worked hard from the outset, and produced timely results of high quality.
Sadly, my history is also littered with examples of rampant procrastination, of things left until the last minute when the options are few, and the results have suffered. There are dozens of stories of late nights, stress-filled weekends, and tense working sessions at the office. Most times deadlines were met, with a level of quality that was acceptable but not stellar. Sometimes extensions were sought, often compromises were made.
Knowing that starting early, with enthusiasm, will always produce superior results, why then do I choose to procrastinate at times? Why do I subject myself to the torture and pain of those crashing sessions, when I know that there is a better way? I think to answer that requires a bit of introspection on the kinds of things I tend to put off verses those that I attack with vigor.
I don’t have a complete list of every time that I have procrastinated (how much of a nerd would I be if I could cough something like that up?). Looking back, though, I know that I have never procrastinated a project about which I had excitement and passion from the outset. I don’t think I am breaking any particularly new ground here when I say that the things I like to do, I do first, while the things I find distasteful, boring or uninteresting take a back seat, and are prime candidates for an unhealthy dose of procrastination. That sentence probably makes me like just about every other person on the planet, we all tend to attack what we love to do, and avoid what we don’t.
This quote points out that the cost of procrastination is lost opportunity. The longer that I leave a problem, or a project lying dormant, the less opportunity I have to excel. When time is tight, the choices are slim. To meet the deadlines of a procrastinated task, compromises are made, and the term “good enough” creeps into my mind and takes up residence. Each problem that is encountered becomes something that requires an expedient work around. Sometimes these same problems, had they been discovered earlier in the process, could have had other options. The cost of the compromise can be in terms of the quality of the output, or in terms of actual dollars and cents. I have sometimes ended up paying more for something of lesser value because I waited too long.
A classic, recent example of paying more for less happened on my recent vacation. When we planned or camping trip some months earlier, we couldn’t get a campsite for the entire string of days we desired. We had to start the camping part on Sunday. When we set up that trip, we agreed that we’d get a motel room in the area for the first night, and then move on to the campsite. When the camp reservation was made, I said to my wife that I’d get that motel room “later”.
When the day before our departure arrived, I hadn’t yet made a reservation. I began calling motels in the area to find us a room. The weather forecast for this tourist destination was beautiful, and the rooms were hard to find. I finally found one at a higher cost than anticipated, after 5 or 6 calls to sold out motels. The room that we got was over-priced, and of a quality that was not up to par. The experience ended up being quite bad with this room. Had I called immediately, months before the trip, I would have had far more choices for motels, and could have chosen one that had a better rate, and was of higher quality. To be completely fair to myself, the procrastination happened in an instant on a Sunday night when the camping reservation was set. After that it was less about putting off the reservation, and more about forgetting to make one, but the effect was the same. Had I made the choice that night to start the reservation process, I would have had a different result. When the deadline approached, the opportunities were slim, and the results suffered.
Today I am reflecting on the reasons why I sometimes procrastinate. It’s easy to say that it is when the task or project is one that I don’t like, but that doesn’t fully explain it. I have known that about myself for years, but somehow I still make that same mistake. To conquer the scourge of procrastination I must not only be aware, but I must take action. If procrastination is the enemy of opportunity, then action is the enemy of procrastination. Today at work, then later tonight at home, I am going to look for those items that I am putting off, and I am going to take action on them. Whatever action I take will be a move in the right direction, and will help me fight the lure of putting it off.